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TheStreet Open House

The Digital Skeptic: Best Battery-Powered Car May Be a Bike

Stocks in this article: TSLA

Not battery powered. Battery "assisted"
If you're smart enough to get a ride on a smart bike such as an elBoda Boda, you'll realize instantly there is no throttle. Instead, this normal, seven-speed, external-geared bicycle carries a hard-drive sized battery that impels an internal hub-mounted motor that helps only as you pedal.

It all takes a bit of tinkering. But once I got comfortable with the handlebar-mounted control system, I found I could zip up all the way from the West Village to The Garden when the Knicks sparred with the Pacers, then head back down to the Lower East Side five miles away for a light Vietnamese dinner and some serious wine. Then back here to the West Village, all in my dress clothes, without breaking much of a sweat.

Or having a designated driver.

"It's an incredible tool for threading the needle of moving around with a car," Benjamin Sarrazin, owner of Yuba Bicycles, told me. "For local transport, they perform like cars, but without the weather protection."


When it rained, I did get wet. And the battery, the bike and the stuff I carried are not light. They easily can add up to more than 200 pounds, which is manageable in traffic with the battery-assist. But it all takes practice. Plus the battery charges lasted just 25 miles or so and takes a full four hours to recharge, so it sucks when the battery is dead. Planning is needed. And then there is the cost -- $2,700 is not cheap, even though a legit argument exists that the elBoda is a car replacement for certain users.

Bottom line: Smart folks will demo a smart bike carefully before buying one.

The smart bet on eBikes
Now let's make some money with eBikes: Electric bicycles will absolutely, positively not be a big U.S. product anytime soon. Jamerson said it will be big news when even 750,000 are sold in a year here. It's the 40 million that will move around the globe in 2014 that matter. And battery makers doing that business will be Samsung, Panasonic, Sony (SNE), Lishen in China and LG Chem.

Far more intriguing is how traditional carmakers are testing eBikes. Daimler and BMW are offering models. German parts maker Bosch (BOSCHLTD) is selling an eBike drive system to other bike makers.There's even a sexy little start-up here: Canadian firm BionX, which made the elegant battery-assist unit for my test elBoda.

Jamerson thinks this car market interest will be the bellwether for eBikes.

"If the auto guys get in,' he says, "The whole industry will change."

This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.
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