NC businesses ride the e-cycle wave. Is this your next vehicle?
Bicycle sales have surged during the coronavirus pandemic as more of us take to the roads and greenways for recreation - or give up our cars. Electric bikes and e-cycles are the market's fastest-growing segment.
You might call these personal electric vehicles or personal EVs. They range from electric-assisted pedal bikes that go up to 20 miles an hour to more powerful models that more closely resemble motorcycles and go up to 45 miles an hour. Sales of e-bikes grew 240% over the 12 months ending in July 2021, according to research firm NPD.
"So something that was a niche 10 years ago is now utterly mainstream. We're seeing them proliferate across all different bicycle categories," said Ash Lovell, of the industry group People for Bikes.
These days you can find electric versions of commuter bikes, gravel bikes, road bikes and mountain bikes. Some riders buy them to replace traditional bikes. But for others, a two-wheeled electric vehicle is a climate-friendly alternative to a gas-guzzling car, said Brett McCoy, founder of a Cornelius startup called Huck Cycles.
"A number of our customers have actually replaced their truck, their car, their day-to-day driver with our vehicle as their commuter (vehicle)," McCoy said.
Huck Cycles is named after Mark Twain's character Huckleberry Finn. The company started in 2019 as a "hobby project" for McCoy, who at the time was a bank executive in Charlotte. He thought about buying a motorcycle but said: "I wanted something that was better for the environment that was more efficient, quieter, didn't have the ongoing costs," he said.
He bought a couple of e-bikes, but says they felt like "toys." So he decided to build his own.
As he worked, he posted his designs on social media. And suddenly others were asking to buy them, too. Before he knew it, he had quit his day job and started Huck Cycles.
The company now has two models, the Rebel, which has pedals and a throttle, and the Overland, which is throttle-only. Both cost $6,200 and have three modes: 20, 30 and 45 miles per hour. So far, Huck has sold more than 700 in the U.S. and worldwide - bringing in $2.5 million.
Huck is in an industry dominated by companies that manufacture in Asia or Europe, says McCoy.
"One of the things that sets us apart from the market is we actually build and fabricate our bikes here in the US. We do import components and parts that we can't get in the U.S., but frames, hardbody components, tanks, seats, anything like that, we do get locally," he said.
While Huck's motors come from Japan, the company also works with suppliers in High Point, Shelby, Mooresville, Statesville, and Kannapolis.
E-bikes have hand brakes like traditional bikes. For e-bikes with pedals, the motor stops when you stop pedaling. For others, a throttle controls the speed. Most models plug into a standard outlet. The range varies by model and driver. Huck Cycles typically get 35 to 50 miles on a charge.
Huck Cycles is a relatively new entrant in a field that's growing worldwide. Competitors range from traditional bicycle brands to global e-bike companies such as Seattle-based Rad Power Bikes. Some companies offer bikes for sale or rent - like the Pedego store just down the road in Cornelius. Grace Kennedy owns the shop with her husband Tom, who quit his corporate sales job to start the business last fall.
"Our first customer was a woman in her 60s, and she said, I quit smoking, and I want to get off the couch. But it's got to be something fun," she said.
Pedego sells a line of youth, adult, commuter and mountain e-bikes. They're priced from $1,895 to $4,700.
Not ready to buy? You can rent a Pedego bike for a couple of hours, a full day or by the week.
Meanwhile, larger e-bikes - electric cargo bikes - also are turning up in businesses or as family transportation. Arleigh Greenwald of Durham oversees U.S. marketing for Taiwan-based Tern Bicycles. She said the pandemic made Americans look differently at their transportation.
"Europe has been insane for e-bikes for the last four or five years," Greenwald said. "But here, COVID hit and people realized, I'm working from home, why don't I get that e-bike so that I can ride to get my coffee or take my kids to school, you know, replace those shorter car trips?"
Tern sells a range of electric bikes, from small folding ones all the way up to an e-cargo bike that can carry up to 400 pounds. With add-on seats and even a handlebar, that could include a couple of small kids.
Greenwald said the U.S. is drifting closer to Europe and Asia, where cycling isn't just for fun. It's also good for the planet. A report out last month says transportation is now North Carolina's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
At least for now in North Carolina still classifies most electric bikes as bicycles, so you don't need to register them at the DMV unless you plan to ride them on the road.
An extended version of this story appeared in WFAE's Feb. 10, 2022, climate newsletter.