A Two-Wheeled Option (With a Battery) for Commuters
Matthew Staver for The New York Times
Jeff Baum of Frisco, Colo., uses a $7,000 electric bike to commute10 miles to his job in Breckenridge. He says that he has more fungoing to work on the bicycle than he did when he drove a sportutility vehicle.
JEFF BAUM has a breathtaking daily commute. He travels 10 mileseach way from his home in Frisco, Colo., to his office inBreckenridge — up and down winding roads that eventually climb to9,800 feet in the Rockies — to his job as the executive director ofthe Breckenridge Music Festival.
Skip to next paragraph For most of his 10 years with thefestival, he had driven a standard gasoline-powered sport utilityvehicle. Last September, though, he started leaving it at home forsomething cheaper, quieter and cleaner: an electric bicycle.
It takes him a little longer to get to work, but the bike is moredependable, more nimble, more invigorating and just more fun thanthe S.U.V., he said.
“I personally feel very good about it,” said Mr. Baum, 53, whospent $7,000 for an Optibike. “I get the fresh air and, in fact, byswitching to the bike, here is one of the few ways in which I as anindividual can have a good impact on our environment.”
Electric bikes have some features in common with traditional bikes.They have working pedals, and most have gears. They look similar totraditional bikes, and riders of both types follow the same rulesof the road.
But the differences begin when a rider starts an electric bike’sbattery, often with a key. On some models, riders can twist orthumb the throttle on the handlebar and move forward withoutpedaling. On others, they can pedal lightly and acceleratequickly.
Electric bikes are typically used at speeds of up to 20 miles perhour without pedaling.
They can generally cover 20 to 50 miles on a battery charge, wellwithin the distance of many daily commutes. At the end of a ride,the battery can usually be taken out of its compartment and pluggedinto a wall with a special cord. After a few hours of charging, itis ready for use again.
The bikes may not go very far or fast compared with cars, but amidhigher fuel prices and deepening worries about the environment,they are emerging as a viable option for commuting, shopping andother local trips.
Prices of electric bikes can run from a few hundred dollars forcheap models to $2,000 or more. Some manufacturers are sellingelectric mountain bikes, recumbent bikes, folding bikes and eventricycles.
In addition, traditional bikes can be changed into electricversions with conversion kits, like ones that use lithium-ionbatteries. Costs of the kits can range from several hundred dollarsto more than $1,000.
The potential savings on fuel can ease any sticker shock. With thegasoline bill for a household running, on average, more than $2,000annually, buyers of electric vehicles may recoup much or all oftheir initial costs in a matter of months to several years.
Electric bikes, popular in Asia and Europe, have yet to gain muchof a following in the United States. The number sold here is in thetens of thousands a year, compared with 10 million in a recent yearin China.
Finding a place to buy an electric bike can be a challenge.Shoppers have few places to kick the tires and to take test spins,while online retailers can charge $200 or more for assembly anddelivery charges.
Many retailers tend to be on the West Coast and in Florida, inwarmer urban areas, where batteries have better year-roundperformance. In the New York area, several stores also sellelectric bikes.
Internet sites also offer information and sell electric bikes.Elridge Daniel, a Brooklyn businessman, said he bought a bikeonline after doing some research there. But he said he regrettedthat he could not try out the bike first.
Mr. Daniel, who lives in a walk-up apartment, did not even ridethat bike after it was delivered.
“It was just too heavy to carry up a flight of steps,” he said. Hedecided that he needed a lighter bike.
His next choice was a Quando II folding electric bike — about 50pounds — which he bought for $1,150 from NYCeWheels, a store on theUpper East Side of Manhattan. The Quando, made by eZee, has alithium-ion battery, which is lighter, more powerful (and moreexpensive) than the lead acid battery that came with his otherbike. He could feel the 20-pound difference in the weight of thebikes when he was at the store recently.
Evelyn Avoglia of Stamford, Conn., was in the shop at the same timeto try out the same model.
“I have a regular bike, but it takes up too much room in my studioapartment and leaves me sweaty if I take it to work,” she saidafter buying an eZee Quando II. Local stop-and-go traffic takes atoll on her 14-year-old Honda Civic, she said, while walkingand public transportation are too impractical for where shelives.
Morris Swadener, a retired Navy petty officer who lives nearSeattle, used the Web to buy his bike from Veloteq, a company basedin Houston, for $1,450.
He said he was happy with his choice. “I have bad knees and Iwasn’t looking to pedal,” he said. “But I wanted to be able to goon bike paths.”
His Veloteq resembles a scooter and has a padded seat big enoughfor two people, backup pedals at the side of the footrests and asecurity system. With the key out, the handlebars lock, the rearpower wheel shuts down and an alarm goes off if anyone tries tosteal the bike. If all that isn’t enough of a deterrent, potentialthieves need the muscle to carry off a 170-pound bike.
ALTERNATIVES to the Quando and the Veloteq are the so-calledpedal-assisted bikes, which tend to be bigger-wheeled mountainbikes that can provide more range and speed. These models use lesselectricity when a rider pedals. Among the best-known choicesavailable on the Web and in stores are bikes made by Giant, atraditional bike manufacturer that sells electric models for $1,075and $1,300.
“Good electric bikes will generally cost at least $1,000,” says EdBenjamin, president of Cycle Electric, a Florida consulting firm.And many can be found for under $2,000. Then there is Optibike, aone-year-old company based in Boulder, Colo. It offers threeversions, selling for $5,500, $7,000 and $8,000.
Sixteen have sold to date; Mr. Baum’s was one of the first. TheOptibikes can exceed 20 miles an hour and travel 50 miles on acharge.
Jim Turner, the builder of the Optibike, calls it the “Ferrari ofelectric bikes.” He has taken it up Pike’s Peak, and he boasts thatin a race against a muscle-powered Lance Armstrong, he wouldwin.
A Two-Wheeled Option