SF Supervisors Chiu and Mirkarimi Ride the Electric Bike Wave

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.
  • patrick

    Wow, that looks pretty cool, I’ve never seen an electric bike that actually looked like a bike first. I hope these catch on, they could be extremely useful for those who are afraid of the hills here.

  • jwb

    That is a great looking ride! Might be nice if the put the battery in the front though, to balance it out. I can imagine with luggage and a trailer on this thing the load would be 99% on the rear.

  • patrick

    These would probably work great for a velib style bike sharing program as well

  • Nick

    I think Gary Fisher might be onto something. If you further limit the range (say to less than 10 miles) you can limit cost, weight, and battery size to a point where 20,000 people are able to start bike commuting (followed by another 20,000 on regular bikes).

  • Whats the big deal ?
    My Ebikes will run circles around this one.

  • We just can’t resist the temptation of motorization, can we?

    Anything that brings you up SF’s hills at 14 mph without you breaking a sweat is not a bicycle. It’s a scooter. Which is fine; I guess it’s much better than driving. But if this takes off, I assume these will be ridden in the bike lanes, giving us yet another thing to have to watch out for. Just sayin’.

  • There is already a extremely wide range of speeds in the bike lanes. On one of these, you are in the environs and aware of what is going on, which is 99% of the battle. And you aren’t pushing 2 tons.

  • Ahmet

    Hi, interesting topic – I have just bought an electric bike that I use to get to work everyday. I Just plug in at work to recharge it and then cycle home.
    Absolutely love the bike, it was cheap and simple to use. I got it from http://www.elecbikeco.com they seemed good but I am sure there are many other companies out there too.
    Good luck

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    How many charges do you get out of the battery pack, Ahmet? If it’s anything like a laptop battery it seems like you’d be replacing it annually.

  • marcos

    The difference is that you can’t pedal a laptop with a dead battery, fallback to analog.

    The reason why many portable batteries die an early death is that they rarely are drawn down. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

    I would imagine that with such a light weight, there is no regenerative braking on these bikes.


  • Pat

    I just hope they don’t get run over by Carmen Chu or Gavin Newsom pulling into the bike lane in front of City Hall

  • Jim

    Yes, it has regenerative braking. Believe it uses Bionx electricals on a Trek FX 7.3 frame.

    These bikes would get all tore up in a Velib-style scheme.

  • jacob

    The shop I work in received a few of these 2 weeks ago, I had my doubts in the beginning, but once I rode one I realize they are a pretty sweet setup. Electric bikes aren’t for everyone, but if they help one more person get on a bike instead of in a car I’m all for it!


    i am a dealer in canada for Bion X assists kits try one out on a Trek Navigator 2.0 great bike to install on less cost the the model described above interested in kit alone contact sandeskd@accesscomm.ca i will ship
    world wide and have done so .

  • Dan

    It is funny how the masses rag on ebikes as being ugly, too expensive, heavy, cheating, etc. Then, when a known high performance Brand name and a known pro rider give an endorsement, ebikes are suddenly cool…! ?? That’s funny. I agree that one less car is better.

    For the uninformed traditionalist bikers, ebikes are on their way in. They come in many shapes, sizes, weights and abilities. FalconEv, posted above, is a pioneer and has good offerings. There are many DIY hobbyist, upstart companies and also some bad junk out there.

    I own an Optibike – Optibike.com


  • Sam Richardson

    It looks like a converted bike rather than one designed to be an electric bike. I own a PEDEGO that was designed to be an electric bike. It is cool bike that gets lots of attention.

  • BC BionX rider

    Good day, all!

    Thought I’d volunteer some experience based information to this little discussion. These are BionX equipped bikes so:

    Yes, they have regenerative charging. This features is available as a four-level user selectable controller console setting and/or automatically activated from a sensor in the the rear brake lever (Marcos/Mark).

    These are NOT mopeds (Barna Mink). Sure, a light rider on a PL-350 equipped bike might be able to ride the throttle alone up a fairly tame hill but it wont be at 14 MPH. Pedaling is required for any noteworthy uphill climbing speed. These bikes are speed limited and, rider dependant, won’t be any more of a threat to you or other cyclists than a fast moving lycra clad roadie.

    Owners should expect to get 500+ charges (from dead empty) over the life of the battery. Mine has been going strong for over two years now (Jeffrey W. Baker).

    You can get the facts (and ignore the largely uninformed and hypothetical naysaying) here: http://www.bionx.ca/


  • Ron – NJ

    Can you believe these are illegal in NJ and NYC?

    Also, they should not cost $2200. If you don’t go for fancy alloy and status names like Trek and Fisher (try Mongoose and Currie), you can get a good one under $1000. Mine is an old Merida, which went for about $700 and has the same Panasonic drive system as in the article, except with lead acid batteries.

    Join the revolution!


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