It’s Electric! Two Wheels and a Plug-In Motor Offer Alternative Commuter Transportation

The next time your town is having a "bad air" day, and you glare at your local smoke-spewing power plant, give a thought also to the vehicle in your own driveway. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, cars, trucks and buses account for more than 50 percent of smog emissions. Car emissions are indirectly linked to 30,000 air-pollution-related deaths a year, and nearly 100 car-choked cities exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Air Quality Standards on a regular basis.

The eGo Cycle is a ground-up design.

Electric cars offer one solution, but they’re not the entire answer. Automobiles, electric or not, still need to travel on roads, which have their own environmental impacts (see "Getting Out of Gridlock," this issue). Drivers are wasting time and money trying to get to work. According to Oregon’s Bicycle Map, if your commute is an eight-mile round trip, it is costing you about $1,096 a year to drive to work, not including the costs of air pollution or traffic accidents.

If you’re worried that you won’t get there fast enough, consider that the average urban travel speed by car is only about 25 miles per hour (mph), which decreases in heavy traffic. For those living a few miles from work, within a gated community or an urban area, new electric options may soon render the car pass?.

The bicycle offers an ideal commuting choice, but millions of Americans leave their bikes in the garage, often because riding to work is just too strenuous or time-consuming. For them, the electric-powered or -assisted bike represents a happy compromise. Jerry Kay, general manager of the Environmental News Network, likes saving time. "My commute is 8.5 miles, including 1.5 miles of hills," he says. "Usually it takes me an hour to make the ride, but with the electric bike it takes 40 minutes. And, the electric bike is fun to ride!" For those days when you may not be feeling up to pedaling all the way to work and back, the power of an electric bike or scooter may be just the inducement you need to switch to green transportation.

ZAP! Strikes Again

For an economical answer to rush hour woes, consider the ZAP! Electric Bicycle. For under $500, you can ride a complete electric bike that will travel up to 15 mph, with a range of 15 miles. With a simple DC motor that powers a belt transmission on the rear tire, you can use this as a pedaled bike or as a power-assisted vehicle. You can pedal less and use the engine to make up the difference, or use the engine fully without pedaling. ZAP! also sells a $500 electric motor system that can be attached to an existing bike. Says Alex Campbell, a company spokesperson, "If you electrofit your old bike, it’s like recycling!"

Ford has also jumped in the electric bike race, with the power-assisted Th!nk Bike, which can travel 22 miles at speeds of up to 20 mph on a six-hour charge. The Fun model is set up like a traditional bike, but the Traveler folds and can fit in the trunk of most cars (both $995).

The proposed Bikestation in Denver offers secure indoor parking.

Nova Cruz Products makes an electric motorbike (no pedaling involved) that has a stripped-down motorcycle look and sells for $2,500. With a 25-mile range and a three-hour recharge time, the Voloci electric motorbike is available with a simple lead-acid battery, or with a longer-range nickel-metal-hydride type.

Another electric motorcycle is the aluminum-framed, retro-looking eGo Cycle, which starts at $1,399. According to President Andrew Kallfelz, the eGo was dreamed up from a clean slate. "We thought it would be more efficient to design an electric vehicle from the ground up." The average eGo recharge is three or four hours, and costs 10 cents (the equivalent of about 300 miles per gallon). The eGo is cleaner and quieter than most mopeds, which use highly polluting two-stroke engines.

What is IT?

The media hoopla over Dean Kamen’s IT ("One of the most protracted product unveilings in modern business history," says has cleared, and what’s on view is the Segway, a gyroscopically controlled electric scooter.

For the 80 percent of trips Americans make that are less than four miles, and in urban areas, the Segway may make sense. This scooter, which is to be publicly introduced late in 2002, is being tested by U.S. mail carriers in Florida. Tobe Cohen, the company’s marketing director, says, "The Segway user can move with the flow of walking traffic, up to two to three times faster in less-crowded areas, with zero turning radius and the ability to backup." This scooter is expected to cost around $3,000.

ZAP! also makes folding electric scooters for around $500, and Campbell says, "ZAP! scooters are some of the sturdiest on the market, because kids test them." The Zappy Jr. is especially for six- to 10-year-olds, and moves more slowly than the adult version, which can "scoot" up to 13 mph and go eight miles before recharging.

A Home Away From Home

If you attend Indiana’s Ball State University or work at the Bayer Corporation, IBM, Apple or Hewlett-Packard, you could store your bike in a Cycle-Safe locker, which will keep it clean and dry. Richard Hartger, president of Cycle-Safe, says, "They are more convenient to use and take up less space than a bike rack." The lockers are made of fiberglass, but use a special closed-molded process to reduce styrene emissions. Looking into the future, Hartger sees solar powered lockers that would charge up your electric bike. In parts of California, you can now store your bike at a Bikestation.

All of the vehicles mentioned can be plugged into a wall outlet, which makes going electric excuse-proof, and a lot more fun!