eBikes: The Missing Link in LA Transportation?

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In this time of changing mobility in Los Angeles, cycling is growing in popularity.

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“We don’t believe we are selling bicycles, we believe we are in the business of are selling fun. It’s kind of like, remember me, I’m the bicycle, I was in the garage all these years and you’ve kind of ignored me, but I’m back. Being part of coming back is to say I can have fun riding bikes again.”
Don DiCostanzo (left of picture), co-founder, Pedego, on why the company’s catalogue is titled, “Hello, Fun. . .”

In this time of changing mobility in Los Angeles, bicycling is on the increase. And bikes are being touted by Metro as a cog in the wheel of the regional transit network. If you want to use bus or train to commute but the bus stop or station is some distance from home, as is often the case in the spread-out Southland, Metro urges you to ride that “first mile-last mile” by bike.

But what if that bike route to the station is several miles or features some very steep hills or your knees feel a bit creaky?

The solution just may lie with an eBike.

eBikes are electric motor-assisted bicycles, and were invented more than 100 years ago. But now some Southland companies are reinventing them. One of them is IZip in Simi Valley; another is Pedego in Irvine. Pedego — which means Ped for pedal, e for electric and go for, Go! — was founded by lifelong buddies Don DiCostanzo and Terry Sherry (above).

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Biking From Ecoterrorism to Ecopreneurship

Don and Terry do not fit the profile of downtown hipster dudes in the vanguard of the new urban lifestyle. Don, a self-described former “ecoterrorist” turned “ecopreneur,” was in the carwash business for many years. But he sold up when he saw the potential for eBikes, after trying one himself eight years ago, and loving the ride, but believing he could improve on the available designs.

Now in business six years, Pedego sells a line of cheerfully colored, aluminum-framed, two-wheelers that don’t differ too much from regular pedal bikes, except they tend to be sturdier, they have a 36 or 48-volt battery built into the rack over the rear and they weigh around 50-60 pounds more, due to the added weight of the battery, the motor, the controller, and the additional braking power.

The bikes can be pedaled just like a regular bike or you can put on the throttle for varying levels of extra oomph, from pedal assist (where you still get the cardio workout) through to full throttle, where you let the engine do all the work for you and you can sail up that hill in Echo Park or Ladera Heights, at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour, without breaking a sweat.

Don and Terry say their bikes appeal to a wide demographic, but especially to women in the 40-60 age bracket, who are nervous to ride a bicycle but far more confident doing so with the extra pedal assist.

Ford-Pedego, an eBike for the Harley Set


This year Pedego has launched an intriguing new addition to their line: an oval-framed, matte-black, thick-wheeled, tough-looking eBike (ridden above by DnA’s Caroline Chamberlain). It’s the product of an alliance with Ford Motor Company, which is showing its commitment to an electric-powered transportation future through new vehicles like the Solar C-Max solar-powered car, and the Ford-Pedego eBike.

The goal behind the styling of the $3,000 bike, which they licensed from mountain bike designer Tony Ellsworth, was, they said, to appeal to men who would otherwise want to drive a Harley. DnA spoke to Scott Bice, a Ford-Pedego customer who said it was just that macho quality that appealed to him, as a substitute for the motorcycle he dreams of but is not permitted to purchase, by his wife of 30 years.

DnA’s Frances Anderton and Caroline Chamberlain, both daily bicycle commuters, tested the Ford-Pedego and the company’s other eBikes at Pedego’s Irvine HQ; despite awareness of bicycle purists’ disdain for eBikes, and initial jitters at the energy boost at the touch of a throttle, they found they were enormous fun to ride.


eBikes a “Missing Link” in LA’s Transportation Infrastructure

However much fun they might be, are they a reality for the Southland? Don says his business is doubling annually but even so, he acknowledges that out of the 12 million adult bikes sold each year in the US, only 50,000 are eBikes.

But that could change. eBike sales are escalating worldwide; China has seen an astonishing increase from zero to 150 million eBikes on the roads in the last decade.

And if Ford is backing eBikes, that says something about which way the wind is blowing, says Alejandro Martin Lopez of Troika branding company, who previously worked in Tokyo where he rode eBikes along with thousands of others on the Japanese roads. In his view the US will play catch-up to other counties where the eBike is “mass market” and routinely backed by major car corporations.

The last person one might expect to offer up an endorsement of ebikes is TJ Flexer. He is owner and CEO of Orange 20 Bikes in East Hollywood, and member of LA’s hardcore city cycling community; that’s the group that tends to look at eBikes as being for wusses. But even he is now selling eBikes – iZips (see the iZip E3 Metro, above) and leading German brands.

Maybe it’s the fact that his own mom has seen her life vastly enhanced by an eBike. But he says that in his view the technology and components are now high enough quality for eBikes to be a viable “missing link in the transportation infrastructure of Los Angeles.” They have the potential, he says, “to put more people of various demographics on the saddle of a bike and use a bike in a way that in almost can replace the automobile for their personal needs.”

Listen to the full segment, above.

Meet Don DiCostanzo and TJ Flexer at Reinventing the Wheel, our KCRW/DnA public event about the future of mobility taking place this Sunday, May 18 at the Helms Bakery District. Also at the event: Larry Pizzi and Daniel Shiau of IZIP; they will display their E3 Metro.