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Commuter rides his e-bike to find a green way to work

FREDERICK — Hills present no challenge to David Bedard as part of his daily bicycle commute to Fort Detrick.

When he wants an extra kick, he pushes the throttle and an electric engine propels his bike forward.

Bedard, an information assurance specialist at the U.S. Army Information Technology Agency, Fort Detrick, is one of a growing number of Americans taking advantage of electronic bicycles, also known as e-bikes.

He modified a regular bike he picked up at a pawn shop to include the engine and battery. But he can still operate it as a usual bicycle, using the electric capability to boost the speed or to climb on steep hills.

“It flattens the hills and you’re still able to get the exercise,” Bedard said.

He rides his bike to work when the weather’s nice, so winter’s arrival means he will scale back its use for now. His commute is about a 6.5-mile round trip.

He also likes to ride it downtown or through Baker Park.

The bike is not required to be registered with the Motor Vehicle Administration, though he is supposed to limit the speed to about 20 miles per hour.

Retrofitting his bike wasn’t cheap, but he thinks it’s worth it. In 2009, he paid about $490 from a company called AmpedBikes for the engine components, and another $425 for a 48-volt, 10-amp lithium battery. The lithium battery is more costly than other types, but Bedard thinks it’s worth it because of its light weight and constant output.

It generates about 480 watts, and he estimates he gets between 17 and 20 watts per mile. The entire bike weighs about 8.2 pounds.

Bedard worked in electronics and communications when he served in the Army and his hobby is building remote control model airplanes, so he was familiar with the engine when installing it.

“You have to have a little bit of mechanical ability to do it yourself, obviously. But it’s really a plug-and-play system,” Bedard said. “You just have to have the mechanical ability to replace your front or rear wheel.”

Riding a bike comes with its own challenges, especially safety. He’s installing a light system to be more visible to motorists, and he has two mirrors to keep an eye on what’s going on around him.

And then there’s the weather.

“I got in a little bit of drizzle one time, but I watch the weather very carefully,” Bedard said. “You have to watch the weather, because the hardest part of riding one of those is when the wind is against you.”

The e-bike has its advantages, though. It’s greener than using a gasoline-powered car and he gets some exercise on the way into work without breaking a sweat, which would require him to change clothes.

Bedard calculates he’s ridden about 500 miles on this e-bike. He had another one for about six months before getting a better one.

He gets mixed reviews on the bike from his family. His 30-year-old daughter made fun of the way he looked when riding the windshield-equipped bike through Frederick while wearing a suit.

“Dad, you look like Pee-Wee Herman,” she joked.

One time, he spotted another electric bike rider turning onto Old Camp Road. He was tempted to follow him to talk about e-bikes, but decided not to.