For American-Israeli immigrant Micah Toll, pedaling through Pittsburgh – and now Tel Aviv – on an electric bicycle does not mean shelling out thousands of shekels.
“For the longest time, people haven’t been able to afford them,” Toll told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
As a University of Pittsburgh mechanical engineering student in 2009, Toll and his friends decided that using electric bikes would be a good alternative to the inconvenient public transportation and the hilly terrain of their city. Upon researching the price tags of electric bikes, however, they decided that building ebikes of their own would be the preferable option.
After launching a start-up with a new ebike prototype, the friends received an investment offer, but some of the partners were nervous about taking on such a large amount of money and they chose to decline.
“I decided if my start-up isn’t going to be successful right now, I still wanted to contribute to the ebike revolution,” Toll said.
Toll therefore decided to publish a colorful manual of more than 100 pages – first in ebook form and then in paperback – to enable bikers to assemble ebikes on their own. Altogether, he has received more than 500 orders for The Ultimate Do-It-Yourself Ebike Guide, and has now launched a campaign to fund the publication of a hardcover version.
In addition to moving forward with publishing his hardcover book, Toll is in the process of launching a community- based website for do-it-yourself ebikers, he told the Post.
“I’ve been getting incredible responses from people,” he said. “The market has been looking for something like this.”
Toll, 25, moved to Tel Aviv in August 2012 just months after his Pittsburgh graduation, and recently completed his IDF service. Although coming from a much hillier environment, Toll said he feels that Israel is particularly suited to ebike use – whether by university students who desire cheaper travel convenience or elderly cyclists who want the boost of an engine.
“The nice thing about Israel, with the exception of a few places like Jerusalem and Haifa, [is that] most of the country is very flat,” he said.
Those interested in engine-powered cycling can build their own ebikes for about a quarter of the price of purchasing a new ebike, according to Toll. Although a number of stores in Tel Aviv sell the necessary parts, Toll said he recommends that people order kits online from abroad, which tend to be less expensive despite customs fees.
“What I recommend for beginners is that they start with prepared electric bicycle kits,” he said. “It’s surprisingly easy. It’s almost like putting together a coffee table.”
Despite the risk of self-error in do-it-yourself projects, Toll stressed that following ebike assembly instructions and using accompanying kits is quite simple. Adhering to relevant transportation regulations – assuming Israel once again passes regulations on ebike safety and operation – would not be a problem, he added.
Israel launched regulations regarding electric bicycle safety and use in 2010, but they expired in 2011 without renewal. Technically, traveling on ebikes in Israel is currently illegal, despite their popularity. About two weeks ago, the National Road Safety Authority therefore demanded that the government approve relevant safety regulations for the bikes.
The expired one-year regulations maintained that bikes can have a maximum power of only 250 watts and cannot exceed 25 km. per hour in traveling speed, according to Road Safety Authority information.
At a Knesset Economic Affairs meeting in May, committee chairman MK Avishay Braverman (Labor) determined that the Transportation Ministry and relevant authorities will have until June 30 to submit an amended set of regulations for the committee.
Toll said that he assumes that Israel will adopt regulations similar to those of the European Union, which will include the 250-watt engine maximum. Abiding by such regulations when building an ebike is simple, he explained, noting that customers simply must choose parts that meet government approval.
“For building an ebike, it’s like choosing the parts à la carte,” he said.
Toll stressed the importance of passing regulations soon, but in the meantime he plans to continue to refine his book and website. Resuming the start-up in Israel is a possibility, but he said he is still looking for the right team here in Tel Aviv.
“I’m very eagerly awaiting what new regulations are going to be in Israel,” Toll added. “My goal is a global audience, and I’m looking to teach everyone everywhere.”