Albuquerque startup adds electric jolt to bikes

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Clint Wilsey has ridden 1,000 miles on Albuquerque streets since April on an electric bike he built in his garage.

The bike can go 45 mph and up to 30 miles on a single charge.

“About four dollars of electricity takes me about 600 miles,” Wilsey said. “I haven’t been to a gas station in like five months.”

Wilsey, an architect, has joined with investor and serial entrepreneur John Cousins to sell the patent-pending vehicle through their new company, DC Electro. It’s intended for daily commuting, rather than recreational use. And it has a $6,000 price tag.

“It’s intended to replace a car in short point-to-point commutes,” Cousins said. “It will sell for $5,999, but it can pay for itself in 18 months with all the savings on gas.”

The company is tapping into a rapidly growing domestic and world market for electric bikes. But it faces challenges, starting with federal laws that limit electric bikes to 20 mph, or 750 watts of power, to ride in bike lanes or on multi-use trails. At higher speeds, it would be classified as an electric vehicle, such as a scooter, and might need to be registered for use on streets.

“If you’re ripping along at 20 to 40 mph in and out of traffic, how will that work?” said Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico Vice President Keith Ashmore. “That raises some safety questions, and there could be legal implications.”

Wilsey said the company will sell the bike with a 15-amp controller to limit it to 20 mph. But it will customize the bike on request with a 40-amp controller for up to 2,000 watts, or 45 mph.

“We’ll offer a legal version, and a faster version with a disclaimer that says it’s for off-road use on race-tracks or as a mountain bike, and that it’s up to the buyer to abide by local laws,” Wilsey said.

Another potential issue is that the vehicle has no pedals, just foot rests, raising questions about its classification as an electric bike. “If it doesn’t have pedals, it’s not a bike,” Ashmore said.

Even so, the vehicle could be welcomed by people who want to save on fuel or help the environment.

“We totally want to promote sale of e-bikes, because it’s a good option for low-income people, elderly people or whoever wants to save gas or lower emissions,” said Bicycle Coalition President Diane Albert.

DC Electro is targeting domestic and global customers seeking high-end but affordable alternatives to common, low-wattage e-bikes that range from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars.

“Most of those come from China,” Wilsey said. “They have a battery hanging off the back and they’re not meant to go fast — just kind of a stroll down the beach.”

On the other end are specialty designers who sell e-bikes ranging from about $8,000 to tens of thousands of dollars, Wilsey said.

Ed Benjamin, co-owner of global consulting firm eCycle Electric LLC, said there’s a growing market for affordable high-end e-bikes. The company, which produces the industry survey Electric Bikes Worldwide Reports, provided some consulting to DC Electro.

The DC bike uses a lithium iron phosphate battery, which is lighter, longer lasting and safer than the lead acid batteries used on many other bikes. It weighs about 48 pounds, allowing users to carry it into offices or homes.

Cousins, who has a 20 percent stake in DC Electro, helped Wilsey file a patent and design a business plan. He’s now working to raise funds from individual investors.

“We’re looking for an office and small manufacturing space with a couple of thousand square feet to make the bikes,” Cousins said.

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