Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Is Arlington poised to become an electric bicycle hub?

We shall begin to learn on Sept. 7 with the opening of a pioneer outlet for these combo two-wheelers that move on battery as well as pedal power.

The new store could test whether Arlington lives up to its reputation as innovative, bicycle-friendly and solar-energy-simpatico.

Hybrid Pedals plans a VIP-studded afternoon festival of music, barbecue and test rides at its new showroom at North Jackson Street and Wilson Boulevard.

The business is largely the work of entrepreneur Alan Levine, the idea-a-minute longtime owner of nearby Mario’s Pizza. He has spent years networking around the country to create an Arlington business that rents and sells the bikes for leisure use, commuting, organized tours and take-out meal delivery.

“Electric bike shops are open in California and Florida, and we’re proud to open the first in the D.C. area,” he says. “More than 120 million people are now riding them in China, and they’ve really caught on in Europe during the past five years, passing the one million unit sales mark last year.”

E-bike prices range from $1,500 to $10,000.

Hybrid Pedals – five employees, all equity partners – has regional distribution agreements with seven manufacturers for the bikes, which can be charged through any wall socket. And it owns national licenses to sell a more-powerful version to police departments, emergency responders and federal agencies. (Atlantic City police have committed to a fleet since the bikes glide smoothly along their boardwalk.)

I have test-driven these lightweight contraptions, and I must say they’re addicting. The silent and subtly hidden motor takes you to 20 miles an hour, but you can pedal if you like. They require no training or permit because they’re classified as bicycles. (Levine helped lobby the District of Columbia Council to pass a bill earlier this year relieving e-bicyclists of an insurance requirement.)

The former pizza mogul has teamed up with nationally known alternative energy gurus Scott Sklar and Albert Nunez, who helped design battery chargers on trailers for solar versions operable off the power grid. A solar-powered electric pedicab will also be demonstrated on Saturday.

“Buying a fleet that’s sustainable is our long-term advantage,” Levine says.

Advertisers might thrill to Hybrid Pedal’s product called “Monkey Electric Lights,” which convert a rotating bicycle wheel to an illuminated message or logo.

The Arlington police “do not have any immediate plans to purchase these types of bicycles,” I was told by spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.

But the county government appears enthusiastic, welcoming a new biking choice for its ongoing promotion of non-car transport. County Board member Walter Tejada is to speak at the opening. And a county spokeswoman told me that “expanding the range of available travel options is always good transportation policy. Since electric assist bicycles are motorized, they provide an option for those who may have avoided biking in the past due to hilly neighborhoods and endurance” issues, she said. No rules changes are needed.


Local Celebrity Department: Last week’s winner of the New Yorker magazine’s cartoon caption contest is an Arlingtonian. James Bauman, 69, of the Barcroft neighborhood, is a retired linguist who has entered the prestigious contest multiple times. The secret, he told me, is “get the idea quickly” rather than over-cogitate on what’s funny. Congratulations to Bauman on joining the true cultural elite.