Pietzo’s Bikes Electrify Massachusetts Commuters

4/9/10

Millions of commuters suffer daily in traffic jams. Cars burn expensive, non-renewable gasoline and pollute our air while producing tons of carbon dioxide that threaten to bring about disastrous global climate change. But relief is coming, promises Pietzo, a year-old startup in Bedford, MA. The medicine is inexpensive, and can actually save money and offer healthy fun for commuters, says Hemang Dave, co-founder of Pietzo. It’s a modern version of a 100-year-old invention: the electric-assisted bicycle.

Pietzo’s business is to sell corporate fleets of e-bikes to organizations like hotels, universities and corporations. The startup delivers fully assembled bicycles with locks and helmets and provides free on-site maintenance for one year. The idea behind the program, which launched on March 29, is to get employees to exchange their cars for electric bikes, diminishing congestion, pollution, and greenhouse-gas emissions.

At Wellesley College, campus police and facilities managers are already using Pietzo’s e-bikes to lower energy consumption—and to underscore the institutions’ commitment to the environment.

Electric biking has taken off in Europe and Asia: China alone is home to 120 million e-bikes, and Asian and European sales combined last year added up to 22 million units. Pietzo believes that in 2010, 300,000 electric bicycles will be sold in the U.S., twice as many as in 2009. The Light Electric Vehicle Association predicts that by 2020, about 40 percent of U.S. bike sales will be electric.

Pietzo imports its bikes from China and offers three models, priced from $1,299 to $1,899. Riders can use manual or electric mode, with a maximum speed of about 20 miles per hour under electric power.

This Xconomy reporter had a chance to test-drive one of Pietzo’s electric bikes briefly in downtown Boston (see photo below). The bike behaved nicely. It had low, medium and high electrical mode, and even the low setting provided a considerable boost.

A Pietzo electric-assisted bicycleRiders choose the mode by pushing a button. In my limited experience, the electric boost is helpful if a rider is climbing a hill or going a long ride. But I wouldn’t advise inexperienced e-bikers to use electrical mode in a traffic jam. A boost at the wrong moment could be dangerous!

The electrical mode can be turned off entirely. My short trial didn’t reveal whether e-bikes work as nicely as ordinary bikes when a rider uses manual mode.

The U.S. is undeniably a motoring nation. But Dave believes that electric bicycles will play a bigger part in the nation’s transportation future transportation, for many reasons. “The price of energy has gone up, electric bicycles have become less expensive and Americans have now more time,” he says. “People have time because the economy is slower and working pressure has eased. Electric bicycles will come into their own now, because people are trying to find new ways to cut fuel and parking costs. In addition, green values make people think how to cut pollution and live an environmentally friendly and healthy life.”

One important reason for the surge of e-bike use, Dave says, is that the new bikes are much more advanced than previous generations. The lithium-ion batteries that run the bike’s motors are very small, and the bikes can go 20 to 25 miles on a single charge. Charging takes 4 to 6 hours and the battery adapter plugs into any standard electrical outlet. The batteries last up to 20,000 miles, and Pietzo takes old batteries back for recycling.

Hemang Dave founded the self-funded startup with fellow serial entrepreneur David Page. Dave hasn’t said how much the founders have invested in the firm, but it may be a relatively modest amount, considering that the the company is buying completed products and reselling them with services.

Pietzo claims, based on a research project at MIT, that riding an electric bike generates no more greenhouse-gas emissions than riding an ordinary bike. (After all, pedaling humans burn food and exhale carbon dioxide.) An electric bike is 13 times more energy efficient than a mid-size automobile and six times more efficient than rail transit, the research showed. One final statistic: for the price of one gallon of gasoline, a rider could buy enough electricity to charge a Pietzo bike’s batteries to go 1,500 miles. Try getting that kind of mileage in your Prius.

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  • http://www.xconomy.com/boston Bill Ghormley

    Jukka — great article — if they could show improvements in the safety systems as well, they could get at one of the biggest factors that is slowing down adoption of bicycling by a LOT more people, eh?
    BG

  • Bob Plugh

    There’s one major problem with this. It’s called winter, but, even in the summer, rain, wind, all make for a very uncomfortable environment for bicycling, let alone biking to work, where one must maintain a professional appearance.

    These may be great in Arizona, New Mexico or other very sunny states, but they have very limited use here in what I’d call the sunless state (as opposed to Florida – the sunshine state).

  • Ryan Karis

    In response to Bob Plugh.

    I live north of the 45th parallel in Northern michigan and I have worked 38 hours a week as a cashier in a high profile business where a professional appearance is a must. I live 5 miles down a 55 mph 2 lane highway with shoulders from my place of work and commuting by bicycle in the winter (or any weather or time of day for that matter) is not a major problem with proper skill, knowledge and preparation (such as studded tires, proper attire and safety lights). I bring a change of clothes in my pannier bags and all the supplies I need to appear “professional” in five minutes and the exercise I get right before work allows me to work circles around my lethargic co-workers who arrive by car complaining about how cold it is outside.

    When you make as much money as I do, the costs of the out right purchase of a car, it’s insurance, gasoline, repairs and maintenance, the coffee I would need everyday to wake me up on my car commute to work and the time and money I would have to waste at the gym to remain in good shape makes about as much sense as donating my paycheck to someone who drives a luxury SUV (which is basically what I would be doing if I chose to struggle to own an automobile like many Americans have been fooled into believing they need to do in order to be socially acceptable, which is a horrifying societal albatross)

    In time the descendants of this electric bicycle will revolutionize the quality of life for poor people like me and when everyone else realizes how cost-effective they are actually starts using them its going to change many aspects of our society for the better.

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  • http://www.electric-bicycle-info.com nobi

    I believe too that the e bike has a great future and that batteries will improve more and more.
    I think the evolving electric bike is simply a revolution and will make life better for many of us.

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  • http://www.expert-chess-strategies.com nobi

    I hope they will find a solution to the problem
    of battery recycling. Imagine thousands of batteries will be returned when their life span is finished. What is going to happen with them?
    Probably new industries will evolve to handle this recycling problem.

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  • Ray

    I bought a used Pietzo folding bike, and I am trying to find the trick to permit removing the rechargeable battery. Can you help me find the answer?
    sparkes_ray@yahoo.com