Ultra Motor's sleek A2B has 20 miles of range on battery power. (Ultra Motor photo)
If it's true that we're on the verge of electrifying transportation, who says the banners fly only for four-wheelers? Electric bicycles have been around for years, but up to now have been a flop in the marketplace. Now, with people all excited about the 230-mile Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, ebikes are making a comeback, and you can find them at big-box retailers. Or at least some of them.
Best Buy has teamed up with ebike retailer Ultra Motor to sell $2,699 electric A2Bs at 20 locations in California and Oregon. They're also selling them in warm-weather states, in bike-friendly locations such as Portland (OR), Seattle, New York and San Francisco -- and in Connecticut, too. I borrowed one from Greenwich Bicycles, and thanks to the good folks there got to spend two weeks with it. Here's what it looked like on video:
Neither the privately held Ultra nor Best Buy is saying how many have been sold so far, but Greenwich Bicycles says there's a lot of interest, and one has moved out the door. The blue one I tested had a waiting customer, too. Best Buy is serious about its excursion into ebikes, selling several variations and also Brammo electric motorcycles. The Geek Squad has been trained in their care and feeding.
Don't tell Greenwich Bicycles, but I didn't want just my opinion so let a bunch of friends have a short go on the A2B. EVERYBODY liked riding it. It is extremely easy to ride, stable and solid-feeling. And the procedure is simplicity itself. Hop on, turn the key to A or B on position, start pedaling and then twist the motorcycle-type throttle and you're off with lots of zip for climbing hills or cruising at 20 mph. Range is 20 miles, and a full charge takes 3.5 hours. The charger plugs into a wall plug and into a three-point outlet on the side of the bike.
For many people, the allure here will be owning a commuter-friendly scooter without the need to actually get a motorcycle license. Regulated as a bicycle, the A2B also skirts the laws requiring lights, horn and tail lamps.
The A2B has two caveats: It's heavy at 72 pounds, and also not easy to fit into anything smaller than an SUV. (It barely made it into the back of my '67 Volvo wagon.) The weight also makes it hard to pedal uphill unassisted. On level ground it makes an acceptable bicycle, but pedaling is a workout anywhere else and I suspect most users will be using the electric power for most trips.
Paul Vlahos of Ultra Motor said most users combine pedaling and electric assist, but "some people pedal it to get exercise." They might be competing in the Iron Man, too.
The second caveat is price, not necessarily an obstacle in Greenwich but probably in other locations. Are people ready to pay $2,699 for a bicycle, even if it is pretty close to a scooter? Americans buy 20 million bicycles every year, but probably ride them less than in most other countries. Ebikes might be just the thing to get many of us on the road and pedaling.
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