>The emerging light electric vehicle industry with its Personal

>Electric Vehicle (PEV) is poised to be the next wave in

>transportation technology. This trend seems imminent due to

>developments in technology, congestion, environmental concerns,

>economics, and job/housing distributions. The PEV, like a car,

>provides the owner with the flexibility and convenience of

>point-to-point transportation. PEVs, however, are light and

>efficient units designed for one person that for 10% of the cost

>of a car can provide 50% or more of the utility.


>Rob Means, after a 20-year computer programming career, now

>sells and promotes clean, quiet, energy-efficient vehicles that

>offer riders a new sense of freedom and fun. He gave a short

>history of the PEV and describe its current and future role as

>a transportation option. Rob will bring two types of PEVs (an

>electric bike and scooter) to the luncheon for demonstration

> rides. See www.electric-bikes.com for information on the

>industry and products from a dozen manufacturers.


Means began his talk by asking for a show of hands. Everyone that owned a car was asked to raise a hand. Then he started counting up, asking people to put their hands down when the number of cars in their households was exceeded. At three, when half of the room still had their hands up he stopped and said "you are the target market for this technology." He went through a similar procedure for commute distances, pointing out that commutes under five or ten miles are perfect for these devices.

The low end of the range for PEV's is a scooter that resembles a skateboard with handlebars that you could carry onto a train. The high end is probably the Corbin Sparrow, with a cabin like a car and a price in the $12,000 range. In between there is a rapidly proliferating array of offerings, including Lee Iacoca's eBike, and Michael Saarl's Skeeter, both of which were demo'ed at the meeting.

The drive mechanism for these things tends to be the electric motor commonly found driving the radiator fan of a normal car, connected to the back tire of what is usually a bicycle by a friction wheel. The power comes from one or two electric batteries. The ZAP, which can be put on any bicycle for only $200 to $300 has two batteries which can be connected in series or parallel, giving the motor two effective speeds. The usual range you can drive one of these machines on a charge is 10 to 20 miles, or "further than you probably want to ride them.

The most State-of-the-art machine there was the Skeeter, which was a recumbent bike with about sixty pounds of batteries, a faring to cut wind resistance, a sock to further cut drag, and a nice seat. It also had fourteen speeds and pedals, making it a nice bike if you ran out of battery power. The faring and sock make the drag coefficient quite low, helping raise the top speed to 25 MPH. The larger battery array also made the range greater, as much as 30 miles. The battery size was limited by the fact that a heavier machine would have been harder to manipulate to get near electric outlets for the 5 cents worth of power they need to recharge. For more info on that one contact anywhere@25mph.com.

Current challenges for the PEV industry are modifying the regulatory framework to give them a spot, a challenge that must be attacked on a State by State basis, and changing the mindset of the general public to see them as the right way to get around. The basic problem right now is that people think that cars are the way to go in far too many situations. Means mentioned that it would be nice if the Y2K bandwagon could help with this problem.

After the speaker portion of the meeting we went outside to try some of the bikes. The power is smooth and quiet, and riding an electric bike feels like a cross between riding a golf cart and a magic carpet. When I left the meeting I had a strong feeling that all of the technology was understood and well made, and all that is needed is better public understanding and a more sensible regulatory framework.

Tian Harter