Motorized Bicycles Growing in Popularity

By MEAGEN FINNERTY | August 16, 2012

Mike Miller decided it was time to hang up the helmet after two potentially fatal motorcycle accidents.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to be dead if I have another crash,”‘ the 67-year-old Erie man said.

He couldn’t stay off two wheels for long, though.

He started riding bicycles a few years after his accidents, but something was missing.

That’s when he saw it, parked outside the library – a motorized bicycle.

It wasn’t long before Miller had strapped a motor to his own bike, creating a machine that falls under the broad category that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation classifies as mo-peds.

“I’m crazy. I can’t help myself. I’m a motor head,” Miller said, smiling.

Miller isn’t the only one embracing the two-wheeled trend.

About 30 million electric bikes will be sold worldwide this year, according to a report published by Pike Research, which studies global energy trends.

In general, though, motorized bikes have been slower to catch on in the United States than in other parts of the world. The Detroit News reported that fewer than 100,000 electric bikes were sold in 2011.

Miller isn’t seeing too many in Erie, either.

Typically, fewer than 10 people join in a monthly ride Miller takes with a group of local cyclists, he said.

Assisted pedal cycles are bicycles that are powered either electrically, through a battery, or by a gas motor.

The motor doesn’t replace pedaling. But it does make pedaling easier.

The only trouble is, the bikes are illegal if they’re not registered.

Low-speed electric or motor bikes must be registered and insured, and riders must have a license, said Jan McKnight, a PennDOT.

The Erie Bureau of Police was unable to provide information regarding any tickets issued to these bikers.

Miller, a retired maintenance worker, started working with motorized bikes in the late 90s, and he has built four gas-powered and three electric-powered bikes from kits.

“Each one gets a little better,” he said.

He’s sold all of them except two electric bikes.

Miller builds his bikes during the winter, but his latest bike, an electric, may have satisfied his itch to tinker.

“I don’t see how I can improve it,” he said. He’s been riding it for two years now, and he’s not looking to upgrade yet. After all, he said, it took him a while to get it right.

“I tore it apart 12 or 15 times before I had it the way I liked it,” Miller said.

He favors the electric bikes because they make less noise than gas-powered bikes, and he doesn’t have to pedal if he doesn’t want to.

Miller has invested more than $2,000 in his current ride and spent about $1,200 each in his previous gas-powered bikes.

The price tag scares away a lot of potential riders, said Gary Foor, owner of A R Adams Schwinn Bicycles.

Foor sells electric bikes, but not a lot of them. People like to look at them, he said, but not many buy.

That’s why there’s only one electric bike left in his shop. After it sells, he says he won’t restock them.

The electric bikes, which can sell for $1,700 to $1,800, “just don’t sell fast enough,” Foor said.

Wheels Bike Shop and Imports began selling electric bikes at the end of July, and the shop also installs gas motors for bicyclists.

“There is an interest. It’s been catching on this year more than last year,” said Ann Groenendaal, owner of Wheels Bike Shop and Imports.

It’s not a huge part of business, though, and Groenendaal said potential buyers come into the shop sporadically.

Interest in the bikes, which can get more than 160 mpg, started growing when gas prices hit $4 per gallon.

That’s when Erie resident Andrew Colvin, 36, decided he needed a new way to get to work.

“I want to save money on gas,” he said. “I’m just trying to get to work.”

Colvin, a machinist at GE Transportation, bought two bikes and two gas motor kits.

His first one took about a month to build, and he finished the second in a weekend. He invested $300 to $400 in each of the bikes, which he uses to commute to and from work.

Colvin still pedals to maintain speed, but he appreciates the help.

“It’s assisting me,” Colvin said. “I personally don’t like trying to pedal 20 mph.”

Miller figures that a top speed for the bikes of about 25 mph is probably good for his safety.

“If a bike can do 100 (mph), I’ll go 100,” Miller said.

(reported by MEAGEN FINNERTY of the Erie Times-News)

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