Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpAmong the crowded tents at last month’s Clarendon Day festival was the showcase for Hybrid Pedals, the green electric-bike vendor run by idea-a-minute entrepreneur Alan Levine.

When I last reported on my boyhood friend, he had just sold Mario’s Pizza, his family’s business financially kind to him for decades. He then hurled himself into a profit-making role in Arlington’s movement to reduce dependency on cars and fossil fuels.

Nearly three years, one showroom fire, and hundreds of e-bikes later, the business is humming at a more-inviting location. Though Levine has not realized his vision of outfitting the Arlington Police Department with a fleet of the energy-efficient two-wheelers, I wouldn’t count him out. Hybrid Pedals is ensconced on Arlington’s green scene—it even boasts a high school intern who has worked wonders with its online presence.

E-bikes come with a computerized motor tucked unobtrusively on the chassis. With speeds up to 20 mph, they qualify as bikes rather than motor vehicles, which opens bike paths to the magic-carpet-like vehicles that are oh-so easy on the calf muscles.

E-bikes are solar-powered, chargeable at movable portals at select locations. Prices start at around $1,700 but average $3,000—so purchasing is seldom a simple impulse.

“Sales are up 25 percent over last year,” Levine tells me from his shop on N. Kenmore Street packed with brand-name models like Pedago, Easy Motion and A2B. “People are becoming more conscious of them.” The economics are convincing–30-40 miles for three cents, he says. Not to mention the “zero emission factor and reduction of the carbon footprint.”

Hybrid sells a bike a day, offers 24-hour rentals and custom-builds bikes for those with disabilities—one satisfied customer is an 85-year-old man who walks with a cane. I verified Levine’s assertion he’s earned 100 percent five-star reviews on Google, Yelp and Trip Advisor.

Levine suffered a blow last March when a fire gutted the inventory at his previous location. “We rose from the ashes and came back stronger and better,” says the polished salesman. “We refurbished the damaged bikes and donated some to charity.”

The Hybrid Pedals board includes high-powered academics and industry bigwigs. (Levine serves on the board of Resilient Arlington, a community group promoting energy preparedness also present at Clarendon Day).

This summer, when several Arlingtonians walking the streets fell victim to a sexual attacker, Levine renewed his pitch to the police department. “Imagine a police bike officer in pursuit up Rosslyn Hill,” he says. “By time he gets through he’s too exhausted to take the perpetrator down.” E-bikes also “are silent, which means you can intercede in drug transactions, be stealthy and be visible in the community.”

Hybrid Pedals full-time staff of four, includes specialized mechanics licensed to teach. Among them is Yorktown High School senior Justin Wu, who began as a summer intern arranged through the PRIME program at Arlington Public Schools career center. Wu, who is applying to a batch of selective colleges, told me today’s competitive high school scene “requires you to do something outside of school, to open you to what the real world is like.”

Wu’s applications will note how he has boosted Hybrid Pedals’ social media presence, “redesigned its website and refaced” its reputation, says Wu, whose own e-bike takes him to school “without pedaling.”

Levine’s success, he vouches, comes from “putting customer satisfaction first.”

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Spotted: TV news queen Katie Couric (now with Yahoo), at her Yorktown High School class of 1975 40th-year reunion. Katie showed up at a Fairfax hotel, I’m told, remembered folks’ names and patiently posed for multiple photos.