PRODUCT Electric bikes equipped with battery-powered motors
HOW IT STARTED Eco-friendly folks with strong intentions but weaker legs were looking for a boost on those tough hills
JUDGMENT CALL For fading fitness buffs, a good (if pricey) option
Last year it was the scooter; a few years before that, inline skates and skateboards. If there is a new way to get around on wheels, we bipeds are eager to embrace it. So clear a path for electric bikes.
For weekend warriors who find themselves a little weak on those really steep hills, electric bikes are the perfect answer. You can pedal until you start to poop out, then with the flick of a switch you can give your tired legs a boost from a battery-powered electric motor like the one found in a blender. (The motor works only when you're pedaling, so you're not cheating totally.) Or, if you want to bike to work but don't like to show up for your morning meeting in full sweat, electric bikes can make the ride easier and relatively perspiration-free. The assist from a six-hour charge-up will take you about 20 miles, at a maximum speed of 20 m.p.h.
While the $1,000 price tag is still a deterrent for most recreational riders, bike shops around the country are seeing a boom in interest. Sales of electric bikes have climbed from just over 1,000 in 1995 to 30,000 last year. Volume is expected to hit 120,000 this year, thanks to growing interest not only among baby boomers discovering they're not so young as they once were but also among teens and young adults. A survey of buyers by Ford Motor company, which makes several models (including one that folds up smaller than a baby stroller), showed that even extreme cyclists were buying electric bikes for off-days and daily errands. Pedal on.
--By Alice Park