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Electric Bicycles Ride Into D.C.

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Some D.C. commuters have started using electric bikes to break up the monotony.
Martin Di Caro
Some D.C. commuters have started using electric bikes to break up the monotony.

Joe Reyes, the owner of The Green Commuter in Takoma Park, Md., has traveled from one extreme to another. He once worked as a mechanic for a Ferrari racing team working on engines that would achieve fuel efficiency of about 5 miles per gallon. Now he sells a mode of transportation that is as eco-friendly as it gets: bicycles. But Reyes also sells bicycles for non-bicyclists.

"We call it an electric-assist bicycle," says Reyes. "You get 25 percent of your assist from the electric motor, 75 percent of it comes from you. It's kind of an electric human-hybrid, if you will."

An electric bike looks like a regular, sturdy road bike, except for the lithium-ion battery pack on the rear frame. It's rare to see electric bikes on the roads around D.C., but Reyes thinks they may not be so rare much longer.

"If your commute is say 8 or 10 miles one way, you get to your office, you just plug it in there and you have plenty of juice to get back home," he says.

As of now Reyes is lucky to sell one electric bike per week, which can cost around $3,000 for a new model. A good one can cost about $1,500 or less.

"When we first opened in 2010, we sold between April and December about 12 units of electric bikes," says Reyes. "In 2011 we sold approximately 34 units of electric bikes."

Charlie Garlow, who co-owns the bike shop with Reyes, imagines what downtown D.C. near his office at the EPA, would sound like if the growl of internal combustion engines were replaced by the quiet hum of electric batteries.

"It would look just like Amsterdam or Denmark," says Garlow, who is an EPA attorney who works on compliance with the Clean Air Act. "It's wonderful. It was just beautiful when I was over there seeing all those bicycles. It just gives you a different feel for life altogether. I'd love to see Washington, D.C. do more of that."

[Music: "A to B" by The Futureheads from The Futureheads]

Photos: It's Electric!

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