Update Aug. 21, 2012: The business decided to change its name to Pedego Electric Bikes of Sarasota
Living on a large, steep hill in Bellows Falls, Vermont, made riding bikes a challenge for Deborah and Michael Weatherby, so they set out to find a way to motor up that hill. What they found were electronic-powered bicycles.
The idea was so good, in fact, they decided to invest in the concept and opened a store that sells e-bikes.
"We were really surprised: These are really going gangbusters and they were selling a lot up there," Deborah Weatherby said about the store they opened two years ago. "So we decided to open a store here, too ... about a year ago."
While hills aren't an issue in Florida, skyrocketing gas prices, traffic and parking certainly are, which make bicycles a viable option. And an e-bike that can power itself through a long ride? Even better.
The little shop, Freedom 4 Electric Bikes, at 3604 S. Osprey Ave. is packed with a few dozen Pedego brand e-bikes, which are specifically manufactured to run on a motor. Molded onto the frame of each bike is a rack that holds a 36-volt lithium ion battery that's slightly larger than a rectangular Kleenex box.
The battery is locked in place with a key, but slides out easily and can be charged in any wall outlet. While the cost of a gallon of gas is hovering around $4, a charge for this battery costs about 12 cents, Weatherby said.
The battery powers a brushless, gearless 500-watt motor that's fully encased in the rear hub of the bike, which is designed to look like a California beach cruiser — and it's also right at home in Southwest Florida.
Riders can let the no-exhaust, zero-emissions motor do all the work or they can pedal without assistance. They can also choose anywhere in between with a twist of the throttle, similar to a motorcycle. Because the e-bike can run about 15 miles without any pedal assistance, Weatherby says a common ride might be from downtown, over the Ringling bridge and up to Bradenton Beach along State Route 789 and back again after a quick battery charge.
Interest and demand in Sarasota have been so good for the e-bikes, which start at $1,695, that Weatherby says her shop is in the process of expanding and converting into a concept store for the Irvine, California-based Pedego.
Weatherby will offer all styles and colors and accessories, like lights, saddlebags, baskets, helmets and more, including the Tommy Bahama Pedego model.
Because they go below 20 miles per hour, riders won't need a license or registration and they can still pedal through the bike lanes around town.
"People set out on e-bikes who normally wouldn’t set out on long treks," Weatherby said. "Because they know they can get back."