Category Archives: Human-Powered

New Blog Launch — Bikeway Central!

Dear 1GreenProduct.com readers,

As you know, 1GreenProduct.com is on hiatus while I transition the site to a new platform.

Meanwhile, I’d like to invite you to visit Bikeway Central, my brand new site that continues on the eco-friendly theme but focuses more closely on my interest in bikeways, greenways, bike lanes, bike trails and so forth.

My goal is to provide a central hub for news and discussion of national (and occasionally) international efforts to build bike-friendly infrastructure that knits communities closer together, provides opportunities for exercise and gives us fun alternatives to complement our auto transportation network.

So without further ado, I hope you will take a moment to visit Bikeway Central.

If you like what you see, please subscribe to Bikeway Central updates, share comments on the posts and help spread the word about the new site.

Thanks!

Aaron Dalton, Editor, 1GreenProduct.com

Blog Talk Radio – Vapur, Radley London, Anvil Eco, YogaFit, ECOS, Skoy, GlacialLight and Sylvania

Tune in Wednesday March 17th at 8 p.m. Central Time (9 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific) to the 1GreenProduct.com show on Blog Talk Radio for reviews of these eco-friendly products.

(If you’re unable to listen to the show live, you can always download it later and listen to it at your convenience.)

Have questions or comments about other products we’ve reviewed in the past? Call in to the show (347-945-6594) and share your thoughts!

Vapur 16-ounce Reusable Water Bottle ($8.95 via Amazon)

YoGen Mobile Charger ($49.99 via YoGen website)

Radley London Umbrellas and Totes made from post-consumer PET plastic bottles and other recycled materials.  ($50 for umbrellas, $35 for totes). Note that only the Nostalgia and Beside the Seaside styles within the Umbrella collection are made using recycled materials.

Sylvania Ultra LED high performance series 8-watt bulb ($29.98 via Lowes.com)

Floodlight-style LED GlacialLight (GL-BR30, $44.95 via C. Crane Company)

ECOS Laundry Detergent ($46 for 4-pack of 100-ounce bottles via Amazon.com)

YogaFit jacket made from 70% bamboo ($25.99 via YogaFit website) Correct link and image posted on 3/24.

Skoy Cloth 100% biodegradable cleaning cloth ($5.99 for a 4-pack)

Anvil Knitwear Eco (available for direct purchase here) collection including AnvilRecycled T-shirt ($10) made from 69% recycled cotton…

….AnvilSustainable T-shirt ($12) made from recycled PET plastic bottles and transitional cotton (grown on farms that are striving to obtain organic certification)…

….AnvilSustainable fleece sweatshirts ($37) made from a blend of organic cotton and recycled plastic bottles…

…and AnvilOrganic T-shirts ($12) made from 100% certified organic cotton

To hear reviews of all these products, discuss any past reviews on 1GreenProduct.com or talk about whatever eco-friendly products you’ve got on your mind, remember to tune in Wednesday March 17th at 8 p.m. Central Time (9 p.m. Eastern, 6 p.m. Pacific) to the1GreenProduct.com show on Blog Talk Radio.

Disclaimer – All of the companies mentioned above sent me free samples of their products for testing purposes.

Update – Did you miss the live Blog Talk Radio broadcast? You can still hear the show at your convenience by clicking the button below…

Listen to Aaron Dalton on Blog Talk Radio

E+ Electric Bikes – Elite Mountain Bike

The powerful, rugged E+ Elite Mountain Bike (photo via Electric Motion Systems website)

The powerful, rugged E+ Elite Mountain Bike (photo via Electric Motion Systems website)

Like a little raw speed with your electric bike?

I clocked my tester E+ Elite Mountain Bike from Electric Motion Systems at around 25 miles per hour on a flat straightaway with no pedaling.

The Elite version of the E+ bikes (designed for ‘off road use only’) comes with a 1000 watt in-wheel motor, but you can get 750 watt motor versions of the E+ bike in Cruiser or Mountain Bike styles that don’t have the ‘off-road only’ stipulation.

The power of the in-wheel NiMH battery and motor system is definitely one of the major selling points for an E+ bike. Mounting the battery and motor low on the bike is also supposed to help keep the bike stable by creating a low center of gravity. The logic is flawless, but in practice it didn’t make the bike feel appreciably more stable than any other e-bike that I’ve ridden.

So here’s what I liked about the E+ Elite bike that I tested –

The in-wheel battery and motor design gives E+ bikes a distinctive silhouette (photo via Electric Motion Systems website)

The in-wheel battery and motor design gives E+ bikes a distinctive silhouette (photo via Electric Motion Systems website)

1. Speed and Power – Press down on the throttle lever and the bike takes off. It’s like a stealth moped.

2. Rugged design – The bike felt fully capable of handling some light off-road action. The bike’s manual indicates that the E+ Elite Mountain Bike can handle paved roads, gravel surfaces and even rough trails with small obstacles, but it does emphasize that the bike should not be used in a jumping scenario. Although it would have been nice if the E+ Mountain Bike came with some splash/mud guards – especially since the bike is designed to allow light off-road use where there’s usually a lot of dirt, mud, gravel and other earthy stuff.

3. Made in the U.S.A. – Electric Motion Systems is based in Virginia, and that’s where it makes its E+ bikes. I like the idea of supporting domestic production, both in the interests of reducing environmental shipping costs and supporting American workers (particularly in a recession).

4. Style – The E+ Elite Mountain Bike got admiring looks and comments from bike messengers, European tourists and others. It’s not flashy, but it will get noticed.

5. Cruise Control – I don’t think I’ve seen this feature on any other e-bike. Press a button on the E+QUE Display/Controller unit on the handlebar and the bike will attempt to maintain a set speed. It’s pretty nifty.

6. Regenerative Mode – Like the OHM bike, the E+ bikes can be set into regenerative mode to recharge the battery while going down a hill (or perhaps when the bike is mounted into a stationary rack). Unfortunately, it seemed harder to use the E+ regenerative system than the OHM system. Even on a downhill slope, I had a hard time pedaling the E+ bike in regenerative mode.

Now here are the things that irked me about the E+ Elite Mountain Bike:

1. Price – Even though I didn’t pay to test the bike thanks to the generosity of Electric Motion Systems and Scott Gibson of EcoPioneer, I can’t test a product without considering its price (and therefore its value). After all, Tesla Motors may make a beautiful electric sports car, but the price puts it out of reach for most consumers.

The E+ Elite Mountain Bike carries a MSRP of approximately $4,000. For perspective, consider that a new Vespa LX50 scooter for MSRP $3,299. True, the Vespa uses gasoline and is therefore less eco friendly, but it does get 95-100 mpg and goes 39 mph (according to the Vespa site).

I’m just saying that I think it will be hard for most people who aren’t rolling in dough to spend $4,000 on an electric bike when they could get a gas scooter for hundreds of dollars less (actually thousands of dollars less if they are willing to get a Yamah C3 or Honda Ruckus scooter).

Now Electric Motion Systems is running a limited time offer to give customers a free Elite upgrade plus a rebate. These deals bring the price of the bike down to a more palatable $3,095 with free shipping.

That’s better, but it’s still a lot of dough and a few hundred dollars more than some other e-bikes we tested like the OHM Urban XU500 or the A2B Electric Two Wheeler (both of which retail for around $2800).

In addition to consumer e-bikes, Electric Motion Systems also makes a Tactical Bike for police departments (photo via Electric Motion Systems website)

In addition to consumer e-bikes, Electric Motion Systems also makes a Tactical Bike for police departments (photo via Electric Motion Systems website)

Push-Lever Throttle – The E+ Elite Mountain Bike uses a push-lever thumb throttle on the right handlebar. When you want the motor to kick in, you have to push down on the throttle. It sounds simple enough, but in practice I much preferred the twist throttle used on the A2B bike. As one of my commenters pointed out on the A2B review, it’s actually quite safe to have a throttle that needs to be twisted toward you in order to generate power because it makes it much harder to accidentally gun the motor when reaching for the brake. But with a push-lever thumb throttle, I did just that and nearly accelerated into trouble a couple of times when I was trying to execute a sudden braking maneuver.

Weight – Like the A2B, the E+ Elite Mountain Bike tipped the scales around 70 lbs. Since mountain bikes already have more resistance than road bikes due to their thick tires, I found it nearly impossible to pedal the E+ Elite Mountain Bike without constantly using at least a little bit of battery power. I would urge Electric Motion Systems to prioritize weight reduction in their R&D effort, since a 10 or 20 pound lighter bike (like the OHM XU500 or the iZip Via Rapido) is much easier to pedal with pure human power – extending the range and providing the possibility of some exercise. (The combination of mountain bike seating and the need to constantly push the throttle with my thumb ended up putting a lot of pressure on the outside fingers of my right hand. In fact, after one long ride, my little finger and ring finger on the right hand were partially numb and tingly for hours. Not a good feeling.)

Maybe you would prefer your E+ electric bike in a Beach Cruiser style? (photo via Electric Motion Systems website)

Maybe you would prefer your E+ electric bike in a Beach Cruiser style? (photo via Electric Motion Systems website)

Range – Electric Motion Systems says that the E+ Elite Mountain Bike should be able to go 25-28 miles on a full battery at 15 mph with a 185 lb. rider on flat ground and no pedaling. I weigh a good 25 lbs less than that theoretical rider and managed only around 15 miles of range with occasional pedaling on mostly flat terrain. For some of this time, I was experimenting with the Cruise Control feature of the bike (which I later found out might reduce range according to some online forums), but I still have to say that I was disappointed that the battery didn’t last a longer distance.

Recharging Process – Not only did the recharging process take many hours, but the process of connecting the charger to the bike itself is a bit cumbersome. (In fact, I ever cut my hand a little bit trying to disconnect some wires in order to get access to the charging plug the first time I tried to recharge the bike. After that, I wore gloves when taking the charger on and off the bike.

Also, because the battery is built into the wheel, it’s impossible to take the battery off the bike for recharging without removing the whole front wheel. In my opinion, that’s a significant drawback to the E+ design. One of the nice things about the designs of many e-bikes – even much less expensive bikes like the iZip Via Rapido – is that it’s easy to park the bike at a rack and remove the battery to take it into an apartment or office for charging. To be fair, taking the wheel off the E+ Elite Mountain Bike isn’t that hard, but it is a heavier, more time-consuming, dirtier process than just sliding a battery pack out of the bike and literally putting it into a shoulder bag or bookbag.

Bottom Line – If you have deep pockets and are looking for a fast, rugged, made-in-the USA electric bike that can deliver some serious off-road fun, the E+ Elite Mountain Bike could be just the ticket. For urban commuters, I think there are some less expensive and more versatile options like the A2B (for twist-throttle fans) or the iZip Via Rapido (for those who prefer pedal-assist).

Where to Buy:

The Ellsworth Commute Ride, just one of the sweet custom designs offered by E+ (photo via Electric Motion Systems website)

The Ellsworth Commute Ride, just one of the sweet custom designs offered by E+ (photo via Electric Motion Systems website)

You can order an E+ Elite Mountain Bike – or any of the other electric bikes that Electric Motion Systems makes – directly through the company’s website.

Be sure to check out the sweet array of custom designed e-bikes that E+ can build on request.

Since every e-bike feels different, I’d highly encourage you to test ride an E+ bike at a local dealer in the U.S. or Canada before making a purchase decision.

Be sure to ride safely, wear a helmet and check the local regulations covering the use of e-bikes in your community.

Disclosure – E+ loaned me an Elite Mountain Bike to test and review for approximately one week. I returned the bike to an E+ representative at the end of the test period.

Izip Via Rapido Electric Bike

Izip Via Rapido E-Bike - Low Step / Women's Version (photo via Izip website)

Izip Via Rapido E-Bike - Low Step / Women's Version (photo via Izip website)

Do you like the idea of riding an electric bike, but balk at the price tag of around $2,699 each for bikes like the A2B  by Ultra Motor or theUrban XU500 from OHM?

If so, let us introduce the more wallet-friendly selection of Izip bikes from Currie Technologies. Currie sells a range of e-bikes that could match almost anyone’s budget, from the $649 Via Mezza to the top-of-the-line $2,999 (pre-orders only) Express bike with a 750w motor, speeds of 20+ mph and a lithium-ion battery pack.

Seeking to test a mid-range bike with mass-market appeal, I asked to test the Via Rapido. Equipped with a lithium-ion battery and a 250w motor, the Via Rapido reaches a top-speed of around 15 mph and sports a $1,399 price tag – approximately half the price of the A2B or OHM XU500. Update – The Via Rapido has recently gone on sale for $1,199, making it an even better deal…

So how does the Via Rapido perform versus its pricier rivals?

Well, don’t expect the rockin’ style, cushy ride and head-turning twist-and-go acceleration of the A2B.

And forget the regenerative braking and speedy battery charging times of the OHM XU500.

Izip Via Rapido Electric Bike - Diamond Frame/Men's Version (photo via Izip website)

Izip Via Rapido Electric Bike - Diamond Frame/Men's Version (photo via Izip website)

The Izip Via Rapido looks like a nice regular bike. Some casual observers probably won’t even notice the slim lithium-ion power pack tucked under the rear cargo rack or the motor sticking out on the side of the rear wheel.

With 4-6 hour recharging times, you’ll need to plan in advance when taking the Via Rapido on a trip past the bike’s 15-22 mile range.

All that being said, Via Rapido still offers good bang for your buck and gives you all the essential benefits of an electric bike at a reasonable price. In some ways, I’d say it even outperforms its pricier A2B and XU500 competitors.

For example, the Via Rapido weighs about 20 pounds less than the A2B, making it much easier to turn off the battery from time to time and propel the bike with pure leg power.

The Via Rapido's battery sits unobtrusively beneath the rear rack (photo by Aaron Dalton)

The Via Rapido's battery sits unobtrusively beneath the rear rack (photo by Aaron Dalton)

The somewhat stealthy aspect of this e-bike may appeal to those who are more concerned with getting from one place to another than with making a style statement in the process.

In terms of peppiness, I still think the twist-and-go A2B takes the cake, but the Via Rapido can certainly hold its own against the XU500.

This is actually a little strange, since the XU500 has the more powerful motor (450w), but the 250w Via Rapido somehow seems to give a more powerful and reliable boost in real-world pedaling conditions.

I will say that the OHM XU500 gives a smoother assist with its fancy Bionx system. In contrast, the Via Rapido starts out with pure pedal power then gives you a sudden electrical push. It sounds a little haphazard, but in real world riding, I found it to be lots of fun. After a while, I found that I could usually pump the pedals a few times, let the motor kick in and let the bike basically propel itself half a block while I stopped pedaling. When the bike motor cut off and the bike slowed down, I could start pedaling again to restart the motor, get another push and begin the cycle again.

On uphill segments of the ride, I would just keep pedaling the whole time, but moving the bike at a good pace never felt difficult even when climbing a long incline thanks to the electric-assist.

The warning label on the Izip Via Rapido throttle (photo by Aaron Dalton)

The warning label on the Izip Via Rapido throttle (photo by Aaron Dalton)

I was not impressed, however, with the Via Rapido’s throttle that was supposed to deliver an extra power boost. In practice, the throttle didn’t seem to do much and sported a big warning sticker warning said: “Riding at full throttle dramatically decreases your range!” So I basically just ignored the throttle.

The Via Rapido’s battery slides easily into and out a slot under the rear carry rack. I left the battery locked into place most of the time, but you could definitely carry it into your office or home for charging and leave the bike parked outside or in a garage.

Close-up of clever lock and integrated tail light on Via Rapido battery (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Close-up of clever lock and integrated rear reflector on Via Rapido battery (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Unfortunately, I did have some issues with the battery’s gauge and the charger. One ride began with the battery gauge reading “Full” only to have the battery die on me after around 5 miles. Since the battery handled much longer rides at other times without dying, I can only assume that the gauge gave an incorrect reading on that particular ride. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it did make me a little bit anxious on other rides — like having a car and not knowing whether the gas gauge was accurate.

Also, the charger itself is a little finnicky. The very complicated manual gives a specific order for plugging in the charger to the wall, switching it on, plugging it into the battery. It says that an orange light on the charger should blink, but it never did. Actually, I found that if I followed the manual’s instructions, the charger’s light would turn green (which is supposed to signify a full battery) before I even plugged the charger into the battery! I ended up plugging in the charger, leaving it off, plugging the charger into the battery and then switching it on. That seemed to have the desired effect.

Remember, the Via Rapido’s battery needs 4-6 hours for a full charge (according to the iZip manual). That’s not a deal-breaker, but it does mean you can’t charge up at a coffee shop. If you’re commuting, you’ll most likely need to leave the battery plugged in for a good chunk of the day at your office before heading home.

Front tire proximity to pedal I originally had some concerns here, but now it appears that the issue may have been due to an assembly error on my part…

Accessories (or lack thereof) – This is a bare bones design. You get a rear carry rack with reflector and a couple of reflectors in the wheels, but no fenders and no headlight. Both the A2B and XU500 are better equipped — but of course the $1,300 comparative discount on the Via Rapido could buy you some sweet accessories with a lot of change left over.

The motor positioned on the left side of the Via Rapido's rear wheel (photo by Aaron Dalton)

The motor positioned on the left side of the Via Rapido's rear wheel (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Mr. Obvious – I’ll look more closely on future reviews, but I don’t remember the motor on the A2B or XU500 sticking out quite so obviously as on the Via Rapido. It not very pretty – but it gets the job done and might give you some street cred in an I’m-all-about-functionality sort of way.

Manual – The Izip manual is filled with so many warnings that it may scare some riders away from even climbing onto their bike. I understand manufacturers need to protect themselves against litigation, but it’s still a frightening manual.

(Maybe the user’s manual needs its own warning label? “Reading this manual can cause mental anguish and ennui…”)

Generally, the Chinese-manufactured Via Rapido seemed solidly built, but I did wonder whether these wires had enough protection (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Generally, the Chinese-manufactured Via Rapido seemed solidly built, but I did wonder whether these wires had enough protection (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Durability – Nothing broke on the Via Rapido while I was testing it, so that’s a step up from my experience with the XU500. The Via Rapido felt solid, which gave me confidence biking through Brooklyn’s nabes.

Bottom Line – On features, style, power and comfort, the A2B is still my favorite of the bikes I’ve tested.

But the Via Rapido delivers better bang for the buck and its lighter weight makes it more practical than the A2B from a pedaling standpoint.

If you’re looking for a relatively affordable, fun, practical commuting option, the Izip Via Rapido seems like a very good choice.

By the way, I do think it would be fantastic if an e-bike maker could split the difference between the simplicity of the Via Rapido and the informative, but complex/distracting Bionx console on the OHM XU500.

For example, would it be great to have detailed percentage info on remaining battery charge (like on a laptop), plus some information about speed and distance traveled. Would it be that hard to equip all e-bikes with pre-installed trip computers like the one that Amazon sells for $9.99?

Where to buy:

You can buy the men’s or women’s versions of the Izip Via Rapido directly through the Izip website for $1,199 with free shipping.

Both bikes are also available through Amazon.com and a network of dealers.

FYI, Currie Technologies also sells a conversion kit with (SLA) battery for $299 if you want to upcycle your existing bike by adding some e-bike juice.

For the balance-challenged or those who just want to relax and take in the scenery without worrying about toppling over while they ride, Currie Technologies does make an electric-assist tricycle called the Izip Tricruiser sold through the Izip website for $999.

For those who commute a lot or don’t have much storage space, Izip offers a folding e-bike called the Mezza for just $699.

Most Dangerous on the Roads?

Here are some Chinese bicyclists who have stopped at a red light. See - it's not that hard to do! (photo by Matthew Stinson/Flickr)

Here are some Chinese bicyclists who have stopped at a red light. See - it's not that hard to do! (photo by Matthew Stinson/Flickr)

Who is most dangerous on the roads – car drivers or bicyclists?

From a weight and mass standpoint, cars are definitely more dangerous. In a collision between a car and a bicyclist, I think it’s safe to say the car will almost always win.

In fact, there is a ghost bike on the corner of my street that stands as testament to a child killed while riding a bike not too long ago.

New York City drivers, perpetually  frustrated by the congested roads and the slow pace of traffic, often take chances. As a pedestrian, I have been nearly hit countless times even when walking in the crosswalk with the light in my favor.

(To be honest, I have also taken stupid chances walking against the light.)

But while the majority of car drivers usually obey traffic laws, I have to say that bicycling around the city over the last couple of months has made me realize just how many of my fellow bicyclists routinely ignore the most basic traffic laws.

Bicyclists wanted to be treated with respect by car drivers, but they don’t want to have to play by the same rules. My two biggest pet peeves? Bicyclists who roll through red lights and bicyclists who go the wrong way down a one-way street.

Here's a bicyclist going the right way in a bike lane on one-way East 91st Street in Manhattan. Hint to other cyclists - if you're in the bike lane and all the cars are pointed toward you, YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY! (photo by bicyclesonly/Flickr)

Here's a bicyclist going the right way in a bike lane on one-way East 91st Street in Manhattan. Hint to other cyclists - if you're in the bike lane and all the cars are pointed toward you, YOU'RE GOING THE WRONG WAY! (photo by bicyclesonly/Flickr)

The one-way street think really burns my biscuits, especially when there’s a bike lane going in the right direction only one street over. If a bicyclist rides the wrong way in the bike, his/her stupidity puts me in danger by making me veer out of the bike lane into traffic in order to avoid a head-on collision.

Like many things in life, a little respect and consideration for others would go a long way.

Give respect and you just might get respect. Play by the rules (at least the major ones), and car drivers might start to see you as another legitimate user of the streets rather than as an unpredictable, arrogant loose-cannon.

As an eco-minded cyclist, the behavior of other bicyclists particularly ticks me off because I think it reinforces in the minds of the majority that cycling is a behavior for loony daredevils and thus discourages people from biking. If more cyclists respected the rules, then the car driver or the bus rider might look over and think “Hey, that cyclist seems like a normal fellow. I could see myself doing that.”

So who is most dangerous? Car drivers by their nature or bicyclists by their behavior?

We want a lot from the powers that be – many of us want more bike lanes, bike paths, bike lockers, bikeshare programs, etc.

We’re only going to build broad support for these measures by convincing the rest of society that we’re not all self-absorbed egotistical maniacs. We need car drivers and public transport riders to see us as helping them – taking a car off the road or a body off the subway by choosing to ride our bike – not as a menace to everyone around us.

So like many other voices on the Internet, I’ll add my plea for bicyclists to slow down and take it easy. I know it’s a pain to break your stride, come to a stop and actually respect the red light, but try it!

Take a breath, watch the people strolling around, listen to the conversation or the music in the car next to you, gather your energy for the next bit of the ride.

The net result will be fewer accidents, less road rage and perhaps a few drivers in their cars and riders on the bus will even look at you and think, “That guy/girl seems alright. I could see myself doing that. Maybe I’ll try biking too!”

That would be good for cyclists and good for the planet.

PS – Brooklyn’s bike lanes seem relatively safe (at least compared to Manhattan’s streets), but separated cycle tracks would be even better! Check out the photos below to see a tiny section of cycle track being build at Grand Army Plaza near Prospect Park. Just a little bit of raised curb between cyclists and traffic can make a world of difference in the safety and comfort level of bicyclists (and maybe car drivers as well).

Protected cycle track under construction at the busy Grand Army Plaza traffic circle in Brooklyn, New York (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Protected cycle track under construction at the busy Grand Army Plaza traffic circle in Brooklyn, New York (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Protected Grand Army Plaza cycle track gives way to painted bike lane (photo by Aaron Dalton)

Protected Grand Army Plaza cycle track gives way to painted bike lane (photo by Aaron Dalton)

OHM Electric Cycles – Urban XU500

OHM Urban XU500 electric bicycle

OHM Urban XU500 electric bicycle

I have a new appreciation for New York City’s bike messengers and delivery guys.

Most of those cyclists use regular bikes – I was on a brand new OHM Urban XU500 cycle with a long-range 28V 12Ah Lithium-ion powe pack and 250W auto-assist hub and I still felt like I’d been put through the wringer after biking from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn.

OHM says that the XU500 can go 20 miles per hour, but I wouldn’t know since I had to stop every few hundred feet to avoid nailing a pedestrian, a cab or a delivery truck parked in the bike lane.

(Most of the time there was no bike lane – then I was just avoiding double-parked cars and trucks.)

And even though the handy NYC Bike Map shows a bike path alongside the East River, the reality (as I was warned by Mark at NYCE Wheels, where I picked up the tester bike) is that the East River path is barely wide enough for pedestrians much less cyclists.

So I ended up racing down 2nd Avenue, then West to Lafayette and south again onto the Brooklyn Bridge, where all the soot and other airborne crap that I’d been inhaling from cars, trucks and buses sent me into a coughing fit that lasted pretty much the entire length of the bridge.

Thank goodness for OHM’s electric assist or I don’t think I would have ever made it home!

OHM bikes offer four levels of electric assistance – I kept the bike on maximum assist (200% boost) or nearly maximum assist (100% boost) pretty much the entire ride. At that level of assistance, I think I drained perhaps a quarter of the battery over about 10 miles of mostly level biking. That’s pretty darn amazing, actually, since it suggests the OHM XU500 might be able to go 40 miles on a charge.

(For comparison’s sake, the A2B Electric Two-Wheeler reviewed earlier this month gets 20 miles per battery.)

OHM Cycles logo

OHM Cycles logo

In fact, it looks like my tester bike performed better than OHM’s own specs, since OHM suggests the XU500 should have a maximum range of 24 miles at maximum assist and 29 miles at the next-highest level of assistance.

Update – The battery did drain a bit faster on another day, going down perhaps 1/3 over about about 8-9 miles, so that’s closer to the range estimate that OHM provides.

So why did I get greater range? One part of the answer might have to do with OHM’s clever regenerative braking technology. Basically, I think this works the same way as on a hybrid car like the Toyota Prius. When you hit the right hand brake, the bike captures some kinetic energy and feeds it back into the battery.

Super nifty.

Even niftier, the OHM Cycles don’t just come with an Assistance mode, they also come with a Generation mode. Basically, the Generation mode adds resistance to your pedaling and then captures this energy to recharge the battery. That’s right – you can recharge the battery on the fly without waiting until you get home to plug in the bike.

(OHM also suggests placing the bike on a stationary bike stand and using the Generative mode to recharge the battery while simultaneously giving yourself a cardio workout. Pure genius. Theoretically, it seems like you could recharge the battery without ever plugging in the machine.)

And speaking of recharging the battery, OHM says that the battery can recharge to 90% capacity within 20 minutes or fully charge in 3 hours.

I didn’t time the battery to 20 minutes, but I did remember to look about an hour after I plugged it in and the OHM’s display registered the battery as fully charged. Pretty sweet.

Since I live in Brooklyn, I brought the OHM XU500 up into my apartment to recharge it and park it, but if you bike to work and have the opportunity to store the bike in a secure area, you could easily detach the battery pack, carry it into your office, plug it in under the desk, unplug it a few hours later, store it in a drawer and then carry it down to reattach to the bike for your commute home.

Incidentally, at the lowest level of assistance (25% power boost), the XU500 is rated to provide 55 miles of pedal-assist. So if you just need a little help, the OHM cycle could keep you moving for quite a lengthy ride.

The top of OHM's urban line - the XU700 bike

The top of OHM's urban line - the XU700 bike

According to the folks at NYCE Wheels (who know their electric bikes), OHM uses top quality components in its cycles including Molicel® batteries, which OHM claims will recharge to 100% capacity over approximately 500 cycles and then gradually decrease to 80% capacity over the next 500 cycles.

OHM has also managed to make the XU500 a good bit lighter than the last electric bike I rode. Where the A2B tipped the scales at more than 70 lbs., the OHM XU500 weighs less than 50 lbs. You’ll appreciate that lighter weight if you have to carry the bike up or down any stairs.

What else did I like about the OHM experience? I was happy with the quality of the aluminum frame and the Newport saddle. I liked the fact that the bike had mudguards, a sturdy Topeak Explorer Tubular carry rack on the back and Busch & Muller headlight and tail light for safety. (The system for turning on and off the lights was a little confusing since it involved holding down the same button also used to turn the bike on and off, but with a little practice, I was able to figure it out.)

As you can see, there is a lot to like about the OHM XU500, but is it all sunshine and roses? Not quite.

There were a few ways in which I felt the XU500 fell a bit short in comparison to the other e-bikes I’ve ridden, namely the A2B that I tested earlier this month and the Muji bike that I rode in Japan.

Suspension – This might not be a fair comparison since 2nd Avenue is a mess compared to most of the downtown streets and the Hudson River bike paths where I rode the A2B, but I definitely felt the bumps quite a bit more with the XU500. Maybe the A2B’s extra weight helped it eat up some of the shocks. Whatever the case, I definitely felt a bit shaken up by the time I got home.

(Side rant to whoever dug the trench inside the 2nd Avenue bike lane – Bike riders can feel bumps in the road much more than car drivers! Please smooth over the pavement for real next time rather than just dumping in some asphalt willy-nilly.)

Twist throttle vs. Pedal assist – Some electric bikes (such as the A2B) have a twist throttle mechanism that propels the bike forward even if the rider hasn’t started pedaling yet. This sort of ‘stealth scooter’ action seemed a bit sneaky to me when I was testing the A2B, but in retrospect it makes a lot of sense for city riding since it allows the rider to easily accelerate from a stop at a traffic light. Pedal assist is nice in terms of giving you a bit more of a workout, but I think it’s better suited for riders who have the luxury of nice bike paths, light traffic or a rural/suburban route with few stop signs or traffic lights. For city riding, I think I’d prefer twist throttle over pedal assist.

OHM is proud of its BionX torque sensor that it says “automatically responds to the way the rider pedals and provides a smooth natural sensation.” Again, the guys at NYCE Wheels had only good things to say about the BionX, but I prefered the more forceful push delivered by the Japanese Muji bike. I suppose the lesson here is that even if you do decide on a pedal-assist bike, you should test a few different models to find out which type of power boost you like best.

Sexiness Factor – I mentioned in the A2B review that the bike was a conversation starter and drew a lot of admiring stares and comments. The OHM XU500 looks more like a regular bike. As such, it probably won’t get as much attention. I think the OXM XU500 looks nice, but it doesn’t have the va-va-voom of the A2B.

Snap! – Remember those bumps I mentioned on 2nd Avenue? I hit one of them, heard a ‘snap’ sound and the next thing I knew, the SRAM MRX twist shifter was feeling awfully loose. I rolled to a stop and watched in dismay as a small piece of black plastic fell to the street. Yep, the shifter had broken within about the first 3 miles of riding. Not a good sign. Luckily, OHM cycles come with a 1-2 year warranty (depending on the part of the bike), but it was still more than a little disappointing to have the shifter break so quickly. It made me wish that the XU500 bike had the trigger-type Shimano shifter found on OHM’s XS Sport bikes.

The slightly-more-affordable OHM XU450

The slightly-more-affordable OHM XU450

Price – The OHM XU500 costs $2,699 through NYCE Wheels. That’s the same as A2B’s MSRP. And just like I said with the A2B, I still think that’s pretty expensive.

(To illustrate the potential for sticker shock here, a New York bus driver opened his door at a stop light on 2nd Avenue to ask me where he could find the electric bike I was riding. He seemed interested — until I told him how much it cost. I’m just saying…)

If you have a shorter commute, you can save a few hundred dollars with the OHM XU450, which seems identical to the XU500 according to OHM’s specs except that the battery only provides 16 miles of assist at maximum power and 20 miles of assistance at the next highest level of assistance. (As mentioned earlier, the XU500 is rated to get 24 miles of assistance at max power and 29 miles at the next highest level of assistance.)

So what’s the bottom line? I really liked the fully-equipped feel of the OHM XU500, and I was particularly impressed with the range, the recharging time, the regenerative braking and generative settings. I also appreciated the design, the safety features, the performance of the hydraulic disc brakes and the relatively light weight of the bike itself.

On the other hand, I wish the OHM Cycles were more affordable and that the XU500 gave a somewhat more dramatic assist. Some people might like what OHM describes as the “smooth natural sensation” of the BionX sensor, but I wanted something more obvious and potent. I also was disappointed with the fragility of the SRAM shifter.

Other than the broken shifter, I’d have no hesitation in recommending this bike for a test ride to someone with relatively deep pockets searching for a pedal-assist electric bike.

Where to Buy:

In New York City, NYCE Wheels carries some OHM Cycles and can provide expert advice on e-bikes in general.

If you’re not located in New York, you can still order an OHM Cycle through the NYCE Wheels site for a $200 shipping fee.

Alternatively, you can use the OHM Cycles site to find a dealer near you in the USA, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Germany or Spain.

K2 Eco Skates

K2 Etu men's Eco Skate made with bamboo and recycled PET

K2 Etu men's Eco Skate made with bamboo and recycled PET

I’ve been talking a lot about the virtues of bikes and e-bikes lately, but I neglected to mention the virtues of other forms of zero-emission, human-powered transportation.

For example, here in New York City, I frequently see people getting around by skateboard and sometimes (especially kids) by kick-scooter too.

But there’s another option for those with good balance and an interest in getting shapely, toned legs. I’m talking about in-line skating (a.k.a. blading or rollerblading).

This was a big craze back in the early 1990’s (remember Prayer of the Rollerboys?). In 1996, one study estimated that 27 million Americans had become in-line skaters.

The sport has faded a bit since then. By 2007, the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association was estimating the total U.S. in-line skating population at 10.8 million, with the number of ‘core’ skaters (defined rather leniently as those who skated at least once a month), dropping to just 4.7 million people.

I do think that most people consider in-line skating a sport or recreational activity rather than a bona-fide commuting/transportation option, but the fact is that experienced in-line skaters can probably expect to achieve average speeds of 10-12 miles per hour.

While quite a bit slower than an e-bike (top speed usually governed to 20 mph) and even slower than most regular bikes (13-15 mph average commuting speed according to some very unscientified London data), in-line skating does have its advantages over either biking option.

E-bikes require an electricity input to charge their batteries. In-line skates require no external inputs (other than human muscle power).

E-bikes and regular bikes are both weighty and bulky. Commuters who are unable to bring the bikes into their offices have to worry about where to park the bike and how to lock it. Theft is a concern. By contrast, in-line skates can be unlaced, brought into an office and left beneath a desk or in a drawer.

And of course it’s much easier to skate from a home to a train station and then carry the skates onto the train versus trying to carry a bike onto a train.

That said, in-line skates are not without their drawbacks. I’m a real novice skater, but in my opinion, it’s much easier to maintain balance on a bicycle than on skates. Stopping on a bike is much easier too (for me) — and since stopping is a big part of accident avoidance, that makes me nervous about recommeding in-line skating to non-experts seeking to commute in high-traffic areas.

On the other hand, there’s something incredibly liberating about inline skating. Bicycling has a certain rush that comes from propelling yourself faster than any unassisted human could run, but there’s always the machine with its gears and pedals between you and the road. With blading, it’s amazing how just some sturdy boots and a couple sets of little wheels can give you instant speed.

Whether you’re considering in-line skating as a commuting or recreational activity, in either case you’d want to choose the most eco-friendly in-line skates.

K2 Maia Eco Skate for women

K2 Maia women's Eco Skate made with bamboo and recycled PET

While most skates are made of plastics and other synthetic materials, the new K2 Eco Skates – the Etu for men and the Maia for women – give you a great Green alternative.

Both skates have excellent eco credentials. Instead of using metal or plastic for the frames that hold the wheels, K2 has chosen to use renewable and biodegradable bamboo. These bamboo frames give the skates a beautiful, natural look. I almost felt like I was skating on a piece of art.

From a design standpoint, I also liked the way that K2 used a bamboo leaf motif on the strap, boot and frame.

(And in case you’re worried about the strength of a bamboo skate, numerous sources point out that bamboo has a tensile strength greater than that of some types of steel.)

K2 has also taken steps to incorporate recycled materials into its Eco line, keeping trash out of landfills and supporting recycling efforts by using 100% recycled PET for the liners and laces of the Etu and Maia skates. The mesh on the skates is made from 50% recycled PET.

Thankfully, K2 says all its Eco skates are PVC-free.

I had a chance to test the Etu skate in person. I was happy to find that K2 had used minimal packaging – just a bit of tissue paper around the skates and some recyclable cardboard and paper inside the skates themselves to help them keep their shape. The box itself was labeled as being made of 70% recycled material and printed with eco-friendly soy-based inks.

Fit and finish on the K2 boots is quite good. I was a little disappointed to see that the boots were made in China — although I suppose that’s a good place to find bamboo. But it would have been nice from an eco standpoint if the skate had not been shipped half-way around the world.

The boots feel stable and well-made. I was able to skate comfortably and smoothly on the 84 mm wheels with ILQ-7 bearings (highly regarded on at least one forum).

I’m impressed that K2 says it is working toward a recycling/take-back program for its eco skates. Meanwhile, the company has developed a short DIY tutorial on how consumers can recycle or re-use components from their skates.

Incidentally, the DIY tutorial is part of a very nice section of K2’s website that offers lots of information on steps the company is taking to reduce its ‘carbon skateprint‘. Lots of companies could learn from K2 in communicating the steps they are taking to go green.

Bottom line – An average human walking speed is just under 3 miles per hour (4.8 km per hour). In-line skating provides a zero-emission, relatively low-cost, eco-friendly way of tripling or quadrupling unassisted travel speed. The bamboo and recycled components of the K2 Etu and Maia skates seem to make them the best eco-friendly options in the category. Even better, the Eco stakes also seem appealing from a style and quality standpoint.

Where to buy:

You can purchase both the women’s Maia skates and men’s Etu skates at InlineSkates.net for $189.95 with free shipping.

Remember that most inline skaters fall from time to time — especially if you’re just getting started learning the sport. Skating and bicycling have many eco-advantages over driving a car, but unlike in a car, you won’t have any seatbelt or airbags to protect you in the event of a crash. Therefore, it makes sense to use caution and wear the right safety gear. That’s why I strongly recommend that all inline skates protect themselves as much as possible by wearing a helmet plus appropriate pads and wrist guards.

K2 has introduced matching sets of eco-friendly Etu pads and Maia pads ($33.74 each via InlineSkates.net) that incorporate recycled PET materials.