Electric bicycle trend gaining popularity in Connecticut

By Gregory A. Scibelli - Staff Writer
Statewide - posted Fri., Jun. 17, 2011
Mike Wolf shows one of his many electric bikes for sale at Bloomfield Bicycle. Photos by Gregory A. Scibelli.
Mike Wolf shows one of his many electric bikes for sale at Bloomfield Bicycle. Photos by Gregory A. Scibelli.

Every now and then a new product will come along that is fun, practical and has the potential to save you money. The electric bike is one of those inventions, and one area business has been booming as a result of this latest trend.

John Ouelette said he has been riding his bicycle for more than 25 years. But injuries and arthritis threatened to curtail his bike-riding plans.

“I was planning on hanging up my bike shoes, until I visited my brother," said Ouelette. “He is suffering from chronic Lyme disease,” he said of his brother. “I road his new electric bike and was hooked. It was comfortable and easy to ride. It made bike riding fun and pleasurable for me again.”

Ouelette then purchased his first hybrid electric bicycle, last year, from Bloomfield Bicycle for an annual summer bike ride from Connecticut to Vermont with friends.

"It was great fun," Ouelette said. "I craved more power, but I still wanted to get a good workout on those hills. The electric bike has allowed me to commute the 10-mile round trip to work. I'm losing weight and feeling more energetic."

Mike Wolf, owner and operator of Bloomfield Bicycle, said he could have retired many years ago and been enjoying life, but the emergence of the electric bike has revitalized his energy level and has made his successful business even more successful.

“I just love what I am doing, and I love putting people on these bicycles,” said Wolf. “It’s such a great product and there are not a lot of places that are out there selling them.”

In fact, only six or seven bicycle business in the state of Connecticut are selling these bikes, Wolf said. Wolf also notes that those shops sell limited amounts of the bikes, carrying just two or three at a time.

At Bloomfield Bicycle, riders can access to a wide variety of electric bicycles ranging in price from $600 to about $3,000. A good bike averages around $2,000, Wolf said.

The average electric bike has a strong lithium-ion battery that takes approximately three to four hours to charge. That charge will get you from 15 to 40 miles of power on the bike. And that’s just the part you don’t pedal. The energy cost for those 40 miles? Definitely not $4 per gallon. It’s a mere 8 cents on your electric bill.

On average, a person can get about 1,000 charges out of the battery, making the product well worth its value, Wolf said.

But the value of a bike goes beyond energy costs and environmental considerations. There are social, emotional and moral changes.

Wolf recalled one of his greatest experiences in selling a bike was to a young girl who suffered from Down syndrome.

“She and her mother came into our shop, and this young lady was very physically limited,” said Wolf. “She was looking for a bike that would help her be able to keep up with her friends and take part in everything they do.”

Wolf showed the girl the electric bike. She took a crash course in how to operate the bike, and then began to ride around the parking lot of the Geissler’s Plaza in Bloomfield.

“She came around the corner and yelled to her mom, ‘I can keep up with my friends now,’” said Wolf. “Her mother and I both had tears in our eyes. I would have given her the bike if I could at that moment, that’s how good it made me feel to do something that made such a difference for that little girl.”

Wolf said the bike’s advanced technology has also helped overweight people be able to bike around successful.

“One couple I had were overweight, and they were afraid they would not be to climb hills on the bike,” said Wolf. “After I let them test one out on a steep hill, they found that the bike had a lot of power.”

The bicycle has three different settings to ensure it is being utilized to its fullest potential. The bike can be turned off for normal bicycle pedaling. A power pedal assist function can be turned on, as well, where the rider will get a boost of energy from the battery to accelerate them while pedaling.

“And then there’s what happens when you get through with work and you’re really tired,” said Wolf. “You can just turn on the power and it will ride you right down the road.”

Wolf hopes getting the word out will help further expand the electric bike trend, and hopes more residents from northern Connecticut will make their way to the shop and check out the bikes.

Barbara Courtney, of Granby, said she began using an electric bike just three weeks ago. She has noticed the difference in her ability to get around to more difficult terrains.

"Now I'm able to get up hills I normally have difficulty with," she said.

She said she likes to ride as much as she can and enjoys the energy efficiency the bike has to offer.

"It's good for ecology and it's good for my health," Courtney said. "I can use it for so many things. My husband uses it to run to the grocery store."

Bloomfield Bicycles, one of the largest suppliers of the electric bike, is located on Tunxis Avenue in Bloomfield.

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