Pietzo’s Bikes Electrify Massachusetts Commuters

Millions of commuters suffer daily in traffic jams. Cars burn expensive, non-renewable gasoline and pollute our air while producing tons of carbon dioxide that threaten to bring about disastrous global climate change. But relief is coming, promises Pietzo, a year-old startup in Bedford, MA. The medicine is inexpensive, and can actually save money and offer healthy fun for commuters, says Hemang Dave, co-founder of Pietzo. It’s a modern version of a 100-year-old invention: the electric-assisted bicycle.

Pietzo’s business is to sell corporate fleets of e-bikes to organizations like hotels, universities and corporations. The startup delivers fully assembled bicycles with locks and helmets and provides free on-site maintenance for one year. The idea behind the program, which launched on March 29, is to get employees to exchange their cars for electric bikes, diminishing congestion, pollution, and greenhouse-gas emissions.

At Wellesley College, campus police and facilities managers are already using Pietzo’s e-bikes to lower energy consumption—and to underscore the institutions’ commitment to the environment.

Electric biking has taken off in Europe and Asia: China alone is home to 120 million e-bikes, and Asian and European sales combined last year added up to 22 million units. Pietzo believes that in 2010, 300,000 electric bicycles will be sold in the U.S., twice as many as in 2009. The Light Electric Vehicle Association predicts that by 2020, about 40 percent of U.S. bike sales will be electric.

Pietzo imports its bikes from China and offers three models, priced from $1,299 to $1,899. Riders can use manual or electric mode, with a maximum speed of about 20 miles per hour under electric power.

This Xconomy reporter had a chance to test-drive one of Pietzo’s electric bikes briefly in downtown Boston (see photo below). The bike behaved nicely. It had low, medium and high electrical mode, and even the low setting provided a considerable boost.

A Pietzo electric-assisted bicycleRiders choose the mode by pushing a button. In my limited experience, the electric boost is helpful if a rider is climbing a hill or going a long ride. But I wouldn’t advise inexperienced e-bikers to use electrical mode in a traffic jam. A boost at the wrong moment could be dangerous!

The electrical mode can be turned off entirely. My short trial didn’t reveal whether e-bikes work as nicely as ordinary bikes when a rider uses manual mode.

The U.S. is undeniably a motoring nation. But Dave believes that electric bicycles will play a bigger part in the nation’s transportation future transportation, for many reasons. “The price of energy has gone up, electric bicycles have become less expensive and Americans have now more time,” he says. “People have time because the economy is slower and working pressure has eased. Electric bicycles will come into their own now, because people are trying to find new ways to cut fuel and parking costs. In addition, green values make people think how to cut pollution and live an environmentally friendly and healthy life.”

One important reason for the surge of e-bike use, Dave says, is that the new bikes are much more advanced than previous generations. The lithium-ion batteries that run the bike’s motors are very small, and the bikes can go 20 to 25 miles on a single charge. Charging takes 4 to 6 hours and the battery adapter plugs into any standard electrical outlet. The batteries last up to 20,000 miles, and Pietzo takes old batteries back for recycling.

Hemang Dave founded the self-funded startup with fellow serial entrepreneur David Page. Dave hasn’t said how much the founders have invested in the firm, but it may be a relatively modest amount, considering that the the company is buying completed products and reselling them with services.

Pietzo claims, based on a research project at MIT, that riding an electric bike generates no more greenhouse-gas emissions than riding an ordinary bike. (After all, pedaling humans burn food and exhale carbon dioxide.) An electric bike is 13 times more energy efficient than a mid-size automobile and six times more efficient than rail transit, the research showed. One final statistic: for the price of one gallon of gasoline, a rider could buy enough electricity to charge a Pietzo bike’s batteries to go 1,500 miles. Try getting that kind of mileage in your Prius.

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