Wednesday, July 17, 2024

City councillor Henrietta Davis shows off the electric bicycle she’s been borrowing Monday at City Hall. (Photos: Marc Levy)

Henrietta Davis rode her borrowed electric bicycle into the epicenter of public transportation interest Monday: City Hall, where fellow city councillors stopped to see (and ride) the bike and staffers even emerged into the afternoon sunlight solely to check it out.

Some of the interest could result from there being — as the city manager said at a “buy local” hearing the next day — three parking spaces at City Hall for 200 employees.

But Davis, an avid bicyclist and fan of public and carbon-free forms of transportation, had many other reasons why electric bicycles are great for Cambridge.

“It’s very best for a hilly community, or where you have great distances you have to go — when you would commute, except that it’s three miles to the station. It’s a great station vehicle,” she said while others took their turns testing the Elec brand bike, riding back and forth behind City Hall. “Think about where they use mopeds, like in Bermuda and places like that where the distances are not great but are a little greater than people really want to bike. This gives you that little bit more.”

City Hall staff — who have no parking at their work — emerge Monday to look over Davis’ electric bicycle.

She also advocates the electric bicycle for older people “who might want to bike but may not have the endurance,” and she called out to city managers passing by on other business to think about the devices for city inspectors and parking control officers.

This isn’t a moped but it’s also not just a bike, and so it falls into a third category of traffic and has limitations on where it can go. For instance, an electric bicycle isn’t allowed on Memorial Drive or the Minuteman Trail.

The electric bicycle is on loan for about a week from Electric City Cycles, a Somerville retailer of electric trucks, cars, scooters and bicycles established in 2008 by Cambridge resident Paul Elwood.

The lithium battery lifts out of its holster on the bike for four to six hours of charging from a wall socket. A bike with a charged battery will go about 20 miles, depending on weight, usage and other factors, but when the battery isn’t being used the bike works like any other — with gears (although some are single speed), lights and a bell. But it’s a substantial but of machinery, heavier than the usual bike.

“It just extends your reach, really,” Davis said. “If you have an electric assist, you can do more. You probably just want to promise yourself you’re not going to not bike and go completely electric, because then you don’t get a workout.”

Although immensely popular in Asia as a clean and inexpensive option for personal transport, electric bicycles are just beginning to catch on in North America, Elwood said.

One of his most popular products is the folding electric bike that can be stored and taken on the T, Elwood said. They cost about $1,700 and can go 15 to 20 miles on a charge at a top speed of about 16 mph.

At the high end, electric pedal bikes in Elwood’s shop can cost $2,700 — an Ultra Motor A2B, with 3-inch wide, 20-inch wheels and “cushy” suspension that can handle potholes without worries. Like other bikes, the speed is limited to about 20 mph to avoid the need for registration and insurance as a “motor vehicle,” Elwood said.

All those who tried Davis’ borrowed bicycle were impressed. During their rides, they were downright gleeful.

Leland Cheung, who rides a homemade electrified red scooter, pondered a race.