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\/ little by Rick Doran

You turn the key, and with a questioning look, wonder, "Is it really turned on?" There's no sound, no movement, just a green light on the dash. Open the throttle carefully, and the electric vehicle (EV) springs to life. Five minutes later, you're back with windblown hair and a big grin. I've seen it happen time and time again with first-time EV drivers.

Over the years, I've worked for five different EV companies, including two of my own, each building practical vehicles with diverse uses. I've witnessed the emergence of highway-ready EVs designed and manufactured by major automakers, the disappearance of these product lines, and the current resurgence in their interest. Most highway-ready, full-size EVs on the road today were originally internal combustion rigs, converted to run on an electric motor and batteries. It's my hope that soon, production electric cars will be readily available. Until then, several categories of light electric vehicles (LEVs), and an ever-growing share of commuter and special-purpose EVs, are catching people's attention. Best of all, most of these can be effectively charged by small to midsized solar-electric systems for even cleaner, greener wheels. Here's a look at some of the newest—and coolest—ways to get on down the road.

Stand-Up Scooters

Even though some adults have found these vehicles useful for very localized transportation, they are primarily for kids and for fun. Stand-up scooters vary from lightweight toys ($89 and up) to tire-squealing hot rods costing as much as $4,000.

LWith a few exceptions, electric scooters have small wheels, a pair of sealed lead-acid batteries, and exaggerated range claims. Most are good for top speeds of 8 to 10 mph, and 2 to 12 miles in range. They are only suitable for use on paved surfaces, and are outlawed for street use in some areas because of guilt-by-association with their obnoxiously noisy gas-powered counterparts. Various imports are popular on the low end of the price range. In the mid-range, Patmont Motor Werks's Go-Ped is a well-liked model.

Range: Up to 10 miles

Battery: Sealed lead-acid, 260 watt-hours (WH) at 24 VDC

Web Site: www.goped.com

Range: Up to 10 miles

Battery: Sealed lead-acid, 260 watt-hours (WH) at 24 VDC

Web Site: www.goped.com

Electric Bikes

Electric bike design is typically based on a heavy-duty or mountain bike frame, with a motor and battery pack added for perspiration-free propulsion. Many of the early designs had a friction drive that was very inefficient, and wore out tires in a hurry. Most current models are chain or direct drive, and almost silent. Speed is regulated by either a twist or thumb throttle.

On the low end, electric bikes with a low-capacity 12-volt battery won't do much for you—except give you exercise as you push these overweight brutes back home. High-end designs are configured to operate at 36 volts, and provide lots of speed, but high speeds can put a significant dent in the bike's range. E-bikes are limited to 20 mph by federal law and many max out at 12 to 15 mph. Most are suitable for use on smooth paths and, except for the high-end ones, don't handle hills very well. Typical range is from 5 to 10 miles for low performers to 20-plus miles for high performers. Prices range from $499 on the low end ("you get what you pay for" has never been so true) to $3,000 for rugged, highperformance machines.

While most e-bikes require some pedaling to top out on steep hills or to help out when the battery gets low, some electric bikes demand pedaling to get "assist" from the motor. These bikes are known as human-augmented electric bikes. By law in Japan, human-augmented is the only type of electric bicycle available. With pedal assist, cyclists can use most bike lanes, trails, and bike parking—and still get some exercise.

The high-quality Japanese brands may look too utilitarian for the "gotta be cool" U.S. market (think mom's Western Flyer back in the '50s, with a basket and fully enclosed chain guard.) But in Japan, these bikes are everywhere. Makes like Panasonic and Yamaha are sold in appliance stores alongside washing machines and vacuum cleaners. These models may be difficult to find in the United States, but some available e-bikes use their drive systems.

Model: Giant Suede E Step-Thru

(pedal-assist or throttle modes)

Top Speed: 17 mph

Range: Up to 30 miles

Battery: Nickel-metal hydride, 325 WH at

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