By David MacDonald
Alternative fuel vehicles are here to stay. They’re not a trend. They’re a solution. They’re a cost solution and an environmental solution. Do the math. A lightweight and low-power EV (Electric Vehicle) like an electric bike that runs on a lithium ion battery costs less than 0.2? per kilometre to operate – with zero emissions. City driving in most late model cars average 12.9? per kilometre with emissions in the range of 210 to 400 grams of CO2 for every kilometre travelled. What’s more, electric bikes travel at speeds up-to 32 kilometres per hour and can last up-to 100 kilometres between charges. They’re built for people on the go. “The push to electric started in China in the late 1990s and early 2000s,” explained Mike Clyde, Owner of Pedego Canada in Nelson, British Columbia. “It quickly became popular, in part because the Chinese government saw electric bikes as an efficient solution to overcrowded roads and pollution at the same time. With that kind of top-down backing in China, electric bikes saw sales that ranged in the hundreds of thousands in the first year to sales that now range in the hundreds of millions. In Europe, electric bike sales make up between 10 and 20 percent of total bike sales – depending on which country you’re talking about – but we still have a lot of growing to do in North America.” Clyde estimates that electric bikes account for only one percent of total sales in the American and Canadian markets. But that’s beginning to change.
“There’s been an explosion of North American companies producing electric bikes in the last five or six years,” Clyde explained to me through his budding Maple-Kiwi accent. “When I was moving to Canada back in 2010, the opportunity was presented to me to start Pedego Canada through my brother back in New Zealand. He was designing and importing electric bikes long before the craze began in the West. He designed the Pedego Stretch, actually, which, among its many uses, is a great delivery bike. The Stretch is a perfect example of the versatility of the product. The wide range of uses for electric bikes is starting to push more and more companies into this market – and that’s exciting.” The Ford Motor Company even partnered with Pedego and world renowned bicycle architect Tony Ellsworth to create the Ford Super Cruiser e-bike, a triumph of form and function. According to Pedegoelectricbikes.ca, this high-performance bike “fits Ford’s required key design elements: sleek styling and a sporty feel that make riding fun, whether you’re seeking adventure or running errands around town.”
When I asked Clyde if he could briefly summarize the key design elements of Pedego’s 17 other models in the Interceptor, City Commuter, Boomerang, Comfort Cruiser, Ridge Rider, Latch, Stretch, and Speciality classes, his answer captured the essence of what a bike, electric or not, should be for everyone: “It’s all about fun.”
“We know that whatever they’re used for, the rider is having fun. There are businesses that use Pedegos like the Stretch with its adjustable back, front, and side racks for hauling cargo. There are commuters riding 20 kilometres to and from work, five days a week at 30-plus kilometers per hour on the Kevlar-belted tires that make the Step-Thru or Classic City Commuter so reliable. There are pilots who fold-up their Latch bikes to a compact 33in x 18in x 32in and store them on the flight deck for their own adventures. There are vacationers on bike tours in fabulous resort towns riding the Trail Tracker over sand or snow. There are riders of all ages cruising community trails and neighbourhoods on the Boomerang, the most accessible electric bike ever made with its ultra-low 9″ step-through frame. Whatever they’re doing, they’ve having fun.”
California is kind of a home away from home away from home for Clyde. Pedego, North America’s number one selling electric bicycle brand, is based in Fountain Valley, California. “I usually take a few trips down to California every year. I think it’s important to connect with the people who know what’s on the horizon and get their thoughts on where we’re at.”
The guys in the know are long-time business partners and Pedego founders Don DiCostanzo and Terry Sherry. In just seven years, they’ve shaped Pedego into a market leader and one of the most recognized electric bike brands in the world. As more products meet more consumer demands and needs, the responsibility rests with distributors like Clyde to stock bikes and supplies that reflect an evolving market. “I import directly from the Pedego production facility in California and then ship bikes and supplies to Pedego dealers across Canada from my Vancouver warehouse. I have a weekly shipment of supplies that allows me to have on-hand everything the dealer and customer needs,” he explained.
The Find a Dealer menu at pedegoelectricbikes.ca links shoppers to the 25 Pedego dealers located across Canada.
“We definitely support small brick and mortar bike shops. It’s neighbourhood bike shops that provide the ongoing, face-to-face relationship that owners of any bike deserve. When you need maintenance, parts, supplies, what have you, you don’t want to be turning to a website. You need a high level of hands-on support and that’s what we provide at every level. Our dealers are educated on the technology and they’re happy to service the e-bike crowd. At the end of the day, electric bikes increase the number of potential cyclists walking through their doors, so it’s a win-win. Plus, I think every bike shop owner would subscribe to one of our mottoes: ‘Getting people out of cars and onto bikes.’
Clyde explained to me that the misnomer ?Cheater’ is far too often thrown at electric bike enthusiasts from the windows of passing cars. “This is one of the biggest misconceptions about electric bikes and the industry itself. Some people believe that electric bikes are somehow competing with regular bikes. If we’re in competition with anything, really, it’s the car and the couch. Electric bikes are creating completely new bike journeys. We’re at the very early part of a strong growth period for electric bikes – and bike trails, for that matter – in North America and at the moment, I think the biggest challenge is getting people to see how an electric bike might fit into their lives.”
“The simplest way of breaking down our approach is this: 10% of the population regularly ride bikes in North America – we’re mostly targeting the 90% remainder. We want that segment to understand that an electric bike removes barriers and obstacles to riding, whether they’re distance, hills, lack of physical fitness, loads – or even a mental hurdle – and my family in British Columbia is a great example of this. Our Pedego electric bikes enable us to be a one-car family, even through winter when I put studded tires on the bikes. We can travel as a family, me, my wife and five-year-old daughter, with our daughter on the back of the Pedego Stretch Electric Cargo Bike. Of course this can be done without an electric bike, but honestly the hills, especially in winter, would be a major deterrent.”
Tough terrain is also on the mind of one of Pedego’s key demographics: “The 50s-70s crowd, who are often coming back to cycling after a long break,” Clyde said.
There’s no better testament to the versatility of the Pedego product than the story of John Langille. It’s a story about one of those “new bike journeys” Clyde was talking about.
“A couple of months ago, John Langille – he’s a Pedego owner here in Nelson, BC and a friend – contacted me and said he had a crazy idea. Those were his words. We met up and he told me that he wanted to ride his Pedego Stretch Electric Cargo Bike about 2,500 kilometers to Desert Trip in Indio, California to see, among others, the Rolling Stones. I thought it was an awesome idea out of the gate. Jon said it all spawned from a comment he made to his wife, a joke, really, about riding his bike all the way to Indio and then he realized that his Pedego could make that happen. I think it kind of points out one of the best things about electric bikes: they really do remove barriers to bike journeys. I mean John is probably a slightly extreme example of that – he rode across a good chunk of the planet on his recent trip? but even though he has done cycle touring in the past, he’s pretty honest in that without the Pedego and the electric assistance that he just wouldn’t have completed that journey. He spent over a hundred and fifty hours on the bike and rode up the equivalent of two Mount Everests. He carried all the camping gear, clothes, spare batteries and he still was getting over a hundred kilometers on a single charge on some of the sections of the journey. Apart from a few flat tires – there are lots of bits of wires from truck tires and other debris along a lot of the highways and interstates – the Pedego Stretch really didn’t miss a beat. Media coverage around this has been phenomenal. The story has been picked up by CBC, the New York Times, NBC, and other networks. It has really resonated well with people. John’s just a regular guy – he’s not a competitive cyclist anymore ?and here he is, he just rode an electric bike for a month for over 2,500 kilometers to go and see some music. It’s pretty cool.”
Mainstream media exposure for electric bike companies like Pedego has turned Interbike in Las Vegas, the largest annual industry bike show in North America, into what Clyde calls “the electric bike show.”
“The future for Pedego Canada and the electric bike industry as a whole is pretty exciting,” Clyde continued. “The best part of my job is listening to the feedback from Pedego owners and how much they love an electric bike in their lives. Honestly, these kind and passionate Pedego owners are actually our best marketers. They come up to you at shows and post their experiences and stories to social media and it’s that kind of public appreciation that’s propelled us to number one in North America.”