Electric bike goes extra mile

Palmerston man Chris Walker rides one of the electrically-assisted bicycles he hopes will become a common sight on Otago roads. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Palmerston man Chris Walker rides one of the electrically-assisted bicycles he hopes will become a common sight on Otago roads. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Commuters will find the sting taken out of hills, headwinds and petrol prices if electric bicycles and scooters become more common on Dunedin roads.

Envirobikes director Chris Walker says developing plans to independently import Chinese-made electrically-assisted bicycles in recent months has been a "huge learning curve" and an "exciting ride".

He spent more than 100 hours researching, sourcing, and arranging shipping and invested about $4000 to import four sample electric bikes, which arrived in Dunedin earlier this month.

He plans to order another 40 this week.

Similar products, which assist a cyclist's pedalling by engaging a small electric motor in the bike's hub, are distributed in small numbers around New Zealand but were a popular mode of transport in China, he said.

A 2007 New York Times article said although electric bikes were popular in Asia and Europe, they only sold in the "tens of thousands" each year in the United States, compared with sales of up to 10 million in China in recent years. Mr Walker expects the bikes to retail about $1700.

Charging the battery would cost about $1.72, which means the bike could use about 3c of power per km.

"It's easy to lose that childhood excitment of riding and these bikes recapture that.

"They may help people getting back into fitness or commuters in shaving time off their ride."

The idea of importing a "green vehicle" with mass appeal came to Mr Walker earlier this year while researching cost-effective transport options for the journey from his Palmerston home to the University of Otago, where he is Foundation Studies information services manager.

Browns Avanti Plus manager Stu Thomas said the Dunedin store sold two or three electrically-assisted bikes (with 200W motors in the front hub) each year since Avanti launched the bikes in 2005.

Sales might increase when Avanti released an upgraded electric bike in the next six to 12 months, Mr Thomas said.

Timaru-based Quarry manager Peter Hooper said an electrically-powered alternative for non-cyclists might be the 350W scooters he imported after a recent business trip to China.

"I was there in March and every man and their dog had them. They were a lot more common than cars.

"They remove the hassle of driving and there's the fun factor. They are unusual here but won't be for long.

"In Sydney they are putting in public charging points and free parking to encourage use."

The scooter resembles a 50cc petrol equivalent, and has a top speed of 35kmh and flat terrain range of about 70km.

There are now about 400 electric scooters in New Zealand, but he expects them to become more popular when petrol prices "inevitably rise". On-road costs are about $1200.

Electric bike
Range: 65km battery range claimed by the manufacturer.
Charge: 4 to 6 hours to recharge (cost estimated $1.72) - 500 plus cycles.
Power: 36V - 180W motor (mounted in rear hub), powered by a 10amp lithium battery.
Components: Six-speed conventional bicycle gears plus LED charge meter.