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Pandemic boom in cycling makes Port Coquitlam a hot spot for electric bike companies

Electric bike distributor who started his business in his garage eight years ago now has a massive shop in Port Coquitlam with 22 employees; VoltBike Electric Inc. owner says demand for transportation alternatives has created a 'boom' in the electric bike industry

Has Port Coquitlam become the electric bike capital of the Tri-Cities?

From new shops opening up in the city, to $30 an hour bike mechanic jobs becoming available, the city is witnessing what is becoming a pandemic-fuelled demand for e-bikes.

There are no fewer than five shops selling e-bikes — from smaller online distributors to well-known brands.

Some of them have set up shop in the Dominion Triangle, not far from the city’s popular Traboulay PoCo trail.

The surge of interest in e-bikes among PoCo residents has come as a bit of a surprise to George Krastev, who started VoltBike Electric Inc., in his Coquitlam garage in 2013 and is now operating out of an 18,000 square foot facility off of Kingsway Avenue in the city’s light industrial district.

Krastev set up shop in Port Coquitlam because the space was affordable; now 22 people work at the location, including sales and bike mechanics, while the shop is stuffed from floor to rafters with eight models of electric bikes for the growing B.C. market.

The local bike community was a pleasant surprise for the Bulgarian-born Krastev.

“I didn’t realize there was such a large cycling community in Port Coquitlam,” said Krastev, who used to be a web designer. 

“I see them coming to check us out on their (pedal) bikes,” he noted.

Krastev has always been a recreational cycling enthusiast, and enjoys bike outings with his family.

But in recent years he has also witnessed the explosion of interest in e-bikes.

Krastev suspects that a combination of an aging population — active seniors who need a little electric assist to get them up the hills — and improved technology is behind the growing popularity of e-bikes, Krastev said.

The original e-bikes were “ugly and heavy,” said Krastev, and were propelled by the same lead acid batteries used in cars.

In recent years, with the development of lithium-ion batteries that are lighter and have more range, people have been trading in their pedal bikes for e-bikes, prompting a number of companies to start selling electric bikes.

“The price came down and the technology advanced,” said Krastev, in explaining why so many businesses have started selling e-bikes.

You can now purchase e-bikes with a range of between 60 km to 120 km depending on the size and number of batteries. Styles range from rugged cargo and mountain bikes, to lighter urban bikes to foldies with fat tires that can go anywhere.

“Bikes are also becoming lighter and easier to use,” noted Krastev, a boon for older riders with knee problems. “An e-bike is going to give you the freedom to ride again.”

Port Coqutilam Coun. Nancy McCurrach, who broke her leg during a ski accident, recently acquired an electric bike and says they will “revolutionize” travel for people with disabilities.

“You can go different speeds, although you have to mind how you travel with them. There’s regular bikes that pass me and my husband, but we’ve got beautiful scenery here, it would be fantastic to encourage people to keep doing it.”

There are challenges however. Cycling infrastructure has not kept up with the popularity of e-bikes, which are fast becoming an alternative to the automobile.

Many cities, including Port Coquitlam, are looking at ways to incorporate e-mobility into their transportation strategies.

PoCo is in the midst of updating its transportation plan: nearby Coquitlam, where Mayor Richard Stewart is an e-bike enthusiast, is creating a safe separated route for bikes and e-riders on  Guildford Way — from Pinetree Way to the Port Moody border — and New Westminster recently completed an e-mobility survey.

McCurrach said there is work to do to provide easy access to charging stations for bikes, secure parking and multi-use pathways for safe travel. 

But, she added, her city is on track to improve mobility for people who want to give up their cars.

Krastev would also like to see safer routes for electric bikes to accommodate growing numbers of riders. While costs for e-bikes are coming down, incentives such as Scrap It and SUVI rebates for cargo bike purchases are helping to bring e-bikes into the reach of even the most budget conscious.

He hopes to continue to build his company and his clientele as residents begin to explore e-bike riding in their neighbourhood.

“I’ve seen more competition,” he acknowledged, “but I think that’s due to the boom of e-bikes.”