MS. REBECCA SHEIR
When it comes commuting, there aren't really, many ways to get around that we'd consider all that rarer or unusual. There's the bus, the train, your car or your own two legs, right? Well, our new reporter, Martin DiCaro tested out another method in our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
And he found that this particular method, while still rare, is starting to take off.
MR. MARTIN DI CARO
Jo Reyes used to work in a noisy world of horsepower and engine exhaust. He was a Ferrari racecar mechanic in his younger days.
MR. JO REYES
It was fun. It was a good experience.
But these days, instead of the roar of a 12-cylinder engine that would get about five miles per gallon, his ears are filled with this...
That's an electric motor on a bicycle. It's like a drill.
We call it an electric assist bicycle. You get 25 percent of your assist from the electric motor, 75 percent of it comes from you. So it's kind of, you know, an electric-human hybrid, if you will.
Welcome to the Green Commuter, the bike shop Reyes has owned with his wife for the past two years, the place where he hopes to sell a lot more electric bicycles. Right now, he's lucky to sell one per week.
When we first opened in 2010, we sold, between April and December, we sold about 12 units of electric bikes. In 2011, we sold approximately 34 units of electric bikes.
Reyes only took an interest in electric bikes after a fight with his wife who was getting tired, literally, of their long treks on regular bicycles.
She's ready to kill me. So I did some research and that's when I started learning about these electric bikes. So I bought her one of these bikes from -- this is really what started everything here.
An electric bike looks like your regular sturdy road bike except for the lithium ion battery pack on the rear frame. So new models have a range of 20 miles or more and can easily reach the top speed allowed under federal law, 20 miles per hour. As the technology has improved, Reyes says, electric bikes have become more practical, they're lighter, their batteries last longer and they're a lot of fun. I know because I took one for a test drive. So I'm at the bottom of a hill on an electric bike. I need a little throttle, whoa, up I go.
You can hear that sound, that's the engine or the battery, no engine. Electric bikes can also be fitted with cargo containers. I plopped into a big black bucket Reyes uses to go grocery shopping. He peddled. I sat in the back, destination, the Tacoma Metro Station, one mile from his store. How fast are we going?
Probably 18 miles an hour.
Man, 18 miles an hour. It took us about five minutes to get there and it probably would've taken us about 30 minutes to reach the corner of 13th and Pennsylvania...
...where I met Charlie Garlow, the President of the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington, near his office at the Environmental Protection Agency. He is an attorney who works on compliance with the Clean Air Act and a big supporter of Green Commuting. He co-owns the bike shop with Reyes.
MR. CHARLIE GARLOW
Some people say, well, Charlie, I don't know about bicycling. There's -- you could get so hot and sweaty and all that. And I said, well, try an electric bicycle. Especially for folks who are a little older like I am, I'm 62 years old. If you're having a hard time getting up that hill without throwing out that old knee injury you had from soccer, then just pull the trigger on your electric and zing, up the hill you go.
As you can tell, electric bicycling has plenty of benefits. No pollution, the exercise is good for your health and it's a cheap ride too, about three cents a mile based on kilowatt hours. But the bikes themselves aren't cheap. A new model can cost you close to $3,000. You can get a good one for $1,500. Garlow expects the prices to eventually come down if the bikes grow in popularity.
Variety is the spice of life and if you see somebody cool going down the highway with a bicycle like that guy right there who just dinged at us, he's one of my pals, you say to yourself, yeah, I can do that.
Richard Cowden (sp?) used to drive 38 miles one way to work in the 1990s, but now the 61-year-old editor at a publishing company rides his electric bike 24 miles roundtrip from Tacoma Park to Crystal City. He foresees more people living closer to their offices, making bicycling more appealing.
MR. RICHARD COWDEN
The housing collapse forced people to start looking again at their -- the inner city, the urban infrastructure, the central business district areas where there were plenty of good housing stock that was largely either abandoned or underutilized.
Sixty-eight percent of all drivers commute between one and 15 miles one way, according the U.S. Department of Transportation. Only 16 percent drive at least 26 miles, one way to work. So maybe this sound...
...doesn't have to be so rare after all. I'm Martin DiCaro.
To see for yourself what these electric bikes look like, head to our website, metroconnection.org.
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