Your Bernalwood reporter passed on Sunday’s opportunity, because I’d taken one of the bikes for a private ride the day before. My steed was a OHM Urban XU700 SE, which sells for $3699. It came with sporty amenities as leather grips, an air suspension, a rear rack and a 48V battery, in addition to a 0.5 horsepower electric motor tucked away in the rear hub. New Wheel owner Brett Thurber gave me a 30 second tutorial on how to adjust the bike’s motorized boost settings, and then I took off for adventure.
I started from The New Wheel shop on Cortland, but I immediately headed north, toward the top of Bernal Hill. The uniqueness of the electric bicycle became apparent from the moment when I began pedaling up Wool Street.
An electric bike is not like a scooter or a moped; the electric motor isn’t designed to work independently from the pedals. Instead, you pedal an electric bike just like a conventional bicycle, and when you do the electric motor provides a wonderful boost that makes each turn of the cranks carry you much, much farther than it would normally.
You can feel the assist from the electric motor as you pedal. It’s an odd sensation — kind of like having superhero strength or Six Million Dollar Man bionic implants. I was huffing and puffing when I reached the top of Wool, but I was huffing much less than I would have had I been on a regular bike, and the trip had taken about a third less time to complete.
I stopped to take a closer look at my machinery. There’s a little control panel on the right side of the handlebars that allows you to dial in how much electric-assist you want (as well as other bits of data such as power remaining, degree of battery-regenerating resistance, and so on). A thumb-activated “plus” switch lets you dial up the boost, and a “minus” reduces it. Below that, there’s a small red “cheat” button that activates the electric motor even when you’re not pedaling. (Brett Thurber hadn’t told me about that.)
From Wool I looped around Bernal Heights Boulevard and coasted down to Precita Park. Then I turned around to head up, up, up that fearsomely steep section of Folsom Street.
For your evidentiary satisfaction, this video captures the entire Folsom street climb, with musical accompaniment from the Bullitt soundtrack (which seemed appropriate).
As you can see, the electric bike made fast work of the hill, even though I was pedaling with one hand off the handlebars (to hold the video camera).
The electric bikes from The New Wheel are impressive machines. No, they’re not cheap; the least expensive one in the story goes for $2550. But then again, an electric bike is vastly cheaper than a Toyota Prius or a Chevy Volt, and much much much easier to park. For anyone looking for a practical way to get anywhere around town and get a little exercise at the same time, electric bikes may be an interesting option — even if your ride means a nightly trip home up that fearsome stretch of Folsom Street.
PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics