E-bikes’ peddle power

Could Portland be a new market for e-bikes?

This year, Portland State will take a closer look at a relatively undiscovered form of transportation: electric bikes.

Could Portland be a new market for e-bikes?

This year, Portland State will take a closer look at a relatively undiscovered form of transportation: electric bikes.

COURTESY OF Richard masoner/cycleliciousztt

Researchers at PSU are hoping to find out why electric bikes like this one aren’t more widely used.

On the agenda is finding answers to two questions: Why aren’t these bikes more popular, and how are they being used?

“We are trying to see what is the market for e-bikes, but also taking the previous research a little further,” said John MacArthur, coprincipal investigator of the study at Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium.

The study will begin this winter and will consist of four separate trials taking place through the summer. Each will contain 30 adults, predominantly PSU faculty.

Participants will receive electric bikes complete with GPS systems to track individual usage.

An electric bike looks like a normal bike, except it comes with a battery that provides extra power. Most e-bikes are “pedal-assist,” meaning that the bike requires minimal pedaling and the battery does most of the work.

E-bikes are becoming more compact and easier to travel with. Manufacturers of e-bikes aim to create a product that can get commuters all the way to their destinations or be taken on public transit, MacArthur said.

“We’ve highlighted different groups of people that typically are having perceived barriers to biking, and by giving them a different type of bike or new technology, would it get them to bike?” MacArthur asked.

He noted that the four groups in the study will be divided into women, people over the age of 55, people who have to commute five or more miles a day and people with injuries such as a bad knee or back.

The only obstacle OTREC might encounter is finding the right types of participants. Otherwise, the group is feeling confident about being prepared, MacArthur said.

OTREC teamed up with Drive Oregon and Conscious Commuter Corporation to fund the study. Drive Oregon is an organization that strives to promote, grow and support the electric vehicle industry in Oregon.

“We helped develop the project concept, connect Conscious Commuter to OTREC, and we are providing a grant of $44,100 toward the project’s costs,” said Jeff Allen, Drive Oregon’s executive director.

daniel johnston/VANGUARD STAFf

John Macarthur is organizing a study at PSU that looks at electric
bike use

Conscious Commuter is a producer of electric bikes that has its home base in Portland. The company manufactures nearly all components of their products locally, from the frame to the handles. The company provided 30 electric bikes for use in the study.

“We are very blessed and appreciative,” said Bob Vander Woude, Conscious Commuter’s CEO and cofounder.

He also explained that this study has given his company the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge while testing every component of the manufacturing process, from the suppliers to the delivery method.

Electric bikes have many benefits, MacArthur said.

The first and most obvious benefit of an electric bike is the decreased dependency on gas-powered vehicles. Use of an electric vehicle or bicycle to commute to school or work is far less damaging to the environment.

“We are trying to help people get into the idea of commuting sustainably and responsibly,” Vander Woude said.

MacArthur also explained that the electric bike promotes active transportation. While the battery power does remove much of the difficulty of biking, some pedaling is required. Riding an electric bike rather than driving a car is a healthier and more active approach, he added.

Another benefit is simply providing another sustainable option for commuters, he said.

Also set to greatly benefit from this study is Conscious Commuter. “This project is having a major, positive impact in helping Conscious Commuter grow here in Oregon,” Allen said. “We think there’s tremendous opportunity for Oregon to develop and produce high quality e-bikes and export them globally.”

Should the study produce positive results, Conscious Commuter is set to begin full-fledged electric bike production in 2013.

In addition to boosting Portland’s economy, because the manufacturing takes place in Oregon there will be employment opportunities, especially for young college graduates, MacArthur said.

Nationally, little research is looking into electric bikes in this way, so “this study gives PSU a cutting-edge look at e-bikes,” MacArthur said.