Electric bicycles give riders a boost in Pennsylvania

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The hills of Pennsylvania have long remained the crux of despair among bicyclists, causing many to give up on the pedaling sport for good.

To accommodate for this, shops selling pedal-assist electric bicycles have popped up across the state in the past few years.

These new bicycles, typically priced at about $1,800, have become popular especially among senior citizens and those with disabilities. The electric bikes are operated by pedals but allow for an electric motor to assist the rider when climbing hills.

For about 30 or 40 miles on a full electric charge, the bicycles, which can be plugged into a traditional 110-volt outlet found in most homes, can help the rider's travel experience.

But many questions have arisen recently concerning the classification of the electric bicycle.

State Sen. Matt Smith announced legislation last Thursday that would clarify the rules for the pedal-assist electric bicycles in the state vehicle code.

Senate Bill 997 would treat electric bicycles the same as regular bicycles, meaning riders are not required to have insurance or register the two-wheeler. The legislation states that the electric bicycles can't be capable of a speed of more than 20 mph on a level surface when powered by the motor.

The need for an explanation arose when police officers began citing individuals driving pedal-assist electric bicycles, believing that riders should adhere to motor scooter rules that require insurance and registration, said Mr. Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon.

No comment on the matter could be obtained from the state police at Pittsburgh or the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Mr. Smith said the electric bicycles have a twofold benefit to the state -- they will help those who are not in the best shape stay active and help businesses selling the two-wheelers thrive.

Most states already have similar laws in place, he said, and called the passing of the legislation a "huge part of the transportation solution."

"This is really about making sure Pennsylvania laws are reflective of today's world," Mr. Smith said.

The legislation is under discussion in the Senate Transportation Committee.

Mr. Smith first learned about electric bikes a few years ago when Adam Rossi talked to him about it during a town hall meeting. Mr. Rossi plans to open an electric-assist bike shop, Adam Solar Rides, in South Fayette next month.

He said he has talked to many individuals over the years who have expressed interest in the bikes.

Gary DiVincenzo has been selling them for about four years now.

Mr. DiVincenzo, the founder and owner of Hybrid Cycles in West Chester, said the biggest demand he has seen is from senior citizens looking for an easy way to stay active. But he said he also sees a lot of young people looking for a cheap way to commute to work.

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Jessica Tully: jtully@post-gazette.com, 412 263-1159 and on Twitter: @jessalynn4.


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