EVERETT — The little yellow car bopping down Madison Street looked like a carnival ride car on the loose.
What’s up with that?
The three-wheeled, egg-shaped wonder was aglow with headlights, tail lights and flashing turn signals. No way was I letting this thing escape my nosy curiosity for the sake of journalism.
I felt rather foolish as I chased it through a subdivision off Beverly Lane. My chunky Subaru was four times the size of this yellow egg on three bike tires.
Ten blocks later, I caught up with the PEBL.
Chris Glans, 65, unzipped a door and effortlessly stepped out. His iPhone was rocking with music. He had two bags of groceries.
“I could see you chasing me down,” Glans said, gesturing to the side mirror.
Why didn’t he stop?
He figured I was just another looky-loo motorist wanting a closer glimpse at his PEBL, a bike that’s dressed up as a car with windows, windshield wiper, dashboard and key start.
The PEBL is a microcar electric bike made by the Massachusetts company BetterBike. No driver’s license, car insurance or state registration required.
There is a handlebar, not a steering wheel. A key engages the battery. Spinning pedals let the driver choose the level of exercise in a recumbent bike seat.
With a sticker price of $10,000 to $13,000, it’s a thrifty person’s Tesla or a big spender’s e-bike.
Joe Grasso, BetterBike director of sales, said 11 PEBLs have been shipped to Washington state since 2016, a fraction of the over 800 sold.
Drivers everywhere “get mobbed,” Grasso said. “People don’t know if it’s a UFO or miniature car.”
Glans, a mental health professional, and his wife, Paula Townsell, paid $7,900 for the PEBL from a Craigslist seller in Anacortes in early 2020. Their PEBL model has eight speeds and a rechargeable battery with a 100-mile range.
During the pandemic, they’d squeeze in for cozy rides together.
“We were 15 and 30 pounds lighter,” said Townsell, 62, an environmental consultant.
These days they usually go solo or tote smaller people. He weighs 260 pounds and she’s 5-foot-8.
Two children can fit in the back. Or Costco-sized toilet paper and paper towels, as long as that’s all you bought.
The couple use the PEBL for errands and exercise. Heads turn wherever it goes, especially in drive-thrus.
“They have no idea what it is,” Townsell said. “They’ll look at it and go, ‘What is it? Are you a car or a bike?’”
They mostly stay in bike lanes.
“It really confuses people in the crosswalk,” Townsell said.
It also goes backward with the reverse mode. As the website explains: “We believe we’re past the days of Fred Flintstone, so no need to use your feet to go backwards.”
The PEBL is the latest in a series of pedal-powered transport for the couple.
“I’m intrigued with alternative transportation,” she said.
She had an adult trike when their sons were tots. The boys are 23 and 25 now.
The couple showed me their “bike graveyard” behind the house.
Under tarps are two Surrey tricycles and a PVC quadricycle.
The his-and-her Surreys with fringed canopies were a Craigslist find from 2013, inspired by those rental Surreys at Alki Beach.
Everett was no Alki.
“I couldn’t take them on a hill,” Townsell said. “We tooled around our flat neighborhood.”
The tarp comes off the Surreys for 4th of July parades and political rallies.
In 2014, they bought a PVC four-wheeled cart for $390 from a guy on Whidbey Island. It’s lightweight, with seats from a boat.
It’s more fun than functional. “When going down hills it gets loose and vibrates,” she said. Uphill is a battle.
The PEBL, with its electric assist, is good for middle-aged, non-athletic people, she said.
These days, there are an increasing number of “boomer cycles” in the emission-free eco-friendly market of solar-powered trikes, podrides and beach buggy carts.
The PEBL fits their needs.
“The enclosure makes it the winner in our climate,” Glans said.
No heater needed, though it’s an option.
“Once you get pedaling you warm up pretty quickly,” he said.
The doors come off in summer.
“I had to pump up the tires today,” he said.
The PEBL is also social friendly.
“I can talk to my neighbors when I’m going by,” Townsell said.
And easily outrun them, or strangers chasing her down.
Is there a person, place or thing making you wonder “What’s Up With That?” Contact reporter Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterbrown.
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