Sterling and Kathy McCord have always been one step ahead. Sterling worked in sustainable construction when building green was just emerging within the industry. Meanwhile, Kathy opened up Bend’s first citywide takeout delivery service (Bend Takeout Express) years before Uber Eats was even a thing.
When the recession hit in the mid-2000s, the pair turned to their family for the inspiration for their next venture. With two young kids at the time, Sterling was looking for an easier and more sustainable way to commute around town and get the kids to and from school. One day while riding his recently converted electric hub scooter, the idea of an e-bike business emerged. “It came from a sustainability point of view,” he said. “Nobody at the time was doing e-bikes or looking at sustainable transportation so we saw an opportunity.”
With Kathy’s business savvy and Sterling’s vision, the pair set to work and in November 2008, Bend Electric Bikes was born.
An electric bicycle, commonly referred to as an e-bike, is equipped with an electric motor powered by a battery that produces power for assisting propulsion. E-bikes range from small motors assisting the rider’s pedaling to a more powerful assist via a throttle.
E-bikes are a flexible, eco-friendly alternative form of transportation that’s risen in popularity not just in Bend, but around the globe. Many see e-bikes as a way to drive less, avoid traffic congestion and stay healthy, all the while barely breaking a sweat uphill on their way to work.
The Rise of E-Bikes
In the early days of Bend Electric Bikes, these now common fixtures on the road were only just beginning to gain a foothold. “We were a bit of a spectacle in the beginning,” Kathy said. “We would turn a lot of heads, answer questions and get a lot of stares.”
Early e-bikes were somewhat clunky with large batteries and less than desirable aesthetics, but that began to change when more reputable bicycle manufacturers such as Giant and Specialized started producing e-bikes in the late 2000s. E-bikes slowly became lighter, more cost-effective and equipped with more energy-efficient batteries, which meant longer range capabilities for riders. Eventually, Sterling believes, you may not even be able to tell the difference between an e-bike and a traditional analog bike.
Along with technological advances, the e-bike form factor has also expanded to meet consumer needs and now users can find everything from commuters and hybrids to cargo bikes, touring bikes, gravel and e-mountain bikes.
The McCords have seen the trend evolve firsthand at the Interbike International Bicycle Expo, the largest bicycle industry trade show in North America. “Each year the e-bike section would slowly get larger and larger,” Kathy said. “Until finally the last one we went to seemed more heavily skewed toward e-bikes than traditional bicycles.”
Sterling said customers of Bend Electric Bikes run the gamut of age and ability. “Some are looking for a substitute for a car or to commute to work, others are simply looking to spend more time outside and just want to have fun,” she said. Kathy said she also sees many couples come in for e-bikes, which can be an equalizer for varying abilities and allow one rider the ability to keep pace with another.
The boom in popularity of e-bikes over the last decade has helped propel the sales of Bend Electric Bikes and grow the company to seven full-time employees. This past year, the company saw its sales of e-bikes more than double due to a surging interest in bicycles during the pandemic, and Sterling said the company is on track for even more growth in 2021.
More than anything, however, Sterling and Kathy are just happy to see more people on bikes.
“As a 53-year-old female, I’m all about pushing past stereotypes of who rides bikes—e-bikes are for everyone,” Kathy said. “You can see people’s minds opening up about all the new options they have; all the barriers that can be eliminated—hills, distance, weather, arriving to work sweaty, overcoming injuries. It’s inspiring to see people walk through the doors and be excited about bikes.”
Note: The representatives of both Bend Magazine and Bend Electric Bikes strongly recommend always wearing a helmet when bicycling.