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Riding an electric wave

Sales of battery-powered bikes rolling along on South Lamar.

Ameera Butt

Four years ago, Randall Schleier started a small business selling electric-powered bicycles online. He had become interested in electric-powered vehicles after leaving a career in the corporate world.

The bikes "are affordable and offer up to 30 miles of range — perfect for most short commutes," he said.

The company began selling a few bikes from its warehouses. This month, R Martin Limited (Schleier's middle name is Martin) opened its newest store, in a tiny converted house on South Lamar Boulevard.

R Martin is the newest seller of two-wheeled transportation on South Lamar, where shops sell a variety of vehicles, such as scooters, high-end bicycles and motorcycles. A few blocks north of R Martin, Alien Scooters sells electric scooters, bikes and mopeds.

Inside R Martin's 1,500-square-foot store, bicycles and mobility scooters sit on hardwood floors. Customers can take test rides in the parking lot the store shares with Olivia, a restaurant next door. There's a 3,000-square-foot warehouse nearby on Goodrich Street.

In the store and online, R Martin offers models such as a foldable electric bike that commuters can store in the trunk of their car, an electric mountain bike with disc brakes for hilly areas that is a best-seller, and a $1,999 scooter that can reach speeds of 50 mph and go as far as 50 miles before its battery needs recharging.

So who would pay $749 and up for a bicycle with an electric motor?

Schleier said the bikes are ideal for environmentally conscious people who want to bike to work without getting sweaty. The bikes can't travel faster than 20 mph, but they can be ridden legally on sidewalks in some areas.

The lithium-ion batteries can be recharged using regular household outlets. And Austin Energy customers can receive rebates of $100 for all-electric bikes and up to $250 for all-electric scooters under a program designed to encourage use of electric-powered vehicles.

"A lot of them come with baskets, and you can add saddlebags so you can go grocery shopping," Schleier said. "The beauty in our climate here is you can use it to get to work without getting overheated. These are perfect as alternative transportation instead of using your car for going to the store, the library. All of our bikes pedal like normal bikes, and they also have a throttle, so it's like you are coasting like a scooter."

Thomas Graham Jones, who works in the information technology business in Austin, bought his electric bike in 2006 from Schleier for about $650, seeking ways to avoid driving.

"I've been trying to avoid burning gas for a good while now, and I don't work far from my home," Jones said. "I started on a regular bike, and it's OK in the morning. But when it gets to 5 o'clock in the afternoon on a summer day, it gets kind of hot."

Jones said his four-mile commute takes 12 or 13 minutes — less than when he drove. He also bikes to the grocery store and other places within a certain distance of his house.

Schleier personally owns two electric motorcycles and one electric bike, which he rides to University of Texas football games.

The bikes' cost is due mostly to the lithium-ion batteries, Schleier said.

"If you go down to a good bike shop, you can spend $1,000 on a bike," he said. With the electric versions, "You can save enough in gas in the course of a year if you use it instead of your car. This is actually transportation."

abutt@statesman.com; 445-3819

Electric vehicle rebates

Since 2007, Austin Energy has offered rebates on all-electric vehicles under a federal Clean Cities initiative.

To date, Austin Energy has paid out a total of $47,000, spread out among 301 rebates. Most of them went to electric bikes or scooters. The rebates range from $100 for electric bicycles to $500 for electric cars.

For more information, visit the City of Austin's Web site (www.ci.austin.tx.us/cleancities/evrguidelines.htm).