This is another in an occasional series on consumer vehicles powered by water, natural gas, electricity, hybrid motors, high-efficiency gasoline engines, my tears or other alternative sources.
Oil slicks, drunken drivers and snapping mutts are banes of many bicyclists' existence.
Mine is “The Hill.”
It's on Gisler Avenue just before Iowa Street in Costa Mesa. The Hill does not look like much of a hill as you travel west on Gisler and are dipped into an entrance to the Santa Ana River Trail. But coming back the other way, after a 12-mile ride on a beach cruiser with no gears, The Hill that stands between me and my sofa can be a bitch.
Depending on fatigue and the uncomfortable rock-hardness of my thunder thighs, I either have to stand on my pedals and swing my bike from side to side to inch myself up The Hill, or I must walk my bike up the final few steps to flattened roadway–a.k.a. The Walk of Shame.
Well, no more–or at least not over the past two weekends I have been test riding an electric bicycle from Irvine-based Pedego. Thanks to the battery back on the back of the smooth-riding Classic City Commuter, I was able to keep my butt on the seat as I accelerated up The Hill easy peasy.
To recap: The little dot coming at you is me. I pedal until I feel as if I'm going to start rolling backward near the bottom of the incline, and then I crank the accelerator (in roughly the same place you'd find it on a scooter or motorcycle). The electric motor kicks in and I am pushed up the rest of the hill. The heavy breathing is my videographer/wife who, trust me, is not excited to see me. She's spent from having just made the same ride and final trip up The Hill on her three-speed.
For those pedal-power purists who may be spitting into the screen right now … well, yes, I did cheat. But on a ride that started in the area of Gisler and Harbor Boulevard and went to the Huntington Beach Pier area and back, I also pedaled my heart out. Mostly. Except for The Hill. And a couple other steep inclines along the river trail. And a few stretches of the beach boardwalk. And through intersections to beat cars and traffic lights. But other than those times …
OK, but I swear to have still experienced a good workout. Even during some of those times I gave my loaner the juice, I kept pedaling. (It helps recharge your battery!) At the end of the ride (pre-sofa), when I took off my combination skiing/skateboarding/biking helmet–did you know you are required by law to wear one on an electric bike?–my hair was still soaked in sweat. As were my undergarments. The usual chafing? You betcha, Gilad.
And as my new good friends at Pedego will tell you, electric bikes gather less dust in the garage because riders ride them more often than strictly pedal-powered versions. Think about all the short commutes you make during a week in your gas guzzler that you could just as easily (or even more easily) make on an electric bike. Not counting the trip to Costco to pick up a 72-pack of Cottonelle Ultra Comfort Care Jumbo Roll Toilet Paper, of course. Unless you're a juggler.
Increasing the ease and frequency of riding makes even more sense for … ahem … bicycle enthusiasts of a certain age. No one had made that point more emphatically to me than Don DiCostanzo, the owner and co-founder of Pedego, who was genuinely excited to meet face-to-face with a reporter whose abundance of gray hairs rivaled his own.
DiCostanzo explained that while he and his bank account gladly welcome purchasers of all ages, Pedego bikes are especially designed with older folks in mind, with products and a “Hello, fun …” company motto aimed at getting riders on the bikes and keeping them there.
Pop into the showroom at Pedego's Irvine headquarters–or a brick-and-mortar retail store at Newport Pier and in Corona del Mar, Huntington Beach, Irvine, greater Long Beach and 32 other locations around the state and country–and you'll see at first glance rows of bicycles that do not appear that different than the cruisers, commuters and mountain bikes you find in other shops.
Upon closer inspection, you'll notice the platforms behind the Pedego seats–where you strapped in your books or gym bag back in the days you rode to school–all have black, rectangular, slide-out boxes, otherwise known as lithium batteries. That seat, specially designed for Pedego and Pedego only, is a tad wider and more cushioned than traditional bicycle butt holders.
Then there are the frames …
They are thick and sturdy. Rather than identifying frame types by the sexes, Pedego uses “classic” for the traditional men's set-up, where a bar extends from roughly behind the handlebars to just below the seat, and “step-thru” for the more down-swooping bar on women's bikes. DiCostanzo, who had a bike shop near Newport Pier for years, explained that some men prefer the ease of mounting a step-thru while some women appreciate the extra feeling of support a classic affords.
Then there's the “Boomerang,” a recently added line of Pedego bikes that radically swoops that support bar down to around the height of the pedals, which is especially helpful for folks who find even the step-thrus difficult to step through. Which has DiCostanzo bringing up another point in his favor in the great pedal-power debate: His electrics appeal to a greater age range of riders as well as people recovering from, say, knee surgeries or replacements. So Pedego is getting more people who would otherwise not ride bikes onto bikes … that you still mostly pedal.
By the way, guess what prompted DiCostanzo to get into electric biking? A giant hill “that took all the fun out of riding to the beach.” He went online, found an electric bike and bought it. Then he bought another and another and so on until seven different electric bicycles took up space in his garage. His old Newport Beach shop at one time was the largest electric bicycle retailer in the U.S.
There was just one problem: DiCostanzo did not like the bikes he was selling–or, more accurately, he believed they could look and perform much better. Unable to find the exact kind of bicycle he was looking for, he turned to Terry Sherry, his current business partner and lifetime friend (they were best men in each other's wedding).
Sherry and his father used to fix up old bikes, leading to a longtime obsession with going to swap meets to search for broken down two-wheelers, stripping them down to the bare frames and completely rebuilding them so they were better than new. The Don and Terry sides of the brain merged, and Pedego Electric Bikes was born.
On a bike ride up to the Orange hills with some lady friends, Sherry's wife got some disapproving comments when she showed up with her Pedego. But afterward, when her friends were huffing and puffing and Mrs. Sherry was feeling fine, she was peppered with questions about how to purchase one.
They aren't cheap when compared with, say, a Huffy you can pull down from a rack at Target. But Pedegos are competitive with the price of performance bikes, ranging from the low $2,000s to the low $3,000s depending on the frame, battery pack type and other special options.
Their appeal is worldwide: Besides all the stores in the States mentioned earlier, there are Pedego distributors in Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Canada, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the U.K., Ireland, Denmark and France.
Today, in that Irvine showroom, you'll find bikes of various bold colors, ranging from my gray Classic City Commuter loaner to DiCostanzo's own bright orange Comfort Cruiser, which except for the battery pack resembles a traditional beach cruiser.
Which reminds me: I've been making weekend rides along the Santa Ana River Trail to the beach for years on my Drew Brophy Wild Child Adult Cruiser Bike (shout out to Surf City-based Nirve!). Never over that span do I recall rolling past an electric bike. So I thought I'd be hot spit this Memorial Day weekend on the Pedego.
But now that I knew what to look for–battery packs–I must've spotted between eight and dozen electrics, and more than half of them were Pedegos and nearly all the riders of these registered gray hair counts similar to my head and DiCostanzo's.
Which just goes to prove there are a lot more gnarly hills in Orange County than I knew existed.
FOR MORE ON PEDEGO, INCLUDING WHERE TO FIND YOUR CLOSEST DEALER, VISIT: www.pedegoelectricbikes.com.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.