It had been 18 years since Eric Hunger of Sandy Springs had gotten on a bike. Bad knees from playing tennis kept him from a once- loved form of leisure activity.
Then he learned about electric bikes, which use a battery to provide pedal assistance for riders straining up a steep hill or needing an extra push after a long ride.
His first ride on an ElectroBike, the brand of one kind of “e-bike,” as electric bikes are known, a couple years ago sold him on the product.
“I rode 4.5 miles around town and had a blast,” he said.
Hunger was so sold on e-bikes that this month he opened his own ElectroBike store in Brookhaven’s Brighten Park Shopping Center.
ElectroBike is an e-bike brand founded in Mexico City, where there are 28 stores; there are also several stores in California.
Hunger is banking on what he believes is an emerging form of transportation in the U.S. by bringing the concept to Georgia and Florida, and then, he hopes, the entire Southeast.
“We have millennials coming in who want to commute to work. We’ve sold to college students who want to get around campus.
And we have some people who are 75 to 85 years old and they say they don’t want to give up their quality of life,” Hunger said.
In other words, there is no target market, he said. Hunger said his business does attract more leisure riders rather than competitive, hard-core cyclists. The bikes sell for $1,000 or more.
“There are two very distinct groups of cyclists,” he said.
Helen Gardner, general manager of Peachtree Bikes with stores in Sandy Springs and Buckhead, agreed there are vast differences between those who like their road bikes and those who want to ride an e-bike.
“I thought, ‘What’s the point?’” she said. “I didn’t understand them,” she said.
But in the past few years as the popularity of e-bikes has moved from China and Europe to the U.S., Gardner and other touring and road bike fans and stores have opened up to a different kind of cyclist.
“We don’t stock many e-bikes. We started carrying them a couple years,” she said. “But we’re still selling regular bikes hand over fist.”
The e-bikes are preferred by a totally different clientele than what normally comes into their stores, and Gardner predicts they will bring in a “new genre of customers” in the coming years.
Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicyle Coalition, said she loves her electric bike. She has a toddler who loves to be pulled in a trailer behind her. On the hilly roads of Atlanta, pulling a small child is no easy task, but with pedal assist, uphill climbs are eased.
“We want biking to be an option to as many people as possible,” she said. And electric bikes are an option for people who want to ride a bike but are intimidated by, for example, the Georgia heat or the hills of their neighborhoods.
“The e-bikes will fill an important role in this arena,” she said.
Global research firm Navigant Research predicts electric bike sales around the world will jump from $15.7 billion in revenue in 2016 to $24.4 billion by 2025. More than 35 million bikes are expected to be sold globally this year, according to the firm.
Electric bikes are powered by lithium batteries and allow the rider determine how much help is needed during a ride. With the motor turned off, the bike operates as a traditional bicycle.
A flip of a switch turns on the bike’s battery to give a boost, or pedal assist, so a rider can easily pedal with the e-bike taking over the hard riding. Many e-bikes also have throttles which allow riders to not pedal as the bike essentially transforms into a scooter.
“We have had some people come in and say they are ‘cheater bikes,’” Hunger said. “But it’s up to you to decide how much exercise you want.”
E-bike batteries can be charged in conventional electric outlets. In Georgia they are also are allowed on designated bike paths, according to state law.
Hunger said his decision to locate in Brookhaven was sealed as he learned more about the Peachtree Creek Greenway project, a 12-mile multi-use path and linear park that is designed to connect the cities of Brookhaven, Chamblee and Doraville and, in the long term, to the Atlanta BeltLine. The Brookhaven City Council approved in August a $35 million master plan for the greenway.
In the Perimeter Center, there is also an ongoing push to ease car congestion by encouraging bicycle use with bike paths being built and striped in Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Brookhaven.
The Perimeter Community Improvement Districts has also gotten these cities to approve a proposed bicycle implementation strategy for the commercial area. While the PCIDs plan does not specify e-bikes in its plan, it does feature a Cox Enterprise employee who commutes to her job on Peachtree-Dunwoody Road in Sandy Springs on an e-bike.