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The urban commuter is an elusive-yet-seductive market, it seems. Recognizing that, for now, electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles (other than hybrids) don't have the range as full-time replacements for gasoline autos, a number of designers have decided to go after the drivers who have a short daily ride to-and-from work, often at speeds well below 50 miles per hour. From electric two-seaters to cars that literally run on air to complete redesigns of the transportation grid, the local commute is widely seen as the best nut to crack to bring alternative transit to the mainstream. Unfortunately, so far there's been little outright success.

The latest attempt to make commuting less environmentally harmful is the personal electric vehicle, or PEV. Often designed as an electric moped or scooter, PEVs are intentionally humble devices in no way seen as a broad-spectrum replacement for cars. Generally speaking, they max out at around 30 miles per hour (and that may require pedaling on top of the motor) and a range of about 10-20 miles on a charge. They're also relatively inexpensive -- as low as a couple hundred dollars for a low-end model, up to $1,500 for a serious electroscooter -- and some are light enough to carry on board a train. A recent New York Times profile is fairly informative about the new generation of electric bikes, their problems, and their potential.


PEVs exist in a gray zone between bicycles and motor scooters. Typically unable to match auto speeds on main surface streets, they'll often be required to stick to bicycle lanes -- where they go significantly faster than a typical bike. Some locales require the full set of motorcycle-type lights and mirrors and such; others restrict speeds to no more than 15 miles per hour. Most can take hills easily, eliminating one of the standard excuses for not commuting by bike. PEVs are probably not well suited for suburban commuters, but for people who need to get around within a city (and for health, hills or speed reasons can't use a typical bicycle), they seem a much better choice.

The Times article suggests V Is For Voltage as info site. I found that another site lays out some of the safety issues with PEVs in a more straightforward manner, as well as providing some general information. The eGo company, which makes PEVs for North America, Europe and Asia, has a nicely detailed technical note (PDF) on PEV use, as well as a buyer's guide (PDF) which actually doesn't seem like an advertisement for their own PEVs.

Anyone here using a PEV?


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference PEVs:

» Personal Electric Vehicles from Green Car Congress
WorldChanging provides a useful overview of Personal Electric Vehicles (PEV). [Read More]

» PEV's & Human assisted electric vehicles. from Green Trust Renewable Energy & Sustainability
The urban commuter is an elusive-yet-seductive market, it seems. Recognizing that, for now, electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles (other than hybrids) don't have the range as full-time replacements for gasoline autos, a number of designers hav... [Read More]

Comments (6)

I believe that Small personal vehicles, pedal, electric, and electric assisted pedal, from scooters to velomobiles, will be an important part of our transportation future. We will be providing more info on hpv's, velomobiles and rhoadescar type devices in the near future.


A long while ago a friend of mine built something like this for himself tho it wasnt just electric.

He basicaly ripped out the seat and most of the frame of an old moped and weilded a 20 gallon air tank in its place. He then attached some golfcart batteries up front.

On the rear wheel he put an air powered motor from an old phnumatic grinder and on the front wheel he rigged a simple electric assist motor.

The result was ugly as heck but it sure worked well.



I recently purchased a Giant Lite electric bike - pedal assist - with NIMH battery. The whole package only weighs 47 pounds. This bike is the ANSWER. Your posting fails to list the primary advantages of electric bikes over other forms of sustainable transportation.

Prior to this electric "vehicle" - i'll explain why its a vehicle and not just a bike - I also owned a Mercedes Benz diesel station wagon that I ran on 100% biodiesel. The Giant Lite electric bike is a million times the vehicle that the Mercedes was - (although I will say that MB are safe cars, mine got totalled into the back of a dump truck and I never even moved in the seat or was effected by the total destruction of the front end).

EV bike advantages :

1. INSURANCE -- as a bicycle it doesn't require any. One less major expense and more importantly one less hassle.

2. Maintenance - the motor is entirely sealed and requires no maintenance.

3. Driving -- a sustainable car is still a car -- you have to drive it and sit in traffic. Your hips and hamstrings and quads are all negatively affected by sitting in cars. An electric assist bike has you out in the open air LIVING - absorbing nature and moving your big muscles though without strain. It's fabulous. Most importantly because the Giant Lite has such great range and power that you can carry almost any weight on it. This makes it a vehicle. I have huge paniard carrying bags on the back rack of mine plus a big basket on the front for carrying two big full grocery bags. The electric motor produces so much low end torque that the moment you touch the pedals it kicks in and whisks you from a stop at a light, even on a hill, with zero risk of falling over as with a regular bike which are much harder to start from stop with a heavy load or on a hill. This makes the EV bike an actual vehicle in practical application because you aren't afraid to load it down.

4. Range -- this is misleading because the fact is that a pedal assist bike can be ridden very far in economy mode if you don't mind getting a little exercise. I heard of one guy who rode 100 miles in economy mode one charge recently. My ride is 8 miles on a country rode to a park and ride and then hilly city riding for a coupple of miles. I have no interest - regardless of the weather in driving my cars to the city unless absolutely necessary.

5. Parking -- cars have to be parked. the incredible life draining hassle and expense of dealing with parking and parking tickets is a drag. for what? 99% of the time the car is a waste and you aren't carrying antything that couldn't go on the Giant Lite. with the bike you park wherever your lock will go around something solid - typically within 10 feet from the door of wherever you are going.

6. Portability on Public Transit -- how beautiful is this - the EV bike is the only vehicle that fits on the front of the bus, you can take with you on the subway or commuter train. This is one of my favorite parts of the Giant Lite. I ride it 8 miles from my home on Tiger Mountain to the Issaquah Park and Ride. I get to enjoy the beautiful mountain surroundings and fresh air while getting some lovely light duty exercise. I carry everything I need including rain gear (it is January and 30 degrees here now) and cold weather gear, my laptop, battery charger, food, books, etc. Arriving at the bus the bike goes in the rack on the front of the bus and I get to enjoy somebody else driving into the city while I read, make phone calls, day dream looking out the window etc on the express trip into the city. You can't do this with a car - which you have to drive and is pretty much a miserable and sedentary experience. On the bus or train I have a driver and am able to get something done besides stare at somebody else's tale pipe. When I get to the city the electric motor kicks in to make the hills and stop lights and crossings a breeze.

7. Ease of CHARGE -- the NIMH battery is about the size and weight of a small loaf of bread and doesn't weigh much. The charger is smaller than a paperback and plugs into any 110 outlet anywhere (including the ones on the train). I charge mine while at Yoga Asana class, at the office, wherever. It slides easily off the bike and can unobtrusively be charged anywhere. A couple of hours recharges most of my usage getting into and around the city so I have full charge for the ride home.

The Giant Lite is a "vehicle" not just a bike. You can carry anything you need with you to meet whatever environmental challenges the riding out in the open offers - and this is an adventure and a lot of fun when you don't have to strain to ride up hills or distance and you have all the gear you need. You can carry lots of groceries. You have this wonderful power available instantly at the touch of the pedal at stop lights and from a standing stop on hills. It's a fabulous vehicle.

http://www.electricvehiclesnw.com is the best website I've found on the subject. I purchased my Giant Lite from them. They are doing a brisk internet business and have sold more than 1000 of the Giant Lite bikes around the country in the last year. They are located here in Seattle so I went to their store in Freemont. It's a great experience and anyone interested in sustainable transportation should test ride a Giant electric bike to experience why it can be a "vehicle" but much better than a car.

cheers -ce

John Baxter:

As obviously preferable as these vehicles are to ecologically (and visually) thuggish Hummers and Ford Excursions, there is still the issue of how the electricity that powers them is generated. In many cases, the vehicle's emissions are merely geographically displaced, adding demand for coal or oil-fueled generating plants. Then there's the toxicity associated with the manufacture and disposal of batteries.

My neighbor owns a PEV: it's zippy and quiet and gets her out of her car. But I maintain that the only truly ecologically sound vehicle for short urban trips remains the humble bicycle.


The essential trouble with electric bikes is they are being banned in alot of places as dangerous.

Alot of people appearantly are getting into horrid accidents with em. I know around here it took 3 weeks for all the blood stain from one electric bike mishap to be scrubbed away by the street sweepers and they tried rather hard too!

Oh if you ride a electric bike or even a regular one always be sure to keep a DURABLE form of id on your person so if your remains get realy mangled it will still be readable... Either that or be sure to register your dna. You would be surprised how many bike/moped riders are never identified.


"there is still the issue of how the electricity that powers them is generated"

This is true, and is often said in relation to electric cars also. I don't know about the US, but in Britain you can choose which company provides your electricity supply, and there are at least two suppliers offering 100% guaranteed green energy, usually from wind generators.


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