Electric bicycle gives commuter a boost on 22-mile way to work
Hybrid vehicle takes Daniel Rowell from North Laurel to Sykesville
If you are traveling the roads of western Howard County some pleasant fall morning, there's a chance you'll spot a bicyclist who seems to be going rather fast for the amount of exertion he's putting into his pedaling.
Meet Daniel Rowell, an intrepid commuter who regularly makes the roughly 22-mile journey from his North Laurel home to his Sykesville workplace aboard his $8,000 Optibike — a hybrid electric bicycle that supplements pedal power with a battery-driven engine.
Rowell is one of a small band of long-distance commuters who regularly leave cars at home and hop aboard electric bikes. It's a choice that draws scorn from some bicyclists though it is almost as effective in reducing carbon emissions.
"The purists don't like it," he said. "They think you're cheating. I tell them I'm not in a race."
Electric bikes are still a novelty in the United States, with a few hundred thousand on the streets and their numbers "poking along," said Frank Jamerson, a spokesman for the Light Electric Vehicle Association. In Asia, he said, there are more than 120 million electric bikes on the road, and they are selling in Europe at a rate of 1 million a year.
"The only thing that will change America is when gasoline goes to $10 a gallon," he said.
Under Maryland law, electric bikes face a combination of regulations. They're classified as mopeds and must follow the same rules of the road as bicycles, said Motor Vehicle Administration spokeswoman Karen Coyle. But unlike conventional bicyclists, their adult operator's are required to carry a driver's license, while those under 16 need a moped permit, Coyle said.
Rowell, a 46-year-old father of five, says riding the hybrid bike lets him combine commuting with exercise — but not so much that he shows up at the office sweaty and exhausted. Meanwhile, he figures he's saving about $2,000 a year on gasoline and auto maintenance.
"I do it more for the idea behind it. It's a new technology. It's a fun technology," he said.
He estimates that it takes about an hour to bike each way to his job as an electrical engineer with Northrop Grumman — a commute that takes about a half-hour by car. Top speed on a flat stretch of road with full battery power is about 34 mph, though the average cruising speed is 25 mph to 30 mph and can drop to 10 mph to 12 mph going up a steep hill.