There are few ideas less believable than commuting to work in Los Angeles on a bicycle. Mention it to your family or coworkers and many respond with wrinkled brows, curled lips, dismissive guffaws, and sometimes even an expletive or two.
With car-stuffed freeways and thruways the primary methods of transportation here, most people wouldn’t even know how to get from one place to the next on bike-friendly city streets. You’d be lucky to find a dedicated bike lane painted on any of the roads. And then there’s the exposure to air pollution and scary drivers.
Despite the long list of reasons against the idea, there are a couple in its favor. Few cities in the world boast such a moderate climate; nearly 340 days a year are amenable to biking. It is immune to the price of oil or the whims of the city’s public transportation system. And, it’s great exercise.
So after one year of slogging to work and back by bus-train-walk-bus, I’ve decided to give the bike-to-work commute a try. No more waiting for tardy buses. No more stuffing into seats or standing on the rush-hour trains. No more rubbing elbows with the eclectic LA public commuter population. And most importantly, no more having to go to work at exactly 6:47 a.m. when the bus arrives, unless the driver is late or early.
Enter the Hill Topper. After days of internet research, I narrowed in on the idea of building an electrified bike to assist my 15-mile round trip trek to work. I settled on a pedal-powered Giant Escape hybrid roadbike aided by a battery-powered electric hub motor.
This is not a funny looking electric bike. It’s a conversion kit that adds an electric boost to any normal bike. After much price comparing, I chose one from an eco-conscious start-up in the Northwest called Clean Republic. The company manufactures an electric-bike conversion kit right here in the U-S-of-A that combines lithium ion battery technology with electric motor technology.
It’s a super simple concept: First, you replace the front wheel of your bike with a motorized wheel called the Hill Topper. It comes in standard wheel sizes (mine’s a 700 cc), and attaches to the front fork like any other wheel, except without the quick release. The motor plugs into a battery pack clipped to a rear rack or seat post. And a small ignition switch attaches with Velcro to the handle grips for easy access to an electric boost.
You really can’t imagine the experience until you try it. It’s not a replacement for pedaling, but it boosts the power of your pedaling on any terrain.
I call it RoboBike.