For almost a decade, Atlanta has ranked at or near the top of the list for metro areas with the longest average commute time and the worst traffic nationwide.
With frustrated commuters looking for better ways to get around the city, it’s no surprise that bicycling in Atlanta is undergoing a revolution.
“Biking (in Atlanta) generally has gained a lot of traction in terms of being a real mobility option and I think that is because we have some really high quality projects going on that make people feel safe,” said Becky Katz, Atlanta’s Chief Bicycle Officer.
The city has committed $1 billion over 25 years to improve and create bike infrastructure in the city. The Atlanta bike share program — which was launched in 2016 with 100 bikes in downtown Atlanta — now serves about 300 to 500 riders per day, Katz said. And many adults have begun to trade car commutes for biking, at least for shorter trips, she said.
When Ryan Hersh wanted to reduce his one hour car commute, the first thing he did was purchase a bicycle. He began cycling the four miles to work each day reducing his commute to only 22 minutes, but the heat and humidity of summer combined with trips up and down hills, would leave him arriving at work in a sweaty and tired heap.
One night while staring at his iPhone, Hersh, 31, had an a-ha moment — he would build an electric bike. But rather than attempt to fit a battery pack, motor and controller on a standard bike frame, Hersh decided to let the components lead the design of his bike. He created a prototype and began riding it around town. Soon he was fielding requests co-workers and other riders who wanted one as well.
Edison Electric Bikes began as a result of Hersh’s selfish desire to make his own life easier, but now he hopes his creation will serve as a band-aid to Atlanta’s communting quandries until the city’s infrastructure can catch up.
“I thought we really needed a solution like this in Atlanta because of the heat and hills,” said Hersh, who studied business in college but has always been the tinkering type. “We want to be the guys who are fixing a problem in Atlanta, not a bike company,” he said.
Inventors and tinkerers have been trying to master the electric bicycle since the late 1800s. But only recently has battery technology become smaller in size and weight and more affordable which has made electric bicycles more practical.
Hersh’s first electric bike prototype was made with a steel frame and it was too heavy. Now on the fifth production round, the bikes are aircraft grade aluminum and weigh in at about 45 pounds (the battery and motor alone weight 15 pounds.) By comparision, a standard mountain bike weighs about 35 pounds.
When he took his creation on the road, Hersh found he could keep up with or move faster than the flow of traffic. He would arrive at work in a better mood and he would get there on time, he said.
“I began selling my experiments on Craigslist. Each time one sold, I would be surprised,” Hersh said. Then people began sending him pictures of his bikes in cool places. Soon Hersh was selling a bike a week and with the help of his mentor, he began to think about creating a formal company.
“The generation before us was all about suburban sprawl. People are tired of sitting in traffic and they want to live where they can work and play and pray and have a more comprehensive community,” said Hersh. While not in widespread use, electric bikes address two of the main barriers to bicycling in Atlanta — the heat and the hills.
“I do think electric bikes are an awesome way to get people on bikes. It kinds of eliminates those issues. You are still moving around in a low impact, healthy way. You still have to pedal,” Katz said. “They are still a little inaccessibile now because of the price point,” she said.
In June, the Edison Electric Bicycle shop will open in Kirkwood offering a local resource for the bikes. The bicycles are currently available at Citizen Supply in Ponce City Market. There are two sizes — one for riders 5-feet-7-inches and under and one for taller riders — and they cost $1,899 (or $3,400 for two.)
“We aren’t low cost in the online market but we are competitive in the brick and mortar space,” said Hersh who hopes people will come to the physical location to check out the bikes. Eighty percent of riders who take the bike for a ride end up making a purchase, he said.
“This is something that was born out of necessity because we want to fix a problem we feel is really big in Atlanta,” Herse said. “We want people to be able to liberate themselves from their commutes.”