Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone has taken a bit of razzing over his use of a skookum electric bike as his mode during Bike to Work Week, but he’s been able to leave all that behind him on a two wheeler capable of zipping along at near highway speeds.
Stone said ‘it was a blast’ riding around town on a Sunhame Bikes electric, which can travel up to 400 km on one charge, is capable of highway speeds, and can rocket up even the steepest grades Ladysmith has to offer.
“My service calls this week, all my mayoral appointments, I did on that bike, except for one, where I had too much gear to carry,” Stone reported in a meeting at Uforik Computers, his business in downtown Ladysmith. “I parked my electric car here and almost made excuses to make extra trips on the bike.”
The Sunhame is the brainchild of Don Suhan, who decided to build his own version of the electric bike with a ‘go big or go home’ attitude. “It took a year of research and design but I did come up with something that worked,” says his web site, something that “could climb a 30 percent grade with ease.”
Bike to Work Week May 25 to 29 is an initiative to encourage cycling, both as an environmentally sustainable means of getting around, and as a mode that keeps people fit. Ladysmith has special obstacles when it comes to cycling, though – it’s hills. For his Sunhame ride that was no problem, Stone reported.
“When you go up Roberts Street, or you go up Symonds, there was no way I could pedal any bike up those streets even as a kid,” he said, remembering zigzagging up the steep grades. The Sunhame made the climbing easy. “In a town like Ladysmith you can’t ask for anything more,” Stone said. “You can actually enjoy being on a bike.
“It encourages you to bike more because you have that flexibility you don’t have with a regular bike.”
It’s fun with some serious potential globally and locally. Suhan said his bikes – which aren’t cheap at $10,000 and more – have taken at least 10 cars off the road, their drivers switching entirely from four-wheeled gas driven mode to two-wheel electric. The environmental footprint of a Sunhame compared to a car is miniscule.
And if saving the environment isn’t your thing, maybe saving money is. “When I first started riding these things about three years ago, I was burning about a tank a week in my diesel pick up truck,” Suhan said. “Now we’re down to a tank every two or three months.” He figures he’s saving $300 or more a month in fuel costs.
He builds his bikes from the ground up, and they’re like nothing else on the market, Suhan says. “Every piece on this bike is built for an electric vehicle, nothing on this bike is retrofitted, so that makes this bike special.”
Price is an obstacle, he knows, but he thinks he can get within competitive range. “We’re hoping to get that down, we’re working really hard,” Suhan said. “I feel at $7,000 we can sell a couple of hundred thousand of these a year.” And that’s where the local angle kicks in. If Suhan can get the investors, and if he can make it happen in Ladysmith, he’d like to make his dream come true right here.
To stay in the game he reckons he’s got to go big. “I want market share,” he said, “because if I don’t somebody else will, then I’m just going to be a little guy in a closet building bicycles that are way more expensive than what the market can afford. I have to go big.”
Both he and Stone want that to happen right here in Ladysmith, and Stone is happy to take a few gibes as a Bike to Work Day ‘cheater’ if he can help make that happen. “I’m so proud of these guys, I’m really glad they’re here,” he said.
As for the taunts, he’s left all that behind in the slipstream.