NC companies are riding the e-bike wave; is this your next vehicle? | WFAE 90.7

Bike sales have surged during the coronavirus pandemic as more of us take to the roads and greenways for recreation – or ditch our cars. E-bikes and e-bikes are the fastest growing segment of the market.

You can call these personal electric vehicles or personal EVs. They range from power-assisted pedal bikes that go up to 20 miles per hour to more powerful models that look more like motorcycles and go up to 45 miles per hour. E-bike sales increased 240% in the 12 months ending July 2021, according to research firm NPD.

“So something that was niche 10 years ago is now quite mainstream. We’re seeing them proliferate across all different bike categories,” said Ash Lovell of industry group People for Bikes.

These days you can find electric versions of commuter bikes, gravel bikes, road bikes, and mountain bikes. Some cyclists 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 daily driver with our vehicle as their means of transportation (vehicle),” McCoy said.

Huck Cycles is named after Mark Twain’s character, Huckleberry Finn. The business started in 2019 as a “hobby project” for McCoy, who at the time was a bank manager in Charlotte. He considered buying a motorcycle but said: “I wanted something that was better for the environment, more efficient, quieter, that didn’t have the ongoing costs,” he said.

He bought a few e-bikes, but says they felt like “toys”. So he decided to build his own.

While working, he posted his creations on social media. And suddenly others asked to buy them too. Before he knew it, he had quit his day job and started Huck Cycles.

The company now offers two models, the Rebel, which has pedals and a throttle, and the Overland, which is just a throttle. 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 United States and around the world, grossing $2.5 million.

Huck is in an industry dominated by companies that manufacture in Asia or Europe, McCoy says.

“One of the things that sets us apart from the market is that we build and manufacture our bikes here in the United States. We import components and parts that we cannot get in the United States, but frames, components of bodywork, tanks, seats, something like that, we get it locally,” he said.

While Huck’s engines are sourced from Japan, the company also works with suppliers in High Point, Shelby, Mooresville, Statesville and Kannapolis.

Electric 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. Range varies by model and driver. Huck Cycles typically gets 35-50 miles on a charge.

Grace Kennedy and her husband Tom own Pedego Bikes in Cornelius, which sells and rents e-bikes. This is an independent reseller linked to the California-based company.

Huck Cycles is a relatively new entrant in a field that is growing worldwide. Competitors range from traditional bike brands to global e-bike companies such as Seattle Rad Electric Bikes. Some companies offer bikes for sale or hire – such as the Pedego store just down the street in Cornelius. Grace Kennedy owns the store with her husband Tom, who left his job as a salesman to start the business last fall.

“Our first client was a woman in her 60s, and she said, I quit smoking and I want to get off the couch. But it must be something fun,” she said.

Pedego sells a range of youth, adult, commuter and mountain e-bikes. They cost between $1,895 and $4,700.

Not ready to buy? You can rent a Pedego bike for a few hours, a whole day or a week.

Meanwhile, larger e-bikes – e-cargo bikes – are also popping up in businesses or as family transport. Arleigh Greenwald of Durham oversees US marketing for Taiwan-based Tern Bicycles. She said the pandemic has caused Americans to look at their transportation differently.

“Europe has been crazy about e-bikes for four or five years,” Greenwald said. “But here COVID hit and people realized, I’m working from home, why wouldn’t I have this e-bike so I can get my coffee or take my kids to school, you know, replace those cars shorter trips?”

Tern sells a range of e-bikes, from small folding bikes to e-cargo bikes that can carry up to 400 pounds. With extra seats and even handlebars, that could include a few small children.

Greenwald said the United States is getting closer to Europe and Asia, where cycling isn’t just for fun. It’s also good for the planet. A report published last month indicates that transport is now North Carolina’s Largest Source of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

At least for now, North Carolina still classifies most e-bikes as bicycles, so you don’t need to register them with the DMV unless you plan to ride them on the road.

An expanded version of this story appeared in the WFAE’s February 10, 2022 climate news bulletin. You can register on https://www.wfae.org/sign-up-for-our-newsletters.

Wiley C. Thompson