e-Biking in an Ottawa winter

The e-Skeeter in winter – it’s fine if you layer up! PHOTO: SOO HUM

By Ashwin Shingadia

It was a cold, blustery day with temperatures dipping to minus 29 Celsius. The Glebe was covered in deep snow; streets and sidewalks had not been cleared by the city. I did not think he would come… but the doorbell rang exactly on time and Soo Hum parked his e-bike in front of my townhouse.

Since December 23, “e-Skeeter,”as he calls his YTO pedal-assisted e-bike, had travelled some 400 kilometres on bumpy, icy sidewalks and roads. He has been all over the city from Mooney’s Bay to the Market, Westboro, National Gallery, libraries, supermarkets, Algonquin College, Merivale Road. His e-display indicates speed, trip length and total distance, time and remaining battery capacity, among other measurements. He says his e-Skeeter model is nimble, quick, friendly to women, easy to control and good for those who are new to e-biking. It can be folded and stored in the trunk of a car and is popular with yacht owners! E-biking is cheap, practical and healthy transport. Oulu, Finland, a town of 200,000 with a climate similar to Ottawa, has some 54,000 winter cyclists!


“About15 years ago, I became a single parent, joined a moms’ circle and cut costs in order to bring up my daughter Samantha, also a keen cyclist,” said Hum. He sold his house and used his car for emergencies. His fi rst e-bike was a German Cube, the equivalent of a VW, made by Bosch Electronics. His second was a Swiss Stromer, the “Lamborghini” of e-bikes. This is the ninth winter that he has been e-biking.

“I am a photographer,” he said. “The new capabilities of an e-bike enable me to go up to a lookout in the Gatineaus with my equipment, take photographs and get back. It will take any hill and make it invisible to the rider. I dress like skiers – layers of jackets, a helmet, gloves, balaclava, goggles, and good warm socks and boots.”


We decided to go around the corner and visit Michael Wolfson, one of the pioneers of e-biking in the Glebe. He began cycling some 47 years ago when he went to work at Tunney’s Pasture. “It was faster to get to Tunney’s Pasture than the bus and it has allowed us to have just one car. Besides,” he said, “cycling is healthy, cheap and good for the environment.”

Some five years ago, Wolfson became interested in retrofitting old bikes with conversion parts – a wheel with a hub motor, battery, a throttle, control electronics and wiring. He now uses a semi-recumbent Revive bike made by Giant (Taiwan), which he finds more practical and comfortable than an upright model. (Uprights have narrow saddles and put strain on the wrists, and the constant bending can hurt the back.) Twenty-inch mag wheels allow the rider to place the feet on the ground for safety, while the seat is high enough to put the rider at eye level with most car drivers.

Hum argued that his Skeeter model was easy to assemble. A truck delivered a sealed box to his door containing all the parts, tools, air pump, battery, etc. He put it together in an hour. Support is also available through companies such as Velofi x Ottawa.

It was getting dark. Hum layered up, put his camera in a pouch, turned on his flickering red back light, pressed a button on his e-display and the motor started. “No problem at all at -29 C,” he said and bumped along the icy sidewalk homeward, just like the crowds of winter cyclists in Oulu, Finland.

Ashwin Shingadia is a Glebe resident and former member of the Glebe Report board of directors.

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