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updated: 5/27/2014 8:12 AM

Electric bikes alternative to gas

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  • David Lasley rides his electric bike in Springfield. He uses his customized electric bicycle to commute between his north-end Springfield home and work.

      David Lasley rides his electric bike in Springfield. He uses his customized electric bicycle to commute between his north-end Springfield home and work.
    AP Photo/The State Journal-Register, Rich Saal

 
By TIM LANDIS

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

SPRINGFIELD -- David Lasley is a big fan of electric bicycles -- up to a point.

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"It's not a religion. I don't ride it much in the winter," said Lasley, who uses his customized electric bicycle to commute between his north-end Springfield home and work at the U.S. Post Office on Wabash Avenue.

But humming along -- electric bikes barely even hum -- at speeds up to 20 mph saves big bucks on gasoline, especially with prices this spring bouncing around either side of $3.75 a gallon in the Springfield market.

Lasley, 63, actually has three electric bikes. One older model is not in working order. A second is a commercial model. His third is a Giant "Revive" he bought from an individual and converted with the help of Robert LaBonte of the Bicycle Doctor in Springfield.

The "Revive," manuactured in 2007, according to the Giant website, combines features of a regular and a recumbent bike.

Lasley estimated the conversion cost $500, with the battery the most expensive component. But he said the bike has more than paid for itself in fewer trips to the gas pumps.

"Bob and I put the package together with the motor, battery and chain, and got the thing rolling," Lasley said. "The key to electric bikes is the battery."

Range varies

Depending on terrain, speed and weather conditions, the range is up to 25 miles on a charge, according to Lasley. By law, electric bikes are limited to an unassisted -- no pedaling -- top-end speed of 20 mph. Otherwise, a license and plates would be required.

Electric-bike devotees are a small but growing band, said LaBonte, who added a line of electric bicycles at the shop he opened in 2012 in a converted service station at 1037 N. Fifth St. Mostly, the bikes are used for commuting and shopping, according to LaBonte, though some buyers turned to electric bikes after losing their driver's license.

"They're all made for transportation," LaBonte said. "You won't be doing any major touring on it. It's good for people who are maybe a little infirm. They're worried, 'I'm going to ride out two miles and not be able to get home."'

Quality batteries last two years or 500 to 800 charges and can be plugged into a standard household outlet. Bikes range from $800 to $2,000, LaBonte said.

Contrary to popular perception, he said, peddling does not charge the bike battery. Peddling does help extend battery life by easing power demand. Peddling also can extend the range up to 40 miles, though LaBonte said riders must work harder to pedal the heavier bikes.

Batteries are getting lighter and lasting longer with each new generation of bike, he noted.

An on-bike computer tracks speed, performance and battery life.

"It says 'Hey, I'm going 20. Stop it," LaBonte said. "It knows the wheel size, it knows how many rpms. It's a pretty serious little computer."

Electric bikes also are the latest "green" initiative for LaBonte. He just added energy-efficiency upgrades to the building already equipped with solar panels.

Bike-friendly town?

A longtime rider, Lasley still rides bikes, the non-electric pedal kind. But he said electric bikes allow him to make a few concessions to age. He said he also picks his route carefully between home and the Wabash postal station.

"You stay off of Wabash Avenue, Chatham Road and MacArthur Boulevard," Lasley said. "I even stay off some with bike lanes like Stanford Avenue. People drive way too fast."

Lasley said he wears safety gear and bright colors, but that he would like to see the city install bicyclist advisory signs similar to signs advising motorists to watch for motorcycles.

He said he considers bicycle-friendly signs and road accomodations a quality-of-life issue that would help make Springfield a more attractive place to work and live.

"It's a way to attract people to your town," Lasley said. "I'm an older folk, but I think it's what young people want, too."

The city and county gradully have developed a system of bike paths and routes, said Linda Wheeland, a senior planner at the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission. The commission coordinates the annual "Curb Your Car Week" scheduled for May 19-24.

Additional improvements are in the works, said Wheeland, including shared bicycle and vehicle parking lanes.

"We're working on it, but there are still big gaps," she said. "It takes time to build a network."

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