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SF Supervisors Chiu and Mirkarimi Ride the Electric Bike Wave

3:14 PM PDT on July 15, 2009

chiu_on_bike_1.jpgBOS Prez David Chiu tries out a new electric bike. Photos by Bryan Goebel

For David Chiu, one of the challenges of being the president of the Board of Supervisors and remaining car-free has been getting from meeting to meeting in a timely fashion on his bicycle. Then there's the sweat factor. Climbing the hilly topography of his district sometimes means arriving drenched.

"I have anywhere from 8 to 15 events every day, sometimes more than that, and to get to different places is incredibly difficult. My district also has some of the most intense hills. So I’ve got Nob Hill, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, and to hit the hills with the suit that I’m usually in is extremely difficult."

But now, thanks to bicycling pioneer Gary Fisher, problem solved. Fisher arrived at City Hall yesterday with two of Trek's sleek new electric bikes (not yet available in the U.S.), which he is loaning to Chiu and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

"It's a styling bike," said Mirkarimi after a spin around City Hall. “This is good for guys in suits.”

The 45-pound bikes, which don't look at all like electric bikes, run on a lithium-ion battery, and can send you up some of San Francisco's steepest hills at 14 miles an hour. Fisher said it's the fastest way to get around the city, bar none.

"It uses the pedalic system from Panasonic and they’ve had that for over 20 years. It’s a really great, intuitive system for an electric bike because you still have to ride it. You know, you don’t get any energy out of it unless you put energy into the pedals, which is sort of a beautiful thing," said Fisher. "In addition, the motor on this has the capability of developing energy too so it turns into a generator when you want it to."

ross_1.jpgSupervisor Ross Mirkarimi after taking a spin: "This is so cool."

Many bike dealers have been squeamish about electric bikes but Fisher said he believes there's a market for them now, especially in a city like San Francisco. He points out that electric bikes are getting more reliable with a lighter weight set-up, that battery technology has improved and the motors have a lot more low-end torque.

"I think the bike industry is looking at this and going okay, it’s good, and we as bike people, we’re trying to make this as much a bike as we can, and not such a motor bike," said Fisher.

Fisher said the bikes on loan to Chiu and Mirkarimi cost around $2,200 and Trek plans on rolling out a small inventory of them sometime in August.

Both Chiu and Mirkarimi were thrilled, and said they are definitely thinking about purchasing them.

“It’s pretty amazing. It looks like a typical bike but it’s sort of like a bionic bike. You still have to pedal but when you pedal to get up the hills there’s an electric assist and it’s a pretty neat feeling," said Chiu.

Mirkarimi said he could see the bikes becoming very popular, adding: "It's so cool to kind of be the prototype dude here."

chiu_fisher_2.jpgGary Fisher and David Chiu.

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