They say what goes around comes around, and that certainly applies to bicycles.
Back in 1895, more than a decade before Henry Ford introduced his Model T, Ogden Bolton patented a battery-powered bicycle.
Now, as gasoline prices climb toward record highs, battery-powered bicycles – or ebikes – are on a roll.
Europeans bought 700,000 of them in 2010, and it’s estimated that China now has close to twice that number on the road.
Nick Dietz, of Airstream of Spokane, sells a Chinese-made, U.S.-assembled brand called Pedego. Its design resembles classic beach cruisers, although the step-over “girl’s frame” is more popular, even among male customers.
Several local retailers, including North Division Bicycle Shop and Spoke ’N Sport, sell “pedal-assist” ebikes like those common in Europe for around $2,300. But the Pedego can be ridden without pedaling.
“It’s predominately meant for middle-age baby boomers,” Dietz said. “We’re not trying to make triathletes. We’re just helping people get back on bicycles. And while you don’t have to pedal, most people do, because they don’t want to just sit there” and crank the throttle.
Pedegos are easy to ride. Besides the throttle, there’s a push-button shifter and hand brakes. At 60 pounds, they’re about twice as heavy as a nonelectric beach cruiser.
The seat is cushy and the electric motor virtually silent. Top speed is 20 mph, and no license is required.
Prices start at $1,600 and go up to around $2,200 for the Interceptor model, which comes with leather hand grips, a 500-watt motor, 48-volt lithium-ion battery and a 40-mile range.
Dietz said Pedegos are ideal “for getting out of the house and having fun,” but they’re not suitable for going off-road or mountain climbing. And if the rear tire goes flat, it’s trickier to repair than a normal bike’s.
Dietz started carrying the line last July and so far has sold ebikes to Airstream customers and a couple from Calgary, Alberta.
“Some bicyclists think a motorized bike is sacrilegious,” he said. “But if you haven’t been on a bicycle in 40 years, you’re not going to go out and buy a racing bike. This way you can get back into biking at your own pace, have fun and get some exercise.
Green-tech analysts at the consulting firm Pike Research predict annual U.S. ebike sales will more than double in the next five years, from 350,000 to 800,000.
“I think our timing is right,” Dietz said.