What are the top 3 – 5 features that consumers should look for in a electric bike?
The evolution of Electric Bicycles has been a difficult and checkered journey over the last dozen years, producing very few excellent products. Now, with the development of the Lithium Ion battery, a quantum leap has been taken which is allowing bikes to do the 4 things that people want: Go farther, faster, be lighter, and be more durable. However, most of the manufacturers of bikes on the market still don’t quite get that it also needs to be a good bicycle built with quality bike parts as well. Customers should look for a bike that is built with intelligence and balance. That is, a dependable high quality motor, a proven Lithium Ion battery system integrated into the balance of the bike and secure from theft, quality bicycle components including transmission, tires, brakes, and details. And one which has been tested and proven.
They should be close to zero maintenance. I think derailleurs and clusters are not correct on the electrics, and should be replaced with the simpler and more dependable internal gears. Then it must be priced affordably. Unfortunately, in my book that boils it down to a select few ebikes in today’s marketplace. It is astounding and frustrating to me that there are so many product entries which are either not correctly designed, too expensive or not really what customers want.
Are there safety concerns associated with an electric bike?
A quality Electric Bike is safer than a pedal bicycle because you have the additional feature of being able to accelerate away from danger. Instead of cruising at 12-14 mph, you’re going 18-20 mph, so care and courtesy must be practiced on bike paths. The quality bikes are built with lots of safety features: disc brakes, brake inhibitor power cutoffs, 360 degree chain guards, good lighting, and a fully audible bell.
How was your Earth Day celebration this year?!
Earth day in Santa Barbara was hugely attended and a very festive and ebullient event. Interest in electric bicycles was high, though with gasoline prices back around $2 at the time in a recessionary economy, not quite the front burner issue they were last summer when prices were $5. However, I came with my demos of a fantastic new bike — the Hebb ElectroGlide 500 (http://www.hebbebikes.com/models.php) — and aside from the Tesla roadster — had to be the star new vehicle of the show.
Tell us about President Obama’s initiative to “Repower America.” (www.repoweramerica.org/ ) What’s the latest in the development of hybrid-power bicycles?
I think President Obama’s heart is correctly positioned in terms of Repowering America, though the headwinds of Washington political realities blow strong. Getting off of foreign oil and moving toward a greener infrastructure is a long term prospect. I don’t believe in waiting around for government action. Each of us individually acting NOW can make the change we wish to see in the world right away. Electric bicycles combine all the principles I support — fun, health, economy, peace, freedom, & our planet. You can get as much or as little exercise as you want, expand the dimensions of 2 wheel travel, reduce the amount you drive, and lower your carbon footprint immediately.
You say that you “We specialize in friendly, knowledgeable, personalized assistance you can trust.” What does this mean in practical terms? What do the other guys do differently?
In terms of the statement…“We specialize in friendly, knowledgeable, personalized assistance you can trust.” I am old school and believe in the golden rule. I treat my customers like I like to be treated, simple. I have been involved with electric bicycles for 15 years and know what works and what does not. I have strong opinions, but they are based on experience. Yes, we run Electric Star as a business, but I am primarily involved in this for the purpose and the passion. If there is not a good electric vehicle on the market, I do something else. I thought that was going to be the case this year until I found the Hebb ElectroGlide 500, which is truly a fantastic bike. I simply can’t get behind anything which I don’t believe in.
Do you have special partnership deals with bike manufactures?
I have tried to stay totally independent of the manufacturer’s so I can stay centered and neutral. However I have recently become VP of dealer sales for Hebb Ebikes, because it is a top quality machine and the owner listens to all feedback and is great to do business with. We want to push the envelope in developing electric bicycles for future generations. New prototypes are in the works, and yes, I look at and test every bike I can which comes down the line.
Are you actively testing new prototypes for manufactures?
I am often contacted by manufacturers soliciting their products, and sometimes to review them. I have given feedback for the development of many bikes over the years. It is only now that the technology is becoming available to create a good electric bicycle. I am frankly astounded that there are not more product entries that are really dialed-in. Then again, of the 17 million electric bicycles sold in the world last year, only 200,000 of them were for the US. The Euro/Asia specifications which most of the electrics are designed for is very different. They are lower powered and must be less expensive.
When I check out an electric bicycle, I put it through the paces. I put a speedometer/odometer on it to find out exactly how far and how fast it will go. I have learned to distrust advertiser’s claims. I get several riders on them and wait for the feedback both in terms of performance, durability, likability, etc. OK, I torture test them.
What kind of a world do you want for your children and grandchildren?
Man, it’s tough to unscramble an egg, ok, impossible.
The US, the world is so entangled and strangled with a dirty, greed driven energy infrastructure, we are literally committing EcoCide. What makes this really frustrating, is that we have all the energy, technology, and brainpower right now to live differently. 25 trillion kilowatts of solar energy beam down on the Earth every day — enough to power this planet many times over. Then there are all the other resources. We need to activate and connect the beauty of the heart and the brilliance of the human mind with the way we live our lives and power our world.
The transition to a global solar/hydrogen/electric/alternative energy world will be quite fascinating. The good news is that the wind has finally shifted. Between the oil shock of 2008, the election of Obama, the evolution of consciousness, and the economic necessities, alternative energy/transportation sources are being supported. I would like to see all of the many sources of surface area — the tops of busses and trains, for example, painted in photovoltaic paint. In a book I wrote years ago, I suggested taping and storing all the rotating power of the fitness machines in a gym: you could probably light up your town! I would like to see our water and food sources be safe, pure and healthy.
I would love to see our children live in a sustainable world which lives in a dynamic balance with nature. Fantasy Island: This planet will exist in a steady state with us or without us. When I look in the beautiful eyes of the children, I see a miraculous sparkle which tells me that somehow, someway, we will create a world which works.
Glide and Peddle People! Bio: Ken Kalb, Electric Star
Santa Barbara, CA
Ken has been involved in alternative transportation since he had a backyard bicycle shop at 10 years old. He made his way through the University of California building bicycles and running a recycled bicycle shop.
He got involved with electric bicycles in the early days of the Currie US Pro Drive founding Electric Star in 1997, and became one of their top dealers. Since then, Electric Star has tested and become a dealer for only those alternative transportation devices which have proven themselves over time. Ken has been a professor, an author, an astrologer, an environmental activist, as well as an athlete and lifetime surfer.