Looking to level up your biking game? With summer quickly approaching here are our favorite spots to rent e-bikes in Northern Michigan + related articles below on other local rental guides and some of our favorite biking trails to explore.

This article first appeared in Traverse Northern Michigan. Find this story and more when you explore our magazine library. Want Traverse delivered to your door or inbox monthly? View our print subscription and digital subscription options.

Where to Rent E-Bikes in Northern Michigan

Brick Wheels | 736 E. Eighth St., Traverse City
Pedego Electric Bikes | 823 S. Garfield Ave., Traverse City
Bayfront Beach and Bike | 130 River St., Elk Rapids
Inn at Bay Harbor | 3600 Village Harbor Dr., Bay Harbor
Latitude 45 Bicycles and Fitness | 476 W. Mitchell St., Petoskey
Ride Leelanau | 204 N. St. Joseph St., Suttons Bay
Suttons Bay Bikes | 318 N. St. Joseph St. A, Suttons Bay
Coastline Cycles | 1100 Main St., Frankfort

E-Bike Riding for All Ages

There’s an image of a tiny cyclist on top of a straight line in the computer window on my e-bike’s handlebar. When I spin the twist shifter, the line pops up like a hill, growing steeper the farther I turn it. I coordinate the actual steep hill that I’m cycling up with the little dude’s hill in the optical display. After my trail levels out, I crank my guy back to a flat line and we both roll effortlessly along.

I thought I should wait to ride an e-bike until I was too old for my traditional, pedal-driven bicycle, but my friend, Tim Brick, who founded Brick Wheels in Traverse City, told me otherwise. He’s out riding with me showing me the e-bike’s many shiny benefits; I already like my buddy in the computer screen.

An electric bike’s built-in motor with a rechargeable battery expands your possibilities no matter your age or fitness level. Surveys have found that the majority of e-bike riders are 50 to 70 years old, wanting to reinvigorate their interest in bikes. Maybe you have a health ailment, or bad knees or hips that prevent you from hopping on a traditional bicycle. Many e-bikes have “low step frames” enabling you to mount or dismount safely.

But e-bikes aren’t exclusive to those 50-plus. All types of cyclists are choosing them. Some are parents or grandparents who want to tow kids (or a canine companion) in a bike trailer. Others may live up a steep hill or want to ride more difficult routes. Still others want to supplement their transportation with a bike—riding to work and arriving at the same time as those who are sitting in traffic.

There are three kinds of electronic bikes on the market, Brick explains. Class I is pedal assist and will propel you to 20 mph, but only assisting when it feels pressure on the pedals.  The computer senses the torque of your pedal—when you push harder and exert more pressure, the bike can register your effort and jump in to help.

Electric bike from Suttons Bay Bikes

Photo by Suttons Bay Bikes

E-Bike above is from Suttons Bay Bikes. Reminder: You can’t operate a class 2 or class 3 e-bike on a linear trail or a rail trail unless authorized by the local authority or agency of the state having jurisdiction over the trail. Check the rental sites above for details on where you can ride e-bikes.

Class III is similar to Class l, but its motor has a higher output with a zippy top speed of 28 mph. Both Class I and III can have sophisticated displays that allow you to gauge calorie burn and cadence (pedal  speed). They can remember previous routes and give you turn-by-turn directions. And they can even interface with a smartphone and give you elevation gain and GPS coordinates. “An e-bike is not magical,” Brick says, although it sure sounds like it to me.

Brick now takes me to the 4-mile Boardman Lake Loop Trail, where we ride alongside the lakeshore with blooming lily pads, across wooden bridges, over boardwalks, through  cool pine forests and even some fun dirt single track. When I have to pull a hill, I dial my tiny bike friend up on the computer screen to show him ascending a hill, and together we destroy the climb.

I keep my bike in the lowest of the four settings, ECO, but there is also touring, sport and turbo. (I can also shift gears, as with a traditional bike.) Each higher setting uses more battery and cuts back on your cycling time before needing a recharge. Both Class I and III get you 80 miles down the trail, but that will vary with the battery and motor type.

When we get to the end of the trail, Tim has me try the Class I e-bike. He says I will only notice a difference in the bike’s performance if I try to open it up at high speeds. Without my computer buddy, I make my own decisions on when to shift.

I initially thought riding an e-bike was not a workout, but it is actually an excellent  one.  By constantly pedaling, kicking along at 10 to 12 mph (a  standard pace), you are getting a steady aerobic workout. The aim is to pedal at 80 revolutions per minute and your e-bike’s gears will assist you in making that happen. Most of the time you can ride in ECO and have a ton of fun. This setting gives you the longest battery range—just drop it into turbo to get up a steep hill.

“I hear guys say, ‘I’m not that old yet,’ but what are they going to do, sit in the house until then?” Brick says. “I used to ride 50 to 70 miles every Sunday on my manual bike, but after a bunch of surgeries and arthritis challenges, I find myself grabbing my e-bike more and more often. How many times do you want to ride but you’re tired from work? With your e-bike it doesn’t matter.”

Dogman Challenge Fat Tire Bike Race

Photo by Gately Williams