E-bikes and Turbo Bob in the Local Newspaper.
This week I was featured in our local newspaper (The San Diego Union Tribune) on the front page of the business section. Weekly on Monday they try to highlight a mover and shaker in the world of technology and they picked me. Although E-bikes aren’t my #1 interest in bikes, as you know I spend a lot of time testing, riding and reporting on them. E-bikes are the main interest in this article they printed.
The link below will take you to the online version of the article in the paper. Because they had to trim it down so much to fit in the allotted space, I thought I would post the full piece here. This way you can read the full interview and then also see exactly what was printed in our newspaper. My interviewer was Morgan Lee, the UT’s reporter on energy and green business. I want to thank him and the Union Tribune for getting my words and photos in print.
Here is the full interview.
Q: What is an E-bike? Who rides them and why?
A: An E-bike is a everyday bicycle, and just like a bell and rack add fun and utility, the motor and battery do the same. You’ll find adults of all ages and genders riding them. They help flatten the hills and add fun to any ride. They are also great for people who are temporally or permanently weakened by age or medical issues. Traveling 20-30 miles on about 5 cents of electricity, you can easily see the green effect and cost savings with every ride. You can decide on how much exercise you get, normally adding about half the power with your legs and the other half from the motor.
Q: How did you learn about electric bicycles and what kindled your interest?
A: With the desire to leave our cars parked, we looked for a better way to make our daily commutes without affecting our environment and pocketbooks so adversely. As avid bike riders already, E-bikes showed the way to our needs. I rode my first E-bike in 1995, but finding out about all the recent advances in E-bike technology, 5 years ago we got a pair for ourselves.
Q: Where are E-bikes made, who are some of the leading manufacturers?
A: Almost all E-bikes are made in China and Taiwan, yet many are designed in the US and Europe. I’ve tested and reviewed almost 30 different makes since I started my bike blog, so listing them all would be hard. Here in San Diego the shops carry Pedego, IZIP, eFlow, Juiced Riders, Stromer, e-Joe, Motiv, Prodeco, A2B, the Ridekick E-trailer and many more.
Q: In your opinion, what’s the current state of bicycling in San Diego? What obstacles do you see to more participation (technological, public policy, attitudes, infrastructure etc)?
A: For me things are close to perfect (I’ve been riding the So Cal streets since I was 8 and am quite used to the way things are). For most they are lacking. We need separate areas on our streets that the bikes can travel on safely. We need smoother and wider bike lanes that can allow people to travel with confidence and no un-needed worry. Studies show that vehicle drivers would prefer people on bicycles have their own areas to ride that will make both feel safer and more comfortable. With our new Bike Share Program coming in 2014 and this August’s CicloSDias, I think the city will be working harder to allow better riding conditions for all people on bikes.
Q: What are the benefits of a new E-bike versus a used motorcycle or scooter that one might buy for the same price?
A: E-bikes are safer and cleaner. You generally ride to the side of traffic, not in it. The easier pace makes for a better experience too. The health benefits of riding a bike are great, one good friend has almost halved her weight and has a near constant smile in just over a year of E-bike riding and commuting. Figure too that the thrill of not visiting a gas station is more than worth the price of admission. Plus, basic maintenance costs are close to nil. Keep in mind that a regular bicycle can be converted to an E-bike with a kit or individual components by a do-it-yourselfer for a smaller cash outlay.
Q: Regulations for E-bikes limit power and speed? How come?
A: These are bicycles and keeping them that way makes sense to me. The motor alone shouldn’t be able to propel an E-bike to over 20 mph to stay within the Federal and California guidelines. That is plenty of speed and power for most anyone who chooses to use an E-bike to make their way around town. Keeping the speed down also allows the battery to deliver a longer range between recharges.
Q: What are the most exciting new features and technologies?
A: Not quite as recent are the efficient brushless motors and light-weight, powerful lithium batteries. The newest thing happening is the adoption of torque-sensed motor control systems on the higher-end E-bikes. These can feel the amount of power you are putting on the pedals and add the motor power in a smooth and seamless way. Unfortunately some makers are putting out bikes that are programmed in a way that can compromise rider safety. Guiding the companies to make quality and safe E-bikes is my biggest goal and what I feel I am doing the best. Some are quite resistant to my ideas, but most relish my input and adopt some of my suggestions to their new models. If you are considering an E-bike with this type of system, I recommend an eFlow E-bike or a BionX equipped E-bike. They are designed and programmed the best.
Q: Have you seen any recent estimates on overall sales nationally or globally by the industry?
A: The numbers are all over the board. It is said that China has over 120 million E-bike riders, but many of those are more on the motor scooter side. Europe is enjoying great sales and the US is catching up fast. In the industry, 2013 is known as the year of the E-bike. We are still in the education mode and that is another one of my big excitements in life. I host a bi-yearly E-bike seminar called “Introduction to Electric Bikes”. Held at the SDG&E Energy Innovation Center, my next one will be in October. After my talk and a Q&A session, the attendees get a chance to ride over 30 different E-bikes that are on hand. It is a no sales event, just a meet and greet with the local shops and companies, and a chance to see what the bikes are all about.
Q: What’s the most frequent question people have about E-bikes?
A: Well, cost of course. Then it’s onto how far and how fast. With all the bikes I get to test, the next question comes from me, “Do you want to try it out?” Many balk at first, but hundreds have gotten their first ride on an E-bike from a chance encounter as I ride the streets and bike paths of San Diego. Occasionally they ask if the battery recharges as you pedal, and no it doesn’t. Some E-bikes do have a battery regeneration feature that can add power back to the battery as you descend a hill.
Q: Has this evolved into a career? Do you profit from commissions, promotions or your reviews?
A: This is a total passion for me. I test and report on more than just E-bikes too. Folding bikes, vintage bikes and accessories are also on my radar. I have had an E-bike article published in a bike magazine that netted a small cash flow, but on the whole, the perks of bikes to ride, accessories to test, an occasional free lunch and basic swag are the only “pay” I get. Unlike the few others in my position, I accept no funds for testing and reporting on any given E-bike, nor do I make any profit from the ads that might pop-up on my three internet sites. As I am semi-retired, I am hoping to find the perfect position in this industry. The problem I see there is since I am an independent tester and writer, I don’t want to get under the wing of any one E-bike maker.
Q: What other bike activities are you involved with?
A: My wife and I join in with many San Diego groups and clubs who host low-key mellow group bicycle rides. They are great fun and we’ve met so many new interesting friends doing them. I recommend them highly. Plus I have become quite active with my You-Tube channel and Facebook page that both support my WordPress bike blog. You can find all the sites under the name of “Turbo Bob’s Bicycle Blog”. I invite you to follow along and sign-up for each of the sites. Whether you are on a regular bike or an E-bike, riding takes you back to a youthful innocence that can’t be bought in even the fanciest store.
This is the link to the UT’s site with the article