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Santa Rosa bicycle shop exclusively pedals Pedego e-bikes as urban mobility option

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Sabrina Swanson-Schneckloth of Santa Rosa often spent up to 2½ hours in heavy traffic getting to her job in San Anselmo.

Originally from Los Angeles, the 32-year-old landscape architect is no stranger to traffic. What she can’t stand, she said, is the snail’s pace of North Bay commutes where “you’re either creeping or not moving at all.”

In December, Swanson-Schneckloth bought a Pedego electric bike from a new exclusive dealer in downtown Santa Rosa. No more stop-and-go traffic.

The bike can fold in half for her SMART train ride from downtown Santa Rosa to San Rafael. And the bike’s electric motor easily can cruise the steep hill between the train station and her job.

“I work out regularly and sometimes I’m too tired to pedal up the hill,” Swanson-Schneckloth said. “I can use the accelerator and not work up much of a sweat, if any.”

The landscape architect bought the first electric bicycle sold at Pedego Santa Rosa, according to the shop’s owner, Colin Thomas. Thomas opened his shop just after Thanksgiving, in the E Street retail space that for years housed Angel’s Attic.

He decided to focus on selling Pedego e-bikes, a well-known brand that Navigant Research named the No. 1 e-bike brand in the country.

Thomas, who is originally from Chico, came to the North Bay in the early 1990s and attended Santa Rosa Junior College.

He’s lived in Petaluma for the past 8 years and used to work in outside sales for Miracle-Gro and Watkins Manufacturing, now Watkins Wellness, before launching his Pedego e-bike shop with more than $50,000 of his own savings. He now has between $150,000 and $170,000 of inventory in his store.

Aside from commuters, Thomas is targeting baby boomers who’ve been riding bicycles all of their lives but may be experiencing greater difficulty as they age. That may explain the sales growth of e-bikes, even as all other categories of bike sales decline, Thomas said.

According to Statista.com, an online portal for marketing and consumer data, by 2023 global sales are expected to reach about 40 million e-bikes, with the majority, about 34.3 million, sold in China.

Sales of e-bikes are on the rise in the United States, as well. Widely reported research by eCycleElectric Consulting found that the U.S. market grew by 263,000 bikes between 2016 and 2017, a 25% gain.

Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, said e-bikes are likely to take off in Sonoma County given the region’s changing demographics, as local residents continue to age.

“I don’t have to go any further than my own family for that trend,” he said.

Rumble said his father-in-law, who is in his 70s and has been an avid road cyclist for decades, has switched to an e-bike.

“It gives him the opportunity to continue doing something he loves,” Rumble said. “He resisted for so long, because he considered it cheating. But he’s in love with them now.”

Rumble said the two will be in the Alps in France this summer, “I’ll be on my pedal bike and he’ll be on his e-bike.”

You can find electric bicycles at other local bike shops, including the Trek store in downtown Santa Rosa, which are similarly priced to Thomas’ Pedego models. Thomas said his battery-powered e-bikes range from $2,000 to $6,000, with the most expensive being a full-suspension mountain bike.

That model has a mid-drive motor, where the pedals are, with torque sensors that will detect when a rider is suddenly exerting more effort and then kick in.

Thomas said he’s also going to do e-bike tours and rentals from his Santa Rosa shop and plans to offer online booking through his website by March. He’s hoping to recoup his initial investment and is working toward owning all of his inventory of electric bikes within two to three years.

“Cars are going to get you there faster,” he said. “But this is for the person considering alternative forms of commuting. I tell people, we have beautiful weather in Sonoma County — get out there and enjoy the wind in your face.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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