by Charlene Weigel
Eighty-five degrees. 80% humidity. Frowning at White Street, Tarrytown’s meanest hill. We’re going to bike up that wall? No sweat. Literally. I’m test-riding an electric bike with Edward Busk, owner of Sleek eBikes on Main Street, Tarrytown. With a few strong pumps on my pedals, the battery-powered motor gifts me a pair of bionic legs. First bike ride in 20 years, but I crest the hill breathing and talking at the same time.
With the push of Edge on Hudson’s 3,000 new residents, and the pull of the New NY Bridge’s bike lane, bicycles are hot in the rivertowns. More bikes and fewer cars reduce rates of asthma, heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s and other dementia; eliminate car expenses; reduce costly road wear; and free up parking. Getting there requires carving out bike lanes from congested roads or other land, improving biker safety, and easing the knees of boomers and other mere mortals tackling rivertown hills. The five-village coalition working on the Route 9 Active Transportation Conceptual Design Plan is starting to pave the regulatory way. And e-bike technology is flattening those hills.
That technology is on display in Busk’s sunlit store whose exposed brick walls and wood floors pay homage to Tarrytown’s past. The retro styling of the e-bikes is a comforting bridge to the 21st century technology under the fenders. While an e-bike can function like a traditional bike, powered solely by pedaling, a flick of the thumb amplifies that pedal power to tackle a tough hill or give a boost on a long ride.
Busk found himself on an e-bike after one too many cycling commutes drenched in a sweaty suit and hobbled by sore knees. More Americans are seeking that fresher ride, joining a global e-bike market estimated at 35 million unit sales in 2016 (Navigant Research). The Light Electric Vehicle Association (LEVA) reports that approximately 251,000 Americans bought e-bikes in 2016, up from 200,000 in 2014.
E-bikes have broad appeal with a sweet spot for the 40+ crowd who have the disposable income to buy a $1,500 to $5,100 bike. Customers want to cycle for health, environmental or commuting reasons, or to remain active in off-road, mountain biking and other demanding cycling activities. As Busk described this target market, Joe Frank of Irvington walked into the store to check out the models. A dedicated mountain biker, Frank said, “I play over-50 hockey. Even at over-40, people were dropping out. I like the idea of keeping people in the game” with assistive technology. Busk’s customers JC and Diana of Cold Spring have been riding bikes for over 50 years. After testing a few models with Busk, they bought two Faradays. JC said, “The bikes are so sleek and good looking, people are stopping us on the trail. And hills are not a problem.” Busk helped them choose bikes that are easy to mount despite hip problems, and “tricked them out” with bells and a rack. Busk even has a special device to test the spread of “sit bones,” determining the most comfortable seat for any given bottom.
“The battery is the absolute heart of all these systems. Tested out the wazoo. Conforms to all the federal standards. Same cells as in a Tesla,” said Busk. He took a special course from LEVA on battery safety, a month-long course at the Barnet Bicycle Institute (BBI), and met extensively with each of the seven manufacturers he carries. As a result, Sleek eBikes services nearly all tunings and repairs in house. Busk has a 10-year vision for the rivertowns where automated car technology and accessible bikeways support a return to a past when children biked to school and neighbors filled a handlebar basket with groceries. Cheaper, cleaner, greener, healthier. And those mean hills? They’re now just a couple of bumps in the road.