Denver: Hybrid electric bikes beat high gas prices |

Denver: Hybrid electric bikes beat high gas prices

John LehndorffRocky Mountain NewsVail CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado At the beginning of the summer, John McLinden had a problem. Actually, make that two or three problems.The 59-year-old Denver resident wanted to get some exercise.He was annoyed at high gas prices.He was also committed to finding a greener way to commute six miles to work as a plumbing-inspection supervisor at Denver Wastewater.However, the obvious solution – riding a bicycle – was out of the question.”I’ve got problems in both knees. Pedaling a regular bike was too painful,” McLinden said.He discovered the answer online: a power-assisted bicycle, or “e-bike.”An e-bike is not a motorcycle, a moped, a scooter or a Vespa. It’s a hybrid electric vehicle that looks very much like a standard bicycle.The battery-powered motor helps riders accelerate and go up hills, but they still have to pedal.The National Bicycle Dealers Association estimates that 10,000 electric bikes were sold in the U.S. in 2007, up from 6,000 in 2006. According to the Electric Bikes Worldwide Report, about 300,000 electric bikes are in use in the U.S. By comparison, about 70 million are on the road in China.When McLinden looked for a local source of e-bikes, he said, he was surprised that there were none in Denver.Zero, zilch, nada.The nearest dealer was Bird Electric Bikes, in Aurora. There’s also a shop in Boulder, 21 Wheels, and a dealer in Longmont, Small Planet E-Vehicles.Dale Barnes, owner of Bird Electric Bikes, had McLinden test-drive several models before he settled on a comfortable, slightly recumbent bike.”It leaves me sitting upright like in a chair, not bent over at all,” McLinden said. He likes the fact that it has an adjustable built-in torque sensor or power controller that gives riders as much or as little assistance as they desire.”I keep on pedaling anyway to get a workout,” he said, adding that he sticks to designated bike paths when commuting or going to the grocery store.Pedaling with resistance recharges the battery, as does putting on the brakes when going down a hill. McLinden figures he saves $25 to $30 a week on gas.Barnes said Denver-area bicycle stores don’t offer e-bikes, only real bikes.”Most bike shops won’t sell them. The purists – we call ’em the bike Nazis – think it’s sacrilegious to ride an electric bike. When someone asks for one, they don’t just get a ‘no,’ they get a rude ‘no,’ ” said Barnes, who’s as much an enthusiast as a retailer. He actually makes his living renting RVs.”I’ve been riding one of the bikes to work every day since we started selling them,” he said. “It’s so easy you feel like you’re a kid again riding around the neighborhood.”He’s sold an average of 100 bikes a year since he started in 2002 and expects the number to double this year, in part because the technology has improved so much.”Some of the early bikes were hard to pedal without power. They weighed 80 or 90 pounds – now they’re half that. The batteries are much lighter and stronger and can go 20 to 60 miles on one charge.”The cost is a modest 10 to 20 cents a day for recharging the battery, and the carbon footprint is relatively small.Because of high demand, many brands of factory-made e-bikes are hard to find at shops and online. Barnes now primarily takes regular bikes – ones he sells as well as favorite bicycles that riders already own – and installs a conversion kit made by a Canadian company, BionX.For the nascent e-bike industry, the road ahead looks promising if only because of one painful statistic: Nearly 45 percent of U.S. adults will develop arthritis of the knee, according to the journal Arthritis Care & Research, reported by Reuters on Sept. 3.That’s a lot of potential riders who want to hear “yes,” not “no.”, 303-954-5103. The Associated Press contributed to this story.How they workElectric bikes function like typical two-wheelers, but with a battery-powered assist.The principle behind electric bikes is akin to that behind hybrid cars: Combine the conventional technology – in this case, old-fashioned pedaling – with a battery-powered motor.The net result is a vehicle that rides a bit like a scooter, with some legwork required.Most models have a motorcycle- like throttle that gives a boost while going up hills or accelerating from a stop. On some models, the motor kicks in automatically and adjusts its torque based on how hard the rider pedals.Most models can go at least 20 miles before plugging in to recharge. Although the cost of electricity can vary, fully recharging the battery on a typical model costs less than a dime.Electric bikes: A shopper’s guideElectric bikes range in price from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand, with many brands and models available online. Kits that convert standard bicycles into electric bikes are also available. Denver-area resources include:* Bird Electric Bicycles, 23954 E. Archer Place, Aurora; 303-363-6887, Giant brand electric bicycles, about $2,100- Giant, Fuji, Montague and Swiss brand bikes retrofitted with BionX kit, $1,425 to $2,520- BionX bike conversion kits (not including bicycle), $1,095 to $1,695* 21 Wheels, 3970 Broadway, Suite B4, Boulder; 303-544- 0025, IZIP bikes, $750 to $1,500- Wilderness Energy Bike Conversion Kits, about $600- Also: solar bike headlights, electric bike charging stations, Segways and pedicabs* Small Planet E Vehicles, 1811 Hover St., Longmont; 303-532-2879, smallplanet A2B, Europa, Portia and ElecTrec bikes, $999 to $1,799- Also: electric scooters, trucks and cars* OptiBike, Boulder; 303-443- 0932, Custom-built, high- performance electric bikes, $5,000 to $13,000* NYCeWheels is a Web site that offers a variety of electric bikes, including Rayos, Xootr and Ezee brands, as well as conversion kits. nycewheels.comFor more information:The best Web site on electric bikes that we’ve found is electric-bikes. com/bikes. It includes details on personal and environmental advantages, brands and models, traffic law and e-bike repair.The law and electric-assist bikeIn general, motor-assisted bicycles go no faster than 20 mph (under power) and may travel any route their pedal-only counterparts traverse, including bike-only lanes.That is, unless a particular state, county or city passes a law specifically banning “motorized vehicles” from designated bike paths, as is the case in Boulder and Denver.”The city of Boulder does not allow electric bikes on the bike paths unless the motor is off,” said Martha Rozkowski, program manager for Go Boulder, the city’s alternative-transportation department. “But you can use electric-assist bikes on bike lanes on streets.”For those whose job it is to promote alternative transportation, the plethora of new vehicles is “a big headache,” she said. “It’s really pretty complex, which vehicles you allow where.”We’re seeing many more electric bikes, more Vespas, Segways, scooters and toy vehicles (like motorized skateboards) since the price of gas went up. I think we’re going to have to revisit the issue soon.”

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