With a slight twist of the throttle, Jerry Solomon sends a surge of power to his electric bicycle's back wheel, allowing him to zip up a hill while still pedaling with ease.
"That's what makes you feel like Superman or Superwoman. You are doing what you're used to doing, only with less effort," said Solomon, the owner of Ashland Electric Bikes on Hersey Street.
He says most people come back from test-driving an electric bike grinning from ear to ear.
Ashland Electric Bikes is at 302 E. Hersey St., Suite 7. Winter hours are from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
It's best to call ahead to ensure that Solomon is there. He can be reached at 541-951-3034.
For more information, visit www.ashlandelectricbikes.com.
But Solomon says electric bikes are much more than just fun toys.
They can be eminently practical, allowing people to commute, run errands and haul kids or cargo without having to toil up hills or arrive at their destinations bathed in sweat.
An electric bike rider can get a full workout by not twisting the throttle during a ride, or make a trip easy by engaging the electric power assist at will.
"Some people say, 'It seems like I would be cheating if I got one of these,' " Solomon said. "But an electric bike is not competing with a regular bike. You're better off comparing it to a motorcycle or a car. You can leave the gas guzzler behind and ride one of these."
Solomon is on a mission to transform how people get about in their daily lives.
Electric bikes can reduce pollution, traffic congestion and America's reliance on fossil fuels, but the country has a long way to go to catch up with Europe or China when it comes to adoption of the technology, he says.
Of the 29.3 million electric bikes sold worldwide in 2012, only 53,000 were sold in the United States, according to Navigant Research.
Meanwhile, estimates on the number of electric bikes in China last year range from 120 million to more than 200 million. One in five bicycles in that country has a battery.
Electric bikes are gaining more popularity here at home.
Last year, 140,000 electric bikes were sold in America, and sales are projected to double in 2014, Solomon says.
The growth of his business reflects that trend.
Solomon got his start building electric bikes at home, and moved into his current shop in a Hersey Street business park three years ago.
"My living room looked like this shop," Solomon says, motioning to the tools, supplies and electric bike models filling the space.
As electric-bike technology improved, Solomon went from building custom bikes to assembling, selling and servicing manufactured bike models that he thoroughly vets for reliability and value.
Solomon has his eye on a few larger business spaces in Ashland and hopes to move to a more visible location within a month.
He says interest in electric bikes has grown as people look for convenient, sustainable and healthy transportation alternatives.
Additionally, advancements from old lead acid battery technology to new lithium battery technology mean that electric bike batteries are now lighter, smaller and more reliable, he says.
An owner can plug the battery in at night for recharging, which takes about three to five hours for a full charge, he says.
"It costs you five cents to recharge it. On average, you can go 30 miles for a nickel," Solomon says.
Depending on the model, a charged electric bike can travel 20 to 50 miles, he says.
And unlike with an electric car, the owner can just pedal to get around if the charge runs out.
The models Solomon sells range in price from $1,700 to $3,500, with most costing about $2,500.
An electric bike's battery needs to be replaced about every five years, with a new battery costing between $400 and $800, he says.
"It's still so much cheaper than the most efficient car plus the car maintenance plus the car insurance," Solomon says.
With an electric bike or two, most households would need only one car, he says.
In America, electric bike batteries will boost the rider to speeds of up to 20 mph. That means cyclists don't need horns, lights, insurance or a driver's license, he says.
Electric bikes are legal in bike lanes and on the Bear Creek Greenway, he says.
Solomon says one of the best things about running his business is seeing how electric bikes can transform lives and put bike riding within reach of more people.
He has a bad hip after years of extreme skiing and mountain biking, but his electric bicycle allows him to ride every day with less pain.
One of his most memorable customers suffered from polio as a child and had to give up cycling as an older adult — until Solomon outfitted him with an electric bicycle.
The man was able to fulfill his dream of traveling and taking evening rides with his wife.
"They've been riding into the sunset together all over the West," Solomon says.