By Josh Landes
EV World contribution editor, Josh Landes begins two part series of interviews with electric bike shop owners in New York and California.
EV World: About how long have you been in this business and what drew you to it in the first place?
Bert Cebular: I just started the business legally about two months ago. The web site has now been going for about a month and the store will actually open up in the next week. How I got into it is I've been driving a Zappy Scooter for about two years back and forth from work, to job sites. I'm a contractor so it worked out perfect for me. And I also bought the Lectra, which is made by Zapworld. I've had that one for a year now. That's how I got into it.
EVW: I've seen some pretty good things about that Lectra.
BC: I heard that it was discontinued right now from Zapworld. They won't build it anymore. They didn't sell enough of them.
EVW: I noticed on your web site there are some kind of high end ones that have seats and then there are some mid-range ones. I also noticed that the lowest end ones that you see say for example on [various web sites] aren't really available at shops like yours. They weren't available at a shop I went to here in San Diego either.
BC: Right. You don't want to sell those out of a shop because people will come back two days later with a broken machine. And I think any scooter below five hundred dollars is a throwaway scooter and you know... Even though they're getting cheaper now let's say four hundred or three hundred fifty dollars. But I would not recommend to buy a scooter for like two hundred fifty dollars. It won't last very long.
EVW: Yeah I actually test drove yesterday one of the ones that was recommended at your site, the Phat Flyer I think it's called.
EVW: And it was pretty substantial. I was kind of surprised. The thing that hit me first was how easy it was to control with that little thumb thing on the side.
BC: Right, right.
EVW: The proprietor at the other store also mentioned something about cheap construction in some of the vehicles. Is that something that in your experience you've also found or not?
BC: In general. Yes....
EVW: Do you have or does anybody have scooters for lease or for sale that do not have lead acid batteries, that operate on something else? I see a lot of talk about more innovative batteries but I'm not sure if they're available.
BC: The one on the web site, the Xootr, eX3. That one runs on NiCad. It's expensive because of the batteries but it's very, very powerful. Very light of course...it's like, the eX3 is 19.8 pounds. It's the lightest electric scooter in the world or high performance electric scooter.
EVW: What type of charging pros and cons do you see with some of these? I've heard anything from if you don't do it right a charger can explode to it's not a problem and just go ahead and plug it in.
BC: I would say in general there's no problem. And if I had a problem I think it would have to do something real weird. The main thing is right after the ride you're supposed to charge them in. If not the battery will lose its performance you know. NiCad you don't have the problem. You can charge them anytime. But lead-acid you're supposed to charge them up right after you ride the machine. But I never heard of batteries exploding or chargers exploding.
EVW: That must have been an urban myth or something.
BC: Unless the charger used on the wrong machine. People mix them like us...I have sixteen models right now in my store. You cannot, in that case you have to be careful not to use the charger with the same plug on the wrong machine. Like a twenty-four volt charge on a twelve-volt machine or something or NiCad on lead acid.
EVW: I'm very curious about what it's like in New York City to use one of these scooters as far as, is it going to be on the sidewalk or in the street or a little of both and how do the cops react to this. Is it a welcome sight or does it get in the way?
BC: Gasoline powered scooters do have problems because especially in the city you soup them up to go forty miles an hour. They do not obey traffic laws so the cops are after those guys. I use my electric scooter. I only ride it on the street. I do not go up on the sidewalk. I think that's very dangerous. I use it like a bicycle. I stop at red lights. I wear a helmet. All my scooters will be equipped with headlights and [?] tail lights or the flashing red lights. And for example the scooter I will not use for a rental or demo models because it's very fast and it has tires with no profile. So they're not as safe as for example the Flyer. The Flyer you rode is a very safe machine for rentals for example.
EVW: Which was the other model you were talking about that's very fast?
BC: The Xootr, the one for a thousand dollars with the NiCads.
BC: It has no suspension. It has no air tires so it's a bit of a rough ride on New York roads. It's perfect for a lot of other places. But New York City roads you don't want to go very fast between cars and hit a pothole or something.
EVW: I noticed at your site that you do have a strong statement about the environmental motivation of why you thought to get into this.
EVW: And since what happened on September 11th do you have any thought about your scooters fitting into a way for New Yorkers to stop using as much gasoline or/and ...
BC: Well my ideal situation would be if they've closing down Second Avenue and Broadway or something to car traffic and only allow bicycles and scooters up to let's say fifteen miles an hour 'cause in Europe there's many cities like that. For me that would be the perfect solution. Since the 11th I think there's a lot of people afraid of traveling public transportation like subways and stuff. To take cabs is expensive and you know takes more time in general. So I think my scooters after that would actually make more sense.
EVW: Is there any feeling amongst New Yorkers to use electric vehicles a little bit more, to use gasoline a little bit less. Or is that just me projecting?
BC: I think they do, especially the scooters are popping up all over the place. You see electric cars that what do you call it, the Parks Department, they're using that. Like three years ago there was not one electric car in there, those little service or maintenance vehicles.
BC: They're all being transferred into electric cars. They even have a huge fuel cell installed in the middle of Central Park to charge them. A no-emission power generator, which is you know, almost as good as a solar panel. So New Yorkers do surprise me lately. And I think we're headed in the right direction. They're talking about putting up charging stations for, so far for electric cars, will be installed on several avenues. You're from California, right?
BC: Yeah, yeah over there that's very common. In New York you've never seen any of that you know. But not [just] since September 11th but even the last couple of years it seems to come you know people become much more aware of it.
EVW: Why are you choosing not to carry any I guess what you call electric bikes but only scooters? Is there a reason for that?
BC: The main reason...two reasons...one is my store in New York City every square foot costs a lot of money. Bicycles take up three times more space than scooters. And they're also high maintenance. You know there's a lot of things need to be fixed on it all the time. So you need a whole different shop set up of a, much larger than this is, which in the future is probably very possible. Because there are lot of those things, I see them all over the place...what do you call it, The [Ford] Think, ... You've probably seen it.... the one that makes the car, they also make a bike.
EVW: Oh, I see.
BC: You see those popping up all over the place now. One other reason is for bicycles because people live in walk-up buildings, four or five-story walk-up buildings. That's why I have those little scooters like the Xootr for example. It's nineteen pounds. You can bring that think up four floors no problem, even my girl weighs 120 pounds, hundred pounds whatever. But a bicycle, an electric bicycle they usually weighed in around seventy, eighty, ninety pounds. You know New York City there's no way you find storage for this thing. You can't even get it on the stairs unless... That's why I don't have a lot of real heavy scooters like the hot scooters for example seventy-five pounds. You can't even get it up three steps. Even if you live in an elevator building, a lot of buildings here don't even have handicap ramps. So you couldn't even get that thing into your apartment you know.
EVW: Right. You'd have to find parking for it.
BC: Or have your friends help you bring it up the stairs or you know... Then it doesn't become a machine, which you would use everyday or to go for a quart of milk and that's the whole idea you know. That's why I love the Zappy and the Xootr for example because you just go five blocks and throw it on the bus. You go cross-town or downtown, get it out again, go in a museum, put it in your backpack you know. It's just perfect for that.
BC: And those bicycles of course they don't have that you know. You can't bring them on the bus. So you only can go within the range, which is twelve miles or so in average.
EVW: Well the big thing for me is what a pain in the neck it is to find parking. If I don't have to find parking then I'd be a much bigger fan of the scooter.
EVW: [question about the Phat Flyer brakes]
BC: Okay because the new models now have the... brake, which is the same one the Zappy's using. It's very efficient. I think it says it sometimes makes noise but otherwise it's a very good brake.
EVW: Well... the only problem I had with the experience of trying the scooter I expected to feel kind of spastic because I'm standing up. It's not quite as comfortable to me as riding a bicycle and I'm worried about trying to be safe. I was really surprised...I didn't feel as though I were going to fall over or something. It was really an enjoyable ride but frankly it got me going so fast that I was concerned that if and when I did fall you know somebody would get hurt. And I almost wondered if they could make it so you could not go so fast.
EVW: [question about legalities]
BC: I'm pretty certain that within probably, I would say by the year... by the end of 2002 we'll have a regulation here in New York City and those things will be street legal. And that's something else I want to work on very hard this year.
EVW: You'll have a regulation for what exactly in New York City?
BC: To get those electric scooters, not the gasoline ones, but electric scooters street legal you know just put them in the same group as the bicycle 'cause right now they're totally unregulated in here. Even the European model, I imported a couple European models. They're not out on the web site yet...like I said they have dual brakes, which American models don't have. It's very important to have you know like the Flyer you rode it has two brakes.
BC: Most of them, most of the scooters they only have the rear brake. That one is not very safe. It's not very efficient. On the European thing you've got to have two brakes, you've got to have a front light. You've got to have a high beam. You've got to have a tail light, a horn and a rearview mirror. Otherwise those you know then you can ride them on the street just like a bicycle. I'm kind of trying to do the same thing over here, 'cause it doesn't cost that much money to operate a scooter with those things. It cost you fifty dollars to do all that, only the front brake on the higher models costs more.
EVW: And anything safety-oriented has got to be a good thing.
BC: Right, right.
EVW: Especially if it's tried and true for the European cities. I keep thinking that in a lot of different ways this all makes sense for New York City to reduce congestion a little, to help the smog problem a little and to help with parking a little bit. There's just a lot of different ways it ties in. Have you had any interest from Police Departments or law enforcement or city personnel in getting the scooters for use by the city?
BC: I didn't do that yet but I know a local Bike Store here, actually in my building where I live he's supplying them with the Zap Patrol bike whatever they call that, mountain bike with an electric motor. They're buying probably fifty of those every year.
EVW: So that's a bicycle with an electric motor?
BC: That's right. That's a mountain bike that has an auxiliary electric motor. Actually that's made by Zapworld. You can find it on Zapworld. It's a law enforcement bike, whatever they call it.
EVW: I really enjoyed also the electric bike that I drove. Perhaps because it was so close to riding a regular bike that I felt very comfortable.
EVW: In both cases, both the scooter and the bike, it was so true that on a regular little bike trail I could just go and it was no, there was no problems you know.
BC: Well I'm actually selling those, the add-on kits from Currie for example, it's the same company that makes the Flyer. That's all I get is the motor and the battery, which installs on any regular bicycle.
EVW: So if you already had a bicycle theoretically you could just buy this and that's it? And you're ready to power yourself with electricity?
BC: I don't have that on the web site yet I believe, right?
EVW: Yeah I would certainly encourage getting that up there 'cause I really enjoyed this bike ride I had.
BC: Good to hear. Yeah.
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