Electric bikes to roll onto campus this spring

The new Nice Ride bikes aim to boost ridership across Minneapolis.

Emma Dill

A fleet of black electric-powered Nice Ride bikes will roll into docks on campus and across Minneapolis this April.

The electric bikes, which were announced Feb. 7 during an event at the Graduate Hotel, provide riders with a pedal assist that the company hopes will expand ridership. Nice Ride will also increase the number of bike docking stations in Cedar-Riverside and other historically low-income Minneapolis communities.

Bill Dossett, executive director of the nonprofit Nice Ride Minnesota, believes the addition of electric bikes will make biking a more viable transportation option for both commuters and tourists.

“You won’t have to work as hard, but you do have to pedal,” Dossett said. “You get more assist if you work harder. So, if you’re pedaling up a hill or you’re trying to accelerate, you will get more assist. If you’re going down a hill, you won’t get any assist.”

In 2018, a Nice Ride bike in Minneapolis averaged about one trip per day. After the introduction of electric bikes in San Francisco, New York City and Washington D.C., average usage doubled, Dossett said.

The company will initially launch 500 electric bikes and 1,300 traditional docked green bikes across the city this spring. During the first few months, Nice Ride will gauge interest in the electric bikes and learn how to keep the bikes charged. Electric bikes require more maintenance than traditional bikes, with batteries that must be manually changed every few days, Dossett said.

Dossett said electric bikes are a “stepping stone” for Nice Ride. In the future, customers will return their bikes to charging stations instead of docks.

Later in the summer, Nice Ride plans to swap out all of the docked green bikes with electric bikes, said Steve Sanders, alternative transportation manager at the University of Minnesota’s Parking and Transportation Services. All traditional bikes will eventually be dockless. 

“Gradually, the green bikes are just being phased out because they’re getting to be almost 10 years old. So, they’re going to be replaced on a one-to-one basis with either e-bikes or [dockless] blue bikes,” Sanders said.

Since the program began in 2010, Nice Ride usage on campus has been among the highest in the city, Sanders said.

“All the conditions are right. There’s a lot of density, the distances aren’t too great, there’s plenty of stations,” he said. “All the conditions are really right here for them to get used more, and I suspect the same is going to be true once the e-bikes come in.”

Additional docks will be introduced into low-income neighborhoods to promote equity, Dossett said. Nice Ride will also offer reduced price memberships for those who qualify for public assistance. 

Ward 6 Minneapolis City Council member Abdi Warsame said the program’s expansion in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is a positive development.

“I welcome those kind of programs because they give people options. If somebody doesn’t drive … it’s a good option,” Warsame said.

The expansion will also boost usability for students and others near campus, Sanders said.

“All members of the University community are going to be able to get around town regardless of where they live,” he said. “The expansion is really kind of beefing up their whole system in the city, and that’s an exciting thing.”