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(Miss Part 1 in February? No problem! Read it here.)

We pick up where we left off with our intrepid reporter as he meets with a Pedego E-bikes dealer in the back of a vape shop. Yes, you heard that right. E-bikes are sold in the backroom of an E-cigarette shop. How cool is that?

I talked to the Bike Guy (his name is Steve Smith) on the phone that evening and then came back the next day to check out his selection. He has a few different styles, but his collection is by no means exhaustive. He does not sell solar powered bikes, for instance; all of his bikes are charged through wall adaptors.

Bike wall adaptorsThe styles of E-bikes one might see on the street can vary, especially in other countries where they’re more popular. Chris Cherry, the UT engineering professor who pioneered the nation's first solar charging E-bike share program, gave a couple examples of bikes he’s seen. “The ones in China,” he said, “range from a bicycle-style electric bike to something that looks like a small scooter, like a Vespa or something like that.”

This variety of styles is one of the reasons E-bikes are such a cool phenomenon. Depending on the style, the e-bicyclist can either look nearly indistinguishable from other everyday riders, or the high-tech hardware can bump the e-bicyclist up one more tier on the car-bike hierarchy. We bicyclists are still below motorcyclists, who also have to contend with the erratic drivers of one- to two-ton death machines careening down the road on four wheels, but something about having a motor on board makes a bicycle ride on urban streets seem a lot more legitimate and leverageable.

The hidden bike shop in Gallatin.

Steve Smith, the Bike Guy in Gallatin, is also a guitar maker in Hendersonville, another town just north of Nashville. He currently schedules visits to his shop by appointment only. He’s got a closely trimmed gray beard. He’s got a calm manner common to both Californians and those who have spent a lot of time with the West Coast crowd. For a salesman, he’s not pushy. You get the feeling he just likes talking about E-bikes. And guitars. If you came to one store and struck up a conversation about the products he sells in the other store, you could probably get him to tell you everything he knows on the topic.

Smith is something of a traveling salesman. He keeps his central location out of the back of the vape shop where his rent is cheap and his hours are flexible, but he makes most of his sales at places you might not expect: bluegrass conventions, which he goes to because his other profession is making guitars; gated communities, where rich, elderly people who still like to ride bikes don’t have the same endurance they once had; and dog shows—I have no idea why dog lovers would gravitate toward E-bikes. He does an okay business at these offbeat places.

eBikeAt any given time, he’ll have three to five different E-bike varieties in his shop, but there are plenty of other options for people looking around. “There are step-thrus, the classic, and one called the City Commuter.” He said his supplier, Pedego, first came out with the Comfort Cruiser, which looks like one of those bikes you see on the beach.

“A couple years later,” he said, “they came out with the City Commuter and it had a smaller but more powerful secured motor, so I have a lot more torque. They came up with things like pedal assist.” Pedal assist consists of the five different levels that a bicyclist can choose, kind of like shifting gears, to use more or less juice from the motor, to go faster or slower with each revolution of the pedals. “So then they took all those new features on the City Commuter,” said Smith, “and rolled them back into the classic Comfort Cruiser, and they called it the Interceptor.”

This is a snazzy bike. Its sleek design is retro-futuristic. It still has the same 1960s look common to Pedego’s bikes, but it also has the battery pack on the back that quickly gets the bike up to 20 miles an hour. It has an odometer showing the bike’s mileage and a speedometer that shows the fastest it’s ever gone each time you turn it on: 26 mph. Unfortunately, the bike can’t go this fast anymore. According to Smith, state and federal regulations restrict non-motorized vehicles from going over 20 mph. Still, 20 mph is a pretty good speed. While riding around, I had a carload of girls catcall and wolf whistle at me. “Nice bike!” said one girl.

I couldn’t think of anything else to say except Pedego’s slogan: “It’s electric!”

It’s electric!

When asked the best reason for buying an E-bike, especially considering how expensive it is, Smith said, “You can spend way more on a serious road bike. Those are the guys who will ride fifty to a hundred miles. But I’ve sold bikes to parents of children who are triathlon people, and they buy these bikes so they can keep up with their kids who are serious bike riders.”

He gave an example of a lady who bought one of these bikes to keep up with her son. “She laughed at the price,” he said, “because her son’s bike is a $15,000 bike. When you get titanium this and carbon fiber that, it starts adding up.”

There are E-bike kits people can buy, and he mentioned how disappointed the old DIY enthusiasts are when a part they were using becomes obsolete. He also talked about the folks who used to be able to buy barebones E-bikes for super cheap. “You can look around. There used to be a company called Currie Technologies and they made one called the IZIP. People could buy them at Walmart for a few hundred dollars. I can’t tell you how many phone calls I’ve had, people wanting to buy batteries and motors that are no longer available, and parts they can’t get. We visited an IZIP store in Santa Monica, and those days are over. Their bikes are $4,000 and up. They’ve completely changed the way they’re built. And if you start looking around, you really find out that Pedego’s prices are not bad at all, for what you get. You get a really top quality motor. They use the best lithium ion battery components you can get. So what’s inside that battery box makes a big difference.”


He had a lot of reasons for why E-bikes are such a cool form of transportation and exercise. He gave another example that hints at a bit of a rivalry between traditional cyclists and their E-bike brethren. The people he calls “the Spandex Club” seem to find great joy in whizzing by the slowpokes on the greenways around town, as if each bike ride is its own Tour de France. He described a certain hill in Nashville that corkscrews up, up, up into near infinity. It’s a brutal incline that even the most seasoned rider with calves the size of baby cows has to stand-pump to get up. Not with an E-bike though.

Shortly after a flock of these spandex-pants-wearing riders passed Smith and his wife Carol, they all came to this huge hill, and as the professional-looking athletes began to pant and fall behind, the two casual bicyclists nonchalantly twisted their throttles and whined up the hill without any effort at all.

He told of a friend in California who loves to do the same thing. Just as he’s passing these flashy riders, right when he’s sure they can see him, he twists the throttle and grins. And then, he begins pedaling backwards.

Laughing heartily, Smith said it blows them away every time.

Pedego E-bikes has dealerships in various cities across the United States, including one in the Nashville, Tennessee, area. / Issue 167 - September 2018
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