SAN DIEGO -- “You’re really not going to understand it until you get on it,” Gary Stewart, co-owner of Ivan Stewart’s Electric Bike Center, said about an electric bicycle.
I wasn’t necessarily a believer of that statement. I spent the better part of my childhood on a bike. I’d hit trails, construct jumps with wood pieces and cinderblocks, and up until I got my driver’s license, it was how I got from point A to point B. I was hard pressed to think a bicycle with a 20 mph electric motor would provide a markedly different experience than I was used to. But, it was a sunny day, the temperature was perfect and I didn’t have anything else on my plate that afternoon.
“OK, Gary,” I said. “I’ll bite. I’ll see you at 4 pm.”
When you first encounter an electric bike, you’ll notice it doesn’t look much different than most others. They have two wheels and an adjustable seat. And many have shiftable gears to assist riders navigate hills. Yet that’s not to say they don’t have their differences.
The most obvious is the 20 mph motor.
The right handle serves both as a grip and as a throttle. If you want to pedal on your own, you’re good. If you’re biking uphill into Hillcrest from Little Italy and don’t want to break a sweat, the motor will do the work for you.
“They just did a huge study in Australia where they found people who own electric bikes experience greater health benefits and lose more weight than people who own regular bikes,” he said. “It’s because they’re on theirs more, and when you’re on a bike you have a tendency to pedal.”
I was starting to become intrigued, and wanted to learn more.
Ivan Stewart’s Electric Bike Center opened three years ago, he said, and the demographic of customers has changed markedly since then.
“Initially it started out as a novelty. It was a fun thing that people with lots of money would buy as a toy,” he said. “Now it’s just the opposite. Now our most common customers are young couples in their 30s who say they can’t afford a second car.”
A notable selling point of the bikes is they don’t need to be registered, they don’t require oil changes or ongoing maintenance in the same way a vehicle does, and that their riders don’t need to be licensed. They are also an extremely convenient means of transportation when you take things like rush-hour traffic and ease-of-parking into consideration.
“I live in North Park and I can get from [Little Italy] to there in 14 minutes,” he said “This trip takes me more than 20 minutes during the week if I take my truck. It’s also great if I need to run to Ralph’s or Trader Joes to pick up a bag of groceries. In most cases I can get in and out of there on the bike during the time someone else is still looking for a parking spot.”
When it came time for me to actually hop on one of these bad boys, I was reluctant. I was still hard-pressed to think I’d find it to be the greatest thing since the sliced bread. I’m also not exactly the most, shall we say, coordinated person on the planet; walking and chewing gum at the time can be a challenge.
Truth be told, I was half terrified I’d fly over the handle bars, fracture a wrist and be unable to write for six weeks. Still, I gave my word. I decided to put my big-girl pants on and give it a whirl.
What did I learn? Well, for as articulate as I am, it’s really difficult to translate into words. But yes, you really can’t actually understand the inherent awesomeness of an electric bike until you actually get on it. They’re easy to use, incredibly fun and pretty much the most amazing form of personal transportation I’ve ever encountered.
The experience was so cool, in fact, that several days later when I had family in visiting from the East Coast, the three of us went to the shop and got rentals. When they departed, they commented as to how the electric bike tour we took through Balboa Park was indeed the highlight of their trip.
At the end of the day, it’s an experience everyone should allow themselves to have. You won’t regret it.
Ivan Stewart’s Electric Bike Center is located at 2021 India St. in Little Italy, just north of the intersection of India at Grape. You can also check out the bikes every Saturday at the Little Italy Farmers Market. For more information, call 619-564-7028 or visit their website.