Seven Manitoulin municipalities to see e-bikes and charging stations in 2022

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MINDEMOYA – E-bikes and e-bike charging stations are coming to the Island in 2022. Locations for the charging stations are being finalized now, said Maja Mielonen, president of Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA). Stations will be located on municipal properties and will connect to existing municipal hydro service.

MICA visited Island municipalities to get a feel for public opinion on the e-bike project and received agreements in principle from all the municipalities involved. The organization will place a charging station on municipal property that will use existing municipal hydro. MICA is responsible for all material costs, installation and insurance for the charging stations and has asked for municipal assistance with site preparation and provision of limestone rocks for the protection of the bikes from damage by vehicular traffic at the sites. 

“We worked closely with the municipalities to find visible and attractive spots where the people are,” said Ms. Mielonen. “We’re very excited. It took some thinking to figure out the best spots for serving the public. Each location needs to be accessible to families, guests, boaters and other cyclists.” 

The Little Current e-bike docking station will be located across from Breakaway Sports, in the park adjacent to the municipal building. This location is accessible for locals, boaters and other tourists, Ms. Mielonen explained. Little Current will have one docking station with four  e-bikes available for rental. South Baymouth will have two docking stations with a total of six e-bikes available to rent. Manitowaning, Mindemoya, Providence Bay, Kagawong and Gore Bay will each have one station and two rental e-bikes. Each docking station accepts six bikes, so anyone with an e-bike will be able to recharge. The rental system will be app driven and user friendly, she said.

“After almost two years of deliberation and research, we’re really excited to be working with PD International (PDI) out of Markham, Ontario,” Ms. Mielonen said. The focus was on e-bikes and micromobility at the 2020 Toronto bike show and almost every distributor hosted a display on e-bikes. MICA spoke with several different shops and manufacturers. Ms. Mielonen and Guy Nielen test rode over 40 available makes and models at the show. They met with PDI at the show in February 2020 and corresponded back and forth, “working together to meet our needs,” she said.

MICA first began looking for a bike share provider in 2017. “We quickly realized we were a very small fish,” Ms. Mielonen said. “The big companies don’t want to deal with anybody that doesn’t want to buy at least 100 bikes. They all dealt with bike shares in bigger towns and don’t want to play with us small fish.”

There is growth potential if the interest is there. The fleet of 20 e-bikes could potentially provide Island-wide access, a form of micromobility, and could also be an economic development driver. A boater can rent an e-bike in Little Current and ride out to Ten Mile Point or a boater in Gore Bay can ride to the Perivale Gallery. “These places would generally be inaccessible to a boater so this e-bike project can expand the reach of tourism,” Ms. Mielonen said. MICA will be looking at developing additional partnerships with Island businesses for cross-promotion.

E-bike riders have the ability to travel greater distances with ease on the hills and against the wind with this charging system in place, Mr. Nielen said. “They will be able to recharge the bikes on the road while taking in many museums, galleries, events without the need return to their accommodations to recharge. We know that our visitors from abroad will be especially happy to see cycle rentals available as it is difficult to travel internationally with a bike. It’s not impossible but it is a little more cumbersome.”

MICA anticipates an increase in international interest and will expand its advertising campaigns for all-inclusive cycling tours on Manitoulin. “European markets are 60 to 80 percent e-bikes, so there is a general expectation to rent e-bikes when renting bikes or doing cycling tourism,” explained Ms. Mielonen. To remain relevant and to satisfy European clients as well as the rising number of local and provincial visitors, MICA needed to plan ahead. MICA’s all-inclusive cycle adventure tours are already attracting e-bike users. Last year there were two and last month there were three participants. They are fielding a number of inquiries for cycle rentals every month and with the e-bike project, will finally be able to say yes to these inquiries. 

Overall, MICA has seen more cyclists of all kinds riding on Manitoulin. MICA successfully lobbied for paved shoulders on three out of four Island highways and has installed eight wayfinding trailheads to date. There are more than 60 cycle road signs found on municipal roads and 12 cycle racks found in different locations on the Island. MICA’s cycle map,  now in its fifth edition, showcases more than 850 km of cycle routes on Manitoulin. “Adding e-bike rentals and charging stations is one more way MICA is working hard to make it a safe and comfortable place for people to ride,” Ms. Mielonen said. 

MICA is a not-for-profit organization run by volunteers for more than 10 years and is contributing 20 percent of the $157,000 project cost. Other funders include FedNor, NOHFC and Destination Northern Ontario.