RETURN TO HOME PAGE
Getting a Charge Out of Electric Bikes
By Erin O'Briant
Imagine you are riding your bike in Noe Valley. As you head up the steep part of 24th Street--or up any of the intimidating inclines in our 'hood--you brace yourself to pump those pedals as hard as you can. But as you start to take that huge hill, your bike magically begins propelling you along. You sail right up the slope as though it were as flat as Valencia Street. That's because you're on an electric bike.
Noe Valley resident Steve Roseman is the owner of the Electric Bike Network, a three-month-old business he runs out of his 24th Street home. It's a company all right, says Roseman, but for him it's also a quest. The environmentalist and biking activist hopes that by convincing locals that electric bikes are a good alternative to cars, he'll promote more cycling and less pollution.
Most people don't ride bicycles in San Francisco, he says, because of the hills and the traffic. "I'm trying to take the excuses away," Roseman explains. "For most people in neighborhoods like Noe Valley, one block off the busy streets, there is very little traffic. The electric bike makes the hills disappear, and you can get on streets with little or no traffic."
Twenty-fourth Street shoppers may already have seen the battery-powered L.A. Free bikes Roseman promotes. They've been on display recently at Tuggey's Hardware, See Jane Run, and Cover to Cover Booksellers. They're also available for sale or test-ride at Noe Valley Cyclery.
Part of Roseman's business strategy is to partner with organizations that fit with his vision. Anyone who tries out the electric bikes at Noe Valley Cyclery, at 24th and Diamond, gets a free ice cream cone at Isabella's Dessert Café at 24th and Castro. (Ice cream makes people smile, says Roseman, and so does riding a bike.) Buy one of his bikes, and you'll get free membership in the San Francisco Bike Coalition, as well as perks at the nonprofit City CarShare. Plus, a third of any after-tax profits will go to organizations working to improve transportation and the environment in the Bay Area.
Folks training for the Tour de France won't find the Electric Bike Company's products too appealing, however. Both of the models Roseman promotes are heavy--48 to 73 pounds, including the battery--and they do a lot of the work for you. But speed racers like Lance Armstrong are not the market Roseman is trying to reach.
"I see people where I live, at the top of 24th Street, get in their cars, drive eight blocks, and spend 10 minutes looking for parking, all to buy a bag of groceries," he explains. It's those riders, he says, who would benefit from an electric bicycle. They could zip down, do their shopping, and zip back up the hill without too much exertion. Huge quads are not the goal. Ease of transportation is.
Aside from the bikes' weight, which makes them difficult to tote up stairs or squeeze through tight doorways, the Voice, after conducting our own three-day trial, could find few drawbacks.
All the rider does is pedal. The bike senses how much power is needed, and four gears give you the option to use more or less juice, or none at all. The ride is smooth and powerful, and the bikes are well-built and comfortable.
Their top speed is 20 miles per hour, and they travel from 15 to 25 miles before you need to recharge the battery, by plugging a separate charger into a wall outlet. To charge a completely worn-down battery takes five hours or less.
The prices are not exactly garage-sale bargains--$995 for the L.A. Free Sport and $1,195 for the L.A. Free Lite--but they're also close to the usual cost of a new, high-quality bicycle.
Roseman, a 20-year veteran of Hewlett-Packard, got the idea for the company while spending a summer in Seattle. There, he bought his first electric bike from a fellow cycling enthusiast. He was hooked. "It completely changed the way I got around and my view of transportation," he says. "When [my wife and I] were preparing to come back to San Francisco, it was clear to me that the San Francisco market was ideal for electric bikes."
The L.A. Free models aren't the first electric bikes on the market, but Roseman believes they're the best way to introduce the skeptical public to this relatively new twist on transit.
"These bikes are made by Giant Bicycles, which is one of the top five bike companies in the world, and they know how to make, service, and distribute bikes," he explains. "I wanted to go with a bike that I thought was really well-built and would be good for people, have a good price, and have great factory support."
After he's spread the word about electric bikes in Noe Valley, Roseman plans to expand his efforts to neighborhoods throughout San Francisco and the East Bay. "All I want to do is change how the world views transportation," he says, and he's taking it one hill at a time.
For more information about the Electric Bike Network, visit www.electricbikenetwork.com or call 415-647-0886.