Just one of the hottest things on wheels
by Marene Gustin • Photos by Tom Fricke
After careful research and planning, Dave Martin opened his Revolution E Electric Bike Store in Montrose at the end of May—because who wouldn’t want to save gas money while enjoying some fresh air and exercise on a bike that has a little extra oomph from an electric motor?
“And then the summer hit,” says Martin with a sigh.
With the national record-breaking temps, nobody wanted to be outdoors without benefit of air-conditioning.
But now that the weather is getting back to normal—normal for Houston, anyway—things are looking up at the little shop on Westheimer Road.
“When we got those first cooler days in the first week of September,” Martin says, “we sold as many bikes as we did in all of August.”
The so-called “E-bikes” (or officially, Light Electronic Vehicles—which don’t require a license like a scooter) are a bridge between traditional bikes and motor scooters. They have pedals and usually six gears, and you can ride them just like a bike. But when the need arises, you can hit a button and the lithium battery kicks in, providing a rest or a needed burst of speed, up to 20 mph.
Worldwide, some 30 million E-bikes are expected to be sold this year, according to Electric Bikes Worldwide Reports (EBRW). Although wildly popular in China, India, and Europe, they’ve only recently been seen on American streets. Although there were U.S. patents for electric bikes over a century ago, it wasn’t until 1997 that former car king Lee Iacocca founded EV Global Motors, an E-bike company. But Iacocca turned out to be a little ahead of his time. Even with the recent surge of interest, the U.S. market this year is projected to be only 80,000 to 90,000 new sales.
“My brother bought one about a year and a half ago,” Martin says. “I had been a sales vice president and ran manufacturing companies, but I started researching E-bikes and just decided there was a real opportunity to open the first store here in Houston.” When gas prices spiked in 2008, there was an electric scooter store on Richmond Avenue, but that has since closed.
2011 could be just the right time for inner-loopers to finally embrace the E-bike.
“I absolutely think it will catch on,” Martin says. “People want to save money, and they want to avoid parking headaches. If you live and work inside the loop, you can use an E-bike instead of a car.”
Martin himself uses one to get to and from his store on a daily basis. He says you can travel 1,500 miles for the same cost as a gallon of gas. You can go 15 to 30 miles per charge, and he says that some are so comfortable they’re like riding in a La-Z-Boy chair.
Some of the bikes look like normal cycles, albeit with a battery pack. Others resemble scooters, big tricycles, or even one-legged scooters. Some of the European ones have baseball-stitched leather handles and seats, while others sport wood accents. Prices range from $800 to $3,000, and Martin says maintenance costs are about the same as a regular bike—basically replacing tires and chains. Just don’t forget to plug in and recharge the battery.
So who’s buying these pedal-assisted bikes?
“When I started, everyone said baby boomers would be my biggest clients,” Martin says. “And I sold one just last week to a 67-year-old cyclist who couldn’t ride the distances he wanted any more without a little extra boost.
“But actually, I’m selling more to young lawyers who don’t want to waste time trying to find a parking space downtown, and to people who work in the Medical Center where parking is at a premium.”
He’s also getting clients from Clear Lake and The Woodlands, where folks are looking for recreational vehicles. ›
If you’re thinking of going green while saving on some gas money and the time spent searching for a parking space, you can test-drive an E-bike at Revolution E Electric Bike Store. The little showroom sits a few blocks from Cherryhurst Park, making for an easy place to pedal and scoot without darting Houston traffic on your first time out. Martin also rents the E-bikes, another good way to try one out before you buy. Starting this month, when the temps should be more reasonable, he’s planning to offer E-bike tours from the Montrose showroom to Rice Village and the Museum District.
Revolution E carries E-bikes from some of the top U.S. and European makers, and it also stocks some pretty cool accessories, including helmets that more closely resemble Sherlock Holmes’s deerstalker cap. Now how cool will you look in one of those, tooling around Montrose on your E-bike?
Revolution E Electric Bike Store
1544 Westheimer Road • 713-523-2453
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.