I was just in Portland, which seems to be the bike capitol of the west half, and stumbled into an unassuming little bike shop near Powell’s City of Books. Turns out they only sell one brand of bikes there, Kalkhoff, which is a German brand that specializes in…. wait for it… electric bikes. Shocking!
Up until now, I’ve been fairly unimpressed by the whole electric bike concept. Carting around another 20 pounds of motor and stuff to assist you seems somewhat pointless, and since fitness is probably my chief goal in this biking endeavor, it also seems like cheating. Not to mention a little dorky, and I’m already Mr. Lit-Up Yellow Banana Riding Down the Street. There’s only one problem with this set of assumptions.
Riding this bike is a blast. I took it for a short test ride, and could not wipe the smile off my face. The motor kicks in when you start pedaling, and a control on the handlebar allows you to pick how much power you have at your disposal. You can get going up to 25 mph on the thing. It’s very easy, smooth, and intuitive. I got the hang of it within a couple of yards of starting. And once I got going, it just seemed like the fun of biking got magnified a couple of times over. It’s like riding with a wind always at your back.
What about the cheating thing? Well, I look at it this way; the bike’s got a 50-mile maximum range on a battery charge, more than enough to get me to work, and probably back. As it stands, I ride about three times a week, and I usually go half way, and take the shuttle the rest of the route. I could easily see using a bike like this every day, and going the entire way on it. It’s got a lot of carrying capacity, 60 pounds on the rear rack. I’d use it for grocery errands, all kinds of stuff. You don’t need special shoes, or spandex, or anything but a helmet. I could forget about a lot of the planning I have to do around showering and clothing, etc. I think I’d be on it a lot more than I’m on my road bike.
So why not get one? Well, the one I rode is about $3k. Which I don’t have to blow on a bike. They run from around 2 to 5 Gs, and we’re not talking cell phone networks. For bikes, they’re pricey. On the other hand, that’s a whole lot cheaper than a new car. And a lot more fun and environmentally friendly.
There’s a larger issue here too. Bikes like these could really get more people riding. It makes biking a lot more convenient, a lot more family friendly, and a lot less dependent on things like good showering facilities at work. Clearly, I’m excited by the possibilities. I think for that to happen, though, the prices have to come down, and the designs have to improve. The Kalkhoff is a nice looking bike overall, but it still looks like it’s got a plastic tumor stuck to the frame.
There are lots of other brands out there, and I’m going to go ride some more of them. Maybe someday I’ll take the plunge….or the plug, as it were…