As a former employee of Nike, Casey Metkovich is no stranger to “aha” moments. After all, he was on the design team that introduced the air pocket into the famed sneakers in the 1980s.
Now, Metkovich is chasing down another growing industry — albeit one that’s a lot better for the environment. The former Huntington Beach resident now owns the Pedego electric bike dealership in South Lake Tahoe.
“When I first saw these bikes, I immediately thought of Lake Tahoe,” Metkovich said.
Electric bikes are a fast-growing segment of the bicycle industry. In Europe, e-bikes have been met with growing demand from commuters.
And the American market is beginning to catch on. With Lake Tahoe’s environmental concerns, the speedy two-wheelers make sense for visitors and locals alike.
“The League is really excited that there are shops around Tahoe renting electric bicycles,” said League to Save Lake Tahoe deputy director Jesse Patterson. “One of our main campaigns is combating pollution, which means we have spent a lot of time pushing for funding for bike paths and alternative transportation, and promoting policies that help make Tahoe more walkable and bikeable.”
Though electric bicycles have been around since the early 1900s, they just started making appearances in Lake Tahoe in the last few years. South Lake Tahoe’s Pedego dealership opened in late summer 2013. Metkovich expects the business to grow in coming years and hopes the bikes make a positive impact in the area.
“The neat thing I saw with the company was the chance for growth and innovation in an environmentally friendly way,” Metkovich said, as he unloaded a pair of Pedego’s beefy Trail Tracker bikes from the company van at a nearby trail. “The biggest thing I want people to know is that Tahoe is getting more and more bike-friendly, and there’s another way to get after it.”
The first thing one notices about the Trail Tracker is the extra large tires and a disposition that screams all-terrain. The battery pack occupies a subtle slot over the back wheel. The motor is built into the hub. Immediately after the bikes hit the pavement, onlookers start to inquire.
After asking a few questions, a pair of older dog-walkers watched Metkovich zip off silently. On the seat, the electric power does not replace pedaling. It adds enough punch that most hills fail to take your breath away. All in all, the ride is smooth. But is it smooth enough to reduce the number of gasoline vehicle miles people drive around Lake Tahoe? Can it reduce the amount of pollutants that enter the clear, blue waters?
E-bikes are not the first attempt at replacing gasoline with electricity in Lake Tahoe. Several area businesses have installed and promoted electric car charging stations. Nevada-based energy company NV Energy has touted efficiency of electric cars at several local schools. Agencies often encourage visitors and locals to take up new, cleaner ways to get around.
“The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency supports the use of alternative forms of transportation that can reduce carbon emissions in the Tahoe Basin, including biking, walking, public transportation, electric bicycles and electric cars,” TRPA spokeswoman Kristi Boosman said.
At this point, it’s unclear exactly how many pounds of carbon dioxide the e-bikes will save from the atmosphere and how much pollution they will stop from entering the lake. But Metkovich insists the bikes are great for Tahoe for other reasons. The biggest being they’re really fun.
Metkovich has a big idea for summer of 2014. He wants to establish a series of stops around the lake, where e-bike riders can exchange batteries. Instead of driving around the lake, people could ride e-bikes.
Metkovich hopes this will speak to the new Lake Tahoe visitor: one who values having a good time outside, and one who cares about the environment.
“People come here for aspects of the environment,” Metkovich said, surveying a new stretch of bike trail near Round Hill Beach. “They come here to experience the mountains. In the spring, summer and fall, it’s all about the lake. These bikes are merely means to enjoy all this.”
Dylan Silver, a former reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, is a freelance writer and photographer who lives at Lake Tahoe’s South Shore.