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Lifes a Smorgasbord

Issue 3 and Volume 102.

Life`s a Smorgasbord

Electric Vehicles

By Ann Chambers,

Associate Editor

In all the flurry and hype around electric vehicles, I believe the most marketable subset of this technology is being largely overlooked. And that`s electric bicycles. They are more viable than electric cars for a number of reasons.

With electric cars, we are dealing with an item that the American public loves. America has a long-standing love affair with the car. But there`s a lot of testosterone involved. Arguably, the bigger, tougher and faster the vehicle, the more America loves it. Witness today`s popularity of sport utility vehicles or the 1970s fling with “muscle” cars. Then compare gasoline to electric cars and trucks. Electric vehicles are more expensive, have plenty of infrastructure issues, and have a lot less muscle. The driver can`t crush the accelerator to the floor and burn away. There`s no engine to rev. There`s no sex appeal. From a marketing standpoint, EVs are an uphill battle. We all know what`s good for us, but that doesn`t make us want it.

To me, it`s kind of like going to the pizza buffet for lunch. You can have pizza, or you can have salad. Everyone knows that salad is the healthy choice, but most of us will pick at a little plate of salad in a pretense of eating healthier, then load up on pizza and bread sticks. Why? Because we LIKE pizza and breadsticks. This is similar to recycling. Lots of people believe in it, but very few have the discipline to stick to a strict recycling regime. We would like to be “green” but it`s really too much bother.

That`s where electric bicycles come in. Instead of taking a product that America loves, and reducing its gut-level appeal while increasing its sticker price, the electric bike adds convenience and fun. There`s a kit available now to convert a regular bicycle to an electric bicycle for about $300. Or you can purchase an electric bicycle, ready to go, for as little as $600. This is a low enough ticket to qualify as a toy. Americans love toys. (Anyone considering contesting that point who owns a boat, motorcycle or breadmaker can just save their e-mail.)

There are plenty of fitness seekers out there dropping $500 or $600 for a mountain bike or racing bike with pedal power only. That`s not fun–that`s fitness. With an electric bike, you get both. It`s kind of like that pizza buffet. You pay the same price, regardless of how much salad or pizza you eat. You can pedal yourself around the park, or you can coast all the way to a convenience store to buy ice cream. Operator`s choice.

Our local utility is looking at distributing electric bicycles, and other electric toys such as scooters, skateboards and trikes, to bicycle shops in surrounding states. So, the Power Engineering editorial staff wrangled a chance to borrow a demonstrator.

Our particular bike had two speeds, 8 mph and 18 mph, and could run approximately 15 miles on a charge with no help from the cyclist. Pedaling, of course, extends the range. A fully drained battery needs about three hours for a full charge, and the charger plugs into a standard outlet. The battery pack is easily removed for charging. The technology is easy to understand, relatively inexpensive and a lot of fun.

I conducted an informal popularity poll at the office. For the technology buffs, it was love at first sight. For the couch potatoes, it was love at first ride. Probably a third of those who took a ride wanted to know if they could buy one and how much they cost.

The fitness buffs were a tougher sell. “That`s cheating,” they grumbled, circling the bicycle with a frown. “What`s the point? You won`t get any exercise on that thing.” But, unanimously, after a quick cruise of the parking lot, even the fitness buffs could not resist the bike`s appeal. They finally discovered what the rest of us knew from the beginning. Electric bicycles are fun. p