Bike In The Fast Lane
Bicycling to work? An electrifying idea!
Thursday, March 1, 2001
If you''re like most people, there are probably several reasons why you don''t bike to work. There is that steep hill between your house and the office where you have seen cyclists spinning their pedals faster than a windmill during a tornado. There is that co-worker you like who might cringe if you show up at work looking like you just finished a complete Tae Bo workout. There is the fact that you really don''t want to be sweaty or out of breath before your first latte of the day.
But there is no reason to fear going to work on an electric bike borrowed from Commute Alternatives/Ridesharing. As a program operating under the umbrella of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG), Commute Alternatives/Ridesharing seeks to ease traffic and pollution problems around the Monterey Bay area by introducing carpooling and other progressive programs. I rode one of the electric bikes around the parking lot of the program''s Marina office and found out firsthand why some people think electric bikes are the wave of the future.
Kyrrha Sevco, the program''s coordinator, showed me the drill on electric bikesmanship. The instructions were simple: Pedal like a chump or push a lever under the left handlebar to run a small engine that turns the back wheel. The engine, powered by a battery mounted on the frame above the pedals, can get the bike moving to speeds around 20 mph.
I hopped on the transporter, a Smith & Wesson mountain bike with a Zero Air Pollution (ZAP) engine, wondering if the frame was made from melted handguns. I don''t know what the bike was made of, but it took off like a bullet when I pressed the handlebar trigger.
There is a strange initial sensation when using the motor on an electric bike, a feeling like riding on an electric walkway in an airport, where it seems you should be expending more energy for the ground being covered. I also noticed that the engine made hardly any noise.
Reluctantly, I turned the bike back over to Sevco, who had started to eye my truck with contempt.
It seems that I am not the only one impressed with the electric bikes. All the 20 bikes owned by Commute Alternatives/Ridesharing are currently loaned out to businesses in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties as a means of piquing interest in bicycular transportation. Sevco says the waiting list has 30 people on it.
The program is free, but participants need to fill out a liability waiver and a lease agreement and agree to complete an initial and final survey before they don a helmet (which is also required). Each loan session lasts for three months.
Ben Berto, senior planner for the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea, just finished his second stint using an electric bike to travel to site inspections on the job. Berto praises the bike for enabling him to bypass Carmel''s traffic jams and for helping him avoid lengthy competitions for open parking spaces.
Berto believes the bikes would also be very useful during emergencies with major road damage because they give riders more access and mobility than they would have in a car. "They would be of phenomenal assistance in a major emergency like a natural disaster, specifically an earthquake," he says.
William Laird, the office manager for CSU Monterey Bay''s Institute for Community Collaborative Studies, used an electric bike from Commute Alternatives/Ridesharing during a time when he was plagued by a knee injury. He calls the experience "therapeutic, before and after surgery."
Laird was so impressed with the electric bike that he helped CSUMB borrow four bikes from the program. The campus currently loans the bikes out to CSUMB students, staff and faculty for two-week periods.
The electric bike loan program is funded by a grant from the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District, which uses a portion of DMV''s $4 registration fee surcharge for programs that "seem to be cost effective at reducing air pollution from motor vehicles." The tri-county (San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey) government organization is also responsible for reimbursing the police departments of Monterey, Greenfield and Pacific Grove for the price of 11 electric bikes bought by the law enforcement agencies.
Paul Gaske, the school resource officer of the Pacific Grove police department, believes the bikes are a great law enforcement tool. "The bikes are a lot stealthier than patrol cars and more approachable for tourists," he says.
Besides, Gaske claims that officers on electric cycles are able to show up on the scene without being winded like their furiously pedaling colleagues. It would probably be hard to read someone their rights after riding a regular bike from Lovers Point to the top of Prescott.
ZAPWORLD.COM, a publicly owned company from Sebastopol, manufactures the electric bikes used by Commute Alternatives/Ridesharing and the Pacific Grove police. Company spokesperson Alex Campbell believes that ZAPWORLD.COM is successful in the electric bike market where others have failed because the company makes an affordable electric bike.
"We have broken the price barrier," he says, noting that the new 2001 Power Bike, a simpler version of the bike used in AMBAG''s loan program, will cost $450.
ZAP''s electric bikes have received favorable reviews from participants in Commute Alternatives/Ridesharing''s electric bike loan program, though riders note there are a few areas where the bikes could be improved. Major complaints are usually about the duration of the bike''s rechargeable battery and the bike''s extra weight from the 20-lb engine system (which can be removed for regular cycling.)
But hey, when you don''t have to pump the pedals uphill, what''s an extra 20 pounds?
For more info, call Kyrrha Sevco at 883-3750.