From: Mark Anders
July 01, 2010
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The sun is setting on Deer Valley, Utah, as a lone mountain biker grinds slowly up the steep hill on her way home. She's decked out in all the gear (helmet, hydration pack, cycling shoes, tight fitting jersey and shorts) and looks like she's finishing up what must've been an epic ride.
Me: I'm wearing jeans, flip-flops, and enjoying a cold bottle of Squatter's Provo Girl Pilsner. Then it hits me. Like a cheetah catching a glimpse of a lone antelope hobbling up the hill, I spring into action pound my beer and hop on the bike.
But this isn't any ordinary bike. It's a Trek 6000 mountain e-bike equipped with the BionX PL-350, a high-powered electric assist motor. Earlier in the evening I had been loaned the bike as a demo so I could get a first-hand feel for what electric biking is all about.Photo: Mark Anders
At first glance, the rig looks much like any other mountain bike except on the downtube sits a semi-triangular Lithium Maganese rechargeable battery which powers the circular regenerative 350-watt motor mounted to the rear wheel (the whole system adds 16 pounds to the bike). A small dashboard on the right side of the handlebars controls how much power the motor dishes out. You can choose from settings 1 to 4, each giving progressively more power in proportion to the torque applied to the pedals by your own feet. Setting 1 is 25% more power while number 4 provides up to 300% more power.
I'd been waiting for a moment just like this, so with a tap of the dashboard I select Setting 4 and begin pedaling off with my flip-flopped feet. Smoothly and almost instantaneously the BionX kicks in. I'm hauling ass, flying uphill toward the biker with the pedal power of three grown men.
The fluidity of the BionX is amazing. The harder I pedal, the more power it provides. It feels like a natural extension of my own strength and I feel like The Bionic Man (the name: BionX suddenly makes lots of sense).
The $1,900 (est. price) kit is designed to be retrofit to most any type of traditional bicycle. It has a top speed of around 20 mph, a range of around 55 miles, and is marketed as a solution for lending a little extra power on a long commute, giving you a boost up hills, or just allowing a pair of physically unequal cycling partners to pedal happily together.
But as I silently hurtle up the hill at superhero speeds I realize I'm actually using the BionX for evil not good. Just on the verge of overtaking the other rider, I squeeze the brakes and the BionX shifts into neutral. The biker rides slowly away unaware of my antics. Quietly coasting back down the hill, I'm pleased with my newfound maturity and decide another cold Provo Girl is just the thing I need to celebrate.