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Ford Gets Back Into the Electric Bike Business

By Aaron Crowe

Pedego Electric Bikes

As the owner of an SUV, Rhonda Martin knows how painful a trip to the gas station can be. By commuting by bike to work five days a week, Martin, who lives and works in San Diego, estimates she saves $350 to $400 a month in gas and maintenance.

She doesn’t ride just any old bike. Martin, 43, bought a Ford Super Cruiser in July. The electric bike isn’t the first entry by Ford Motor Co. into the electric bike business, following a failed attempt in 2001 with the Ford Think Mobility electric bike that was part of a line of electric vehicles. But the Super Cruiser may have more chance for success, partly because its built by Pedego Electric Bikes, a Southern California company formed in 2009.

“I find it a very comfortable ride, a fun ride,” Martin says of the Ford bike, which costs $3,695 and goes up to 20 miles at 20 mph on a full charge from a 48-volt battery and 600-watt motor. The range increases if the rider pedals.

Martin and her husband have owned several Pedego e-bikes. The Ford attracted them because it’s a comfortable ride and has a classy look to it, she says, with sleek styling and a sporty feel.

One color, and one color only

Ford Motor Co. was involved in the designing the style and look of the bike, which has an “old style Ford look to it” and comes in the same lone color that Ford’s first cars did: black, says Teri Sawyer, a spokeswoman for Pedego. “It’s available in any color you want as long as it’s black,” Sawyer says.

Pedego has sold about 150 of the bikes so far, with many owners already Ford customers with Ford vehicles, she says. Ford also sells an electric car, the Ford Focus Electric, and the e-bike could be seen as a gateway for consumers considering buying electric cars.

E-bike riders must be 16. Because federal law allows an electric bike to remain classified as a bike as long as it can’t be powered to more than 20 mph, a special license or permit isn’t needed to ride one, and they can be driven on city streets just as a pedal-powered bike would.

Smile when you see a hill

A throttle controls the motor, making an upcoming hill look a lot less imposing to a pedaling bicyclist, says Bob Bandhauer, a San Diego resident who blogs about e-bikes. “When you see a hill coming, you just smile,” Bandhauer says.

“What they truly are are bicycles with an extra accessory,” he says of the electric motor that takes up to five hours to fully charge.

Ford isn’t the only car company with its name on e-bikes. Volkswagen, Audi and Mercedes Benz have electric bikes, though some such as the Audi are more of a concept bike than physical bikes sold in U.S. stores. Ford debuted another e-bike in 2011 as a concept bike, but it apparently never made it to market. As with some green innovations, some e-bikes are first sold in Europe before they hit America, if at all.

“It’s only natural for all the car companies to get involved in the electric movement and get away from the gas and all that’s involved with it,” Bandhauer says.

Reaching the top speed of 20 mph with the Ford e-bike isn’t as fast as it may sound, Bandhauer says. Big, fat tires give it smooth ride and the top speed is about what many bicyclists would pedal at anyway, he says, with the e-bike offering “a really secure feeling.”

Maintenance isn’t much more than a regular bike requires, he says. Along with an annual maintenance checkup, the chain may need to be lubricated a little more often, and the tires will need to be inflated more often than car tires, Bandhauer says. The battery plugs into the frame and can simply be unplugged to remove the back tire for repair, he says, and the battery should last three to five years. The bike has a battery level indicator that shows the colors green, yellow or red as the battery is used.

Along with saving hundreds of dollars each month by riding her Ford e-bike to work, Martin found another benefit to riding a bike often: She’s lost 270 pounds since she started riding e-bikes two and a half years ago.

That little electric motor, it turns out, is a good incentive to ride.

Aaron Crowe is a journalist who covers the auto industry for CheapCarInsurance.net.