In the age of global warming, more and more people are trading their gas-guzzling cars for old-fashioned pedal power. But traditional bikes often leave riders sweaty from trudging up steep hills and navigating rugged city streets.
Enter the electric hybrid bike, which combines pedal and battery power for a faster, less-exhausting ride. Though these bikes aren't available to the public yet, Cordova-based Aerobic Cruisers plans to have the hybrids on the market by January 2009.
"You pedal these bikes like a traditional bike, but you can use the extra energy to go a little faster, carry a heavy load, and climb hills easier," says Josh Kerson, who relocated from Massachusetts to help Aerobic Cruisers develop its hybrid model.
Kerson began making prototypes of hybrid cycles in Northampton with his former company, Run About Cycles. He custom-designed two-wheel bikes and three-wheel tricycles for customers who placed orders through his website.
"We learned a lot from those early adopters," Kerson says. "Though most of our customers purchased the bikes to ride around on for fun, some of them started using them for shopping errands and commuting. One customer stopped driving his car for a full month."
Local commodities trader Charlie McVean of McVean Trading & Investments recruited Kerson to Cordova to help Aerobic Cruisers build the bikes on a larger scale.
The hybrid bikes have a shifting gear and a throttle that can be adjusted to bring the bike up to 20 miles per hour. Riders can rely on battery power alone or pedal for increased speed and exercise.
Aerobic Cruisers' bikes resemble traditional two-wheeled bicycles, only with a battery pack housed under a bucket-style seat. The battery pack can be plugged into a wall and charged overnight. A full charge uses about 10 cents of electricity and lasts 33 to 40 miles. The batteries can be charged between 2,500 and 3,000 times before a replacement is needed.
"Our batteries are 100 percent recyclable," Kerson says. "We send them to a steel foundry plant and make metal out of them."
Though many potential buyers probably don't have solar-powered homes, Kerson says the bikes would have a zero-carbon footprint if the batteries were charged using solar power or hydropower.
Like a regular bike, the hybrid doesn't have much cargo space, but it can safely hold a couple bags of groceries. Jeremy Reese, who also designs bikes for Aerobic Cruisers, lives in Harbor Town and says he rides a prototype of the hybrid bike to Miss Cordelia's Neighborhood Market almost every day.
Though new to Memphis, electric bikes are hugely popular in Asia and Europe. Kerson estimates there are only 50 electric bike stores in the United States.
Once the Aerobic Cruisers model is complete, Kerson will be marketing the bikes at those stores, as well as a handful of solar stores that specialize in renewable energy products. Eventually, he hopes to open Aerobic Cruisers bike shops. The bike costs about $3,500.
Aerobic Cruisers currently boasts a team of 10 mechanics, but the company is seeking additional bike mechanics in order to reach its goal of having the new product available by the first of the year.