Sick of traffic? Try peddling an e-bike

Plan to leave downtown San Francisco in a car at rush hour?

Forget about it. Drivers are instantly locked in a metallic struggle pumping out CO2 while inching toward the Highway 101 on ramp.

A solution may be to pick up a bike. Maybe a 2012 Kalkhoff Sahel Pro S11 electric bike. A little pricey, but definitely more maneuverable.

In the United Kingdom, sales of the rather pricey bike are picking up as gas prices push the $10 per gallon mark.

"The big petrol price hike is happening right now and the phones are much busier than we would expect this early in the year," said an official of UK-based 50cycles.com via web chat. And is it a trend? "Too early to tell, but the signs are good."

Battling traffic

Commuters' battles with traffic congestion can shave years off their lives. Many stagger their drive time. Arrive early, leave early. They figure out a drill. Seattle to New York City, it's all the same.

However, change is coming with higher fuel prices and a cultural shift. No longer does everyone want to live in far-flung suburbia. The allure of a cookie-cutter home on a street named Willow Brook Lane and surrounded by a stone wall and electronically controlled black metal gates is growing a bit stale to the younger generation.

There's growing demand for homes closer to work, shops and mass transportation. Home builders, redevelopers and even some urban planners are beginning to see opportunity, fueling a growing sustainable communities movement.

Sustainable living

The voices for rethinking urban living are growing stronger. For instance, even the American Society of Landscape Architects says urban development should be guided by a sustainable planning that promotes interconnected green space, multi-modal transportation systems and mixed-use development. In other words, it should be people friendly.

New York City entrepreneur Mark Gorton is a big proponent of getting more bikes and fewer cars on the road. Controlling traffic and improving the quality of urban living is the goal of his Rethinking the Automobile project. Gorton, whose credits include forming almost a half dozen investment firms and other ventures, says what's good for a person -- a safe, slow and not very directional environment -- is not what's good for a car.

And mixing the two has created urban environments that cater to cars and trucks and "hostile for people," he says.

Bike riding open to new riders

So, should you buy a bike? The question until now has been generally "No." But that could change with the advent of technology that allows a relatively out-of-shape person on the aforementioned Kalkhoff to blast up to 40 miles on a charge on a electric-powered bike.

50cycles Ltd., which markets the Kalkhoff in England, explains it this way in a recent statement: "Unpowered bikes are great if you're super fit, in no big hurry or relaxed about wearing acres of day-glo Lycra. Electric bikes encouraging a new and broader range of cyclists to take to the roads."

Nicely put. I've commuted via bike. Not bad but getting to work covered in a sheen of sweat doesn't necessarily blend with the necktie.

Here's a testimonial also provided by 50cycles.com:

Mike Sandford bought his Kalkhoff Agattu electric bike to continue riding into his 70s. The official of the London Marathon modified the bicycle to precisely measure the course distance before last year's race. "It is perfect for this," Mike says, "because it flattens the hills and overcomes the wind. I no longer get tired and very slow as I did in my 60s."
There you have it.

E-bike players increase

German-made Kalkhoff is hardly the only one in the game. The company markets the bikes in this country through the Portland, Ore.-based Kalkhoff USA. The Sahel costs a little south of $3,500, about the price of a really nice road bike or about 35 times the price a meth head would charge on the streets. But his are stolen.

I digress.

Another is Currie Technologies, a Chatsworth, Calif.-based developer and distributor of electric-powered bikes and scooters marketed under the IZIP and eZip brands.

And there is Optibike, a company that engineer and tri-athlete Jim Turner started out of his Boulder, Colo. garage. His vision, according to Optibike's website: "Make the world's best electric bicycle, with no compromises in quality, performance or style." Price for the Commuter is $5,995 and a range of 20 miles.

Truly, another e-biking offers another option. But it's one that may evolve into a successful sector in the already burgeoning battery-powered market. Cars are coming online rapidly, either as full-on electric, hybrid or plug-in hybrid. The jury's still out, but gas prices certainly have people thinking about alternatives.

Other stories of interest:
People can adjust to friendlier streets, fewer cars
Coda ships first car; electric vehicle news accelerates