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Power Assist to the Portland People

James and Anne McDowell and Eric Bekebrede are pioneers in an e-bike revolution that has quietly motored into the Portland metro area.

The e-bike’s 36-volt electric motor gives extra oomph on hills and eases pedal power on the flat. The McDowells plan to use their new Mahindra GenZe e-bikes as supplemental transportation on a long adventure around the United States later this year; Bekegrede is using his to ride 10 miles to work.

The McDowells are some of the first Portland-area customers of Mahindra GenZe, a company based in India with new roots in the San Francisco Bay area. The company opened their shop in bike-happy Portland in November.

“The bicycling infrastructure here is so great,” said Mahindra GenZe’s Portland Area Marketing Manger Tim Navarette. He is a Portland State MBa alum and long-time Portland resident. “I haven’t owned a car here in 10 years. I did own a 50 cc scooter for a while. A 30-mile range vehicle is feasible. These vehicles were designed for Portland. It’s a logical step for us, very strategic.”

E-bikes are popular the world over for their convenience in skirting traffic jams and dodging parking headaches in cities. GenZe officials say more than 100,000 e-bikes were sold in the U.S last year.

Navarrette admitted not everyone wants an e-bike. Many hate two-wheelers, or prefer bikes. But, he said, it’s clear that the burgeoning car-free, apartment culture of Portland promises a growing market for electric two-wheelers.

Mahindra is a $17 billion conglomerate headquartered in India, famous for tractors, electric cars and trucks and industrial equipment. The company employs 180,000 people, including about 100 in new e-bike and scooter assembly plants in Ann Arbor, and Troy, Mich.

In the U.S., Mahinda is most known for its tractors, but the company is expanding into U.S. urban transportation, keying on e-bikes and scooters.

GenZe has joined Portland’s already busy electric bike market that includes The E-Bike Store, Cynergy E-Bikes, Field Electric, Ecospeed Inc., and Greenlight Bikes.

Prices for both of GenZe’s e-bikes are $1,499, and $2,999 for its 2.0 scooter available in the summer. E-bikes can cost a lot more, up to $4,900 or even $7,800 for top e-scooter models, an array of which can be seen in many online ads.

Jim McDowell, 72, and Anne, 62, plan to use their new e-bikes as supplementary transportation as they travel from their Hillsboro home around the United States in a 26-foot travel trailer behind a Toyota Tundra.

Anne’s knee surgeries make riding a standard bike painful, she said, and the e-bike eases that pain.

“It’s the bomb,” she said.


TRIBUNE PHOTO: DEAN BAKER – James and Ann McDowell show off their GenZe e-bikes at their home in Hillsboro.

She’s a retired teacher and Jim is a retired computer technician. They studied the e-bike market for a couple years before buying GenZe’s e-bike in mid-March.

Eric Bekebrede, 55, bought his GenZe e-bike for another reason, mainly to commute to work. “It’s 10 miles from where I live in Wilsonville to Canby where my business is,” he said. “I tried riding my bike but it’s too much work.” His business is T-Line Design, doing screen-printing and embroidering.

“This e-bike rides like a dream,” he said. “The engineering is great. They really put a lot of effort into it, and it is a great machine.”

The company is looking also to sell its new e-scooter, the GenZe 2.0, assembled in Ann Arbor, Mich., and available beginning in the summer.

A pre-production model is available for test drives at the company’s outlet in northeast Portland.

The e-bike comes in two aluminum-frame models, with differing handlebars. It weighs 46 pounds, runs at a top speed of 16 mph on throttle mode, can travel on throttle alone or as pedal-assisting. It’s got a seven-speed Shimano derailleur and a LCD display showing speed and distance. The wheels are 26 by 1.75 inches.


TRIBUNE PHOTO: DEAN BAKER – Eric Bekebrede crosses the Canby ferry on his GenZe e-bike.

Battery charging of the e-bike varies depending on how much one pedals and how much one uses the battery. On battery alone, the e-bike will get between 18 and 20 miles on a charge, Navarrette said. The 2.0 battery needs to be recharged after about 30 miles.

GenZe touts both of its vehicles as answering changing transportation needs in cities that are expected to accommodate 6.3 billion people by 2050.

“We want to work with eco-neighborhoods to deal with transportation issues,” Navarette said. He said the company’s goal is “redefining urban mobility.”

“GenZe wanted to build a consumer vehicle company from the ground up in the U.S.,” he said. “They realized if they wanted to sell a vehicle in the United States they had to design it, manufacture it, and base it here, and so our business headquarters are in the Silicon Valley of California, and manufacturing in Michigan.”

They rejected the notion of a sedan because of rapid urbanization in the country.

“If everyone was driving their own car, it would be quite a mess. They had success in Asia and Europe where the culture is different, and a lot more people ride scooters, bikes or e-bikes, and they saw that a marketing potential is here.”

That was the origin of their idea: to build a new urban transportation culture around electric two-wheeled vehicles. The company wants to help this transition and incidentally sell a lot of vehicles, he said.


TRIBUNE PHOTO: DEAN BAKER – Navarrette believes there is a bicycle for everyone, even if it does have a battery and a motor.

Navarrette and the company’s Portland Experience Manager Steve Spock are working with nonprofits, including Portland’s five eco-districts as well as businesses to promote the e-bike ideal.

“Our attitude is that we believe there is a bicycle for everyone, and if adding a motor and battery gets people on a bike, that’s a win for everybody,” Navarrette said.

“A lot of people are open to it. We want to integrate into the community.”

Article Source: Portland Tribune, March 24, 2015


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