Today, we rode a revolutionary vehicle, and it felt out of our comfort zone. It was a bit scary — scary good, light and fun, quick yet eerie. Eerie good because this vehicle is almost as light as one’s first Schwinn, yet quick off the stoplight as most drivers with a V-8 engine.
We were sailing along at about 20 mph, which felt plenty fast, and we were driving the leading edge of the worldwide personal transportation revolution.
The big transportation corporations don’t own or control it nor does any individual. The parts are modular and interchangeable among brands assembled in Japan, China, North America and the rest of the planet.
This revolution is not being televised yet, but the electricity is in the air worldwide. Sales of electric bicycles and tricycles alone are increasing millions per year.
In the last century, bicycles outnumbered automobiles, and before women had the right to vote, they voted in disproportionate numbers to ride bicycles and drive electric cars.
Electric power is so clean and odorless compared to petroleum. No expensive fuel, messy oil spills or fill-up stench. This transportation solution holds the promise of helping to solve a number of our urban problems for the foreseeable future. Not only is this inexpensive transportation, but it’s healthy transportation.
Traditional bicycle and tricycle companies, as well as many new upstarts, are designing and building enjoyable, easy-to-control, electric cycles.
Electric bicycles, scooters and motorcycles are being devoured by the early adapters.
Many cycle designs have you sitting in a chair-like position, although most still have you sitting atop the seat.
For the traditional electric models we've driven, the seats had plenty of rumpus room softly cushioned with springs. Additionally, the seat post had a shock absorber, and the tires were fluffy fatties pumped up firm for accurate control. It had impressive comfort over potholes and train crossings.
Some cycles exclusively sensed the amount of torque you're applying with your leg peddling normally, then transmits your strength to the computer-controlled electric motor built into the center of the wheel. These are called “torque sensing” and will only give you power when you're peddling.
“Throttle sensing” is the term used when you twist the grip to accelerate, independent of what your feet are doing.
Some have the batteries on the back; some batteries are incorporated on the frame. The batteries on most electric bikes can be lifted off the bike and plugged in at home or the office. Range varies, as do battery types and sizes, returning anywhere from 30 to 100 miles.
Some bikes have baskets; some have tag-along, grocery attachments so you can do it all while enhancing your personal and local economy.
Riding at any age
Seattle is best described as a city of steep hills, and they present challenges to the bike rider. We stop riding as we age and cannot physically handle the up and downs — that’s where power-assisted, electric bikes come into play: They are the great equalizer of bike transportation, making it possible for folks in reasonable shape of any age to ride.
Rus Bockin, of Currie Technologies, manufacturer of the IZIP, explained, “We’ve got a new, older demographic coming in to look at and buy electric bicycles — it’s a group that you don’t usually see shopping for bikes.”
He added, “Riders can keep up with traffic or get out of the way. Instead of having to pedal out of trouble, they can use throttle ability.”
The Chatsworth Calif., company has been in the electric-bike business since 1996, first with a conversion kit.
You can find a basic, hybrid-electric bike for around $500 or have yours converted starting at around $500. There are many new electrics in the $1,500 to $3,500 range, and top-of-the-line, heavy-duty cruisers used in police departments come in at around $5,000.
The federally mandated, top speed of all electric bikes is 20 mph and 750 watts of power. After that, you become a motorbike, but don’t let that stop you from going up to 1,000 watts or more.
Electric bikes require no license and no insurance. Insurance is available for around $200 per year, and usually recommended if you use your bike to commute daily.
Seattle’s electric-bike scene
We’ve included a list of businesses that provide the electric-bike experience in Seattle. We encourage you to seek out the one that fits you.
Try a sample drive on one of these revolutionary ways to do your errands and save money.
•Alki Bike and Board, 2606 California Ave. S.W. (www.alkibikeandboard.com)
•Bicycle Center of Seattle, 4529 Sand Point Way N.E. (www.bicyclecenterofseattle.com)
•Electric Vehicles NW, 4810 17th Ave. N.W. (www.ebikesnw.com)
•Gregg’s Cycles, 7007 Woodlawn Ave N.E. (www.greggscycles.com)
•MC Electric Vehicle, 1200 S. Dearborn St. (www.mcelectricvehicles.com)
•Seattle Electric Bike, 8310 Eighth Ave. N.W. (www.seattlelectricbike.net)
JEAN SWENSON and ASHLY KNAPP have studied and covered transportation machines and issues in print, on radio and television, locally and nationally. Send questions, ideas, comments or other communication to firstname.lastname@example.org.