Electric Vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are steadily moving towards wider adoption in the U.S. — They and GE’s electric charging station, the WattStation, played starring roles at last month’s New York International Auto Show, and GE’s EV Tour has arrived on the east coast after a successful west coast swing in March.
But how do carless urbanites get in on the EV action?
By hopping on electric bikes, or e-bikes, according to The Txchnologist, a new online magazine presented by GE, in this week’s edition:
“A Sense of Lightness”
E-bikes come in different varieties but share common characteristics: unlike a motor scooter, they can be powered by pedals alone. A mounted battery pack, with a power output starting at 250 watts – about one-third of 1 horsepower – can also provide power to a motor in the rear wheel.
The motor can either assist pedaling, or, in some models, provide enough power to move the bike without any effort from the rider. A simple throttle switch on the handlebars controls the power. To qualify as e-bikes under federal law, they must not have more than 1,000 watts of power or be able to exceed 20 miles per hour with motor power.
“There’s a sense, when you’re riding down the road, of lightness,” said Bert Cebular, the owner of NYCeWheels in Manhattan, and a pioneer in the U.S. e-bike market, as he steered a model through his narrow storefront on the Upper East Side where he’s been spreading the e-bike gospel since 2001.
On the road to acceptance
E-bike sales in the U.S. have been growing at a 21 percent annual clip – albeit from a modest base – and could reach 785,000 a year by 2016, according to Pike Research, a clean energy market research firm.
“In the U.S., bicycles, in general, are not considered a viable form of transportation,” said Dave Hurst, a senior analyst with Pike Research who has studied the e-bike market. The same is true of their electric counterparts, he added. Still, Hurst said, the e-bike is winning an increasing number of converts among people who wouldn’t otherwise be on a bike, particularly in cities that have added bike lanes.
Deborah Fortier, a 60-year-old piano teacher who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, is one such convert. She had been riding a traditional two-wheeler to her lessons but she was arriving “tired and sweaty.” After she got her e-bike three years ago, Fortier started scheduling her lessons 15 minutes apart and arriving fresh. Now she is an e-bike evangelist and wants more Baby Boomers to abandon their cars for e-bikes.
“That would get more people thinking about going out and putting a basket on their bikes and doing shopping,” she said. “You get a whole wonderful new sense of yourself and the city.”