Brno - People in Prague see him almost every day, going on a small silver bike up a hill without much effort. When they look closer, it seem the young man is not even paddling much.
Miracle? Jakub Ditrich has fallen for electric bicycles. His company has sold about 65 e-bikes this year and he believes that next year Czechs will buy 200 of them.
Electric bikes, which use an electric motor powered by a battery to make the pedalling easier, were one of the hits of this past weekend's Sport Life exhibition in Brno. Visitors had a chance to not only see, but also try out about thirty models by 12 manufacturers.
In heavy city traffic, e-bikes are often faster than cars and emit no fumes.
A Bike Conference held at last year's edition of the Sport Life fair pointed out that Czechs, unlike many western Europeans, still perceive bikes as sports equipment rather than a means of transport.
"For Czechs, bike is a free-time equipment. Many hold the opinion that bikes are used for daily transport only by socially disadvantaged groups, including pensioners, manual workers or students," said Petr Kohoutek, chairman of a bike retailers' association.
The industry insiders believe that e-bikes might be able to accommodate those who otherwise avoid bicycles because they do not want to arrive at work or a business meeting sweaty and out of breath.
"You can ride an e-bike while wearing a suit. You won't get sweaty," says Ditrich. Besides managers, electric bikes might also be a good alternative for elderly people or parents who like biking with a child trailer in tow.
In western Europe, bikes powered by a battery are already popular. German manufacturers expect their sales will increase 50-fold by 2018. Ditrich says that in the Netherlands sales of standard bikes are already decreasing as a result of growing e-bike sales.
In the Czech Republic special bikes still sell rather slowly. "Sporty cyclists laugh at them a bit," says Ditrich. He himself sometimes likes to get some exercise and go for a ride on his standard mountain bike. "That one I consider a piece of sports equipment. In the city I only ride my e-bike."
Manufacturers of electric bikes made their first attempt to get a foothold on the Czech market four years ago. But their bikes were too heavy and the battery capacity too low.
Today's e-bikes are almost indistinguishable from the normal ones. They come as folding bicycles, standard city bikes or more robust track bikes; there are also electric tricycles and stand-up scooters.
The electricity is supplied by a battery located under the seat or another suitable place. The lithium battery can be removed and recharged from a standard wall socket using a charger, similar to recharging a mobile phone. Today's batteries can last for 50-100 km and take about four hours to recharge.
The rider is helping the engine by pedalling. If the battery runs out, he or she can still get to the destination, although a bit more effort is required.
"It is a strange feeling. A bit like someone is helping you by pushing your bike from behind. You start pedalling and all of a sudden you feel how the bike is easily picking up speed, even when going up a hill," said one of the fair visitors after he tried an e-bike.
The goal is to maintain a constant speed of 25 km per hour, whether the bike is going flat, uphill or downhill.
The price of a quality e-bike starts at around CZK 20,000, but some cheaper bikes imported from China are still decent. Some companies offer electric kits which can be mounted on a standard bike.
autor: CzechNews | 10. 11. 2008
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