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E-bike program students pose with bikes 

Pictured, from left, are students in Danville Community College’s Light Electric Vehicle Association (LEVA) certification program on Friday, October 14: Bob VanDaley, Michael Chylinski, Instructor Don Gerhardt, Jennifer Haney, and Carl Wakefield.

 

E-bike program draws national students to Danville

 

(October 17, 2016)  – Bicycle enthusiasts from as far away as California and Illinois were among students attending a unique electric bicycle workshop at Danville Community College last week.

The Light Electric Vehicle Association (LEVA) certification program at DCC is one of only two in the country. For the fourth year since its inception, the e-bike certification program has connected a variety of cyclists and professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary to be competent in the field of electric bicycle hybrids.

 During the rest of the year, instructor Don J. Gerhardt, president of Gerhardt Cycles of Winston-Salem, N.C., travels worldwide to venues and vistas to learn about and share his knowledge of e-bikes from points as near as Las Vegas, Nev., to ports as far away as India.

Last week, however, Gerhardt spent his time at DCC’s Regional Center for Advanced Technology and Training (RCATT) educating four students about the ins and outs of e-bikes through a rigorous two-day course that, DCC Manufacturing and Technical Services Director Jerry H. Franklin said, bridges the gap between traditional mechanical bicycles and the newer electric bike models.

“In the past, a bike mechanic just had to do mechanical things, now with electric components added to it, these mechanics have to learn and that’s what this course is for — to train regular bike mechanics on the electric side of e-bikes, so they’ll understand batteries, how you troubleshoot batteries, how you fix them, how you troubleshoot wiring, and computer controls. It’s a lot that you have to understand,” Franklin said.

Jennifer Haney of Danville, a student in DCC’s electrical/electronics engineering technology program, said that her interest in the LEVA certification program started when her professor, George M. Turnbull, told her about it.

 “It’s been a blast. It’s been very interesting,” Haney said. “You leave with a certification to be a technician on electric bikes, which are becoming very popular.”

Michael Chylinski of Anaheim, Calif., owns a handmade e-bike and he said he participated in the program to learn how to maintain and manage it properly.

“I wanted to be able to work on it,” Chylinski said. “The guy that I bought it from has a small shop, so I wanted to be able to help him do some small repairs and be able to upgrade the bike that I own.”

That isn’t all that Chylinski has planned now that he has earned his LEVA certification.

“I want to retrofit some old Schwinn Beach Cruisers,” he said. “Or maybe somebody who has their bike from when they were a kid — retrofit that with an electric motor. People get attached to those old bikes and they are collectible.”

“There is a nostalgic and artistic vibe, too,” Haney added.

Electric bikes have seen a spike in popularity in recent years, first in Europe, and now in the United States, the students said.

E-bikes make it easier for cyclists to climb tough hills, make cycling more accessible to people living with physical handicaps; provide an alternative commute option for persons living near their workplace; and can even serve as an additional pathway for people interested in cycling as a form of exercise.

“I got the bike because I have a disability and can’t crank the pedals a complete 360 [degrees]; so, for me, I get to go out and have fun and be in the sun,” Chylinski said. “I used to try to walk to work, and I would get there and be sweaty and tired. With an e-bike, you’re not going to have to put out all that effort. I’ll get on it, ride up to the grocery store, pick up a few things, and ride back. Instead of getting in my car, burning gas, and dealing with traffic, you’re out having fun. It’s an adventure.”

The lithium-ion batteries used by the bikes are far superior to their alkaline counterparts in performance, Franklin said, explaining that people interested in buying an electric bike should pay close attention to the type of battery installed.

“Most of the bikes can go 15 to 20 miles on a full charge,” Chylinski said, adding that charging the bike is as simple as charging a laptop computer and requires no special gear or charging stations. “You just plug it into the wall in your house. My bike only takes about five hours to charge,” he said.

Bob VanDaley of Edwardsville, Ill., sells e-bikes for Amp Electric Bicycles, based in Lake St. Louis, Mo. He said that he wanted to learn more about e-bikes to be better equipped to sell them for his company.

“We were at the Interbike Expo in Vegas a month ago, and Don came to our booth and talked to my boss and invited us to the class down here,” VanDaley said. “I know mechanical bicycle maintenance and how those operate, but I’m here to learn the electric portion of it that I don’t have a total knowledge of.”

VanDaley said he had never been to Danville before taking the program at DCC, and that he enjoyed the Anglers Park mountain bike trails during the evenings after class, as well as a few local restaurants and the DCC campus itself.

“The college is great. I did not expect to see so much big electronic equipment and machinery. I’m really impressed with that. Everybody has been really nice and hospitable,” he said, adding that although he doesn’t have a background in machining and electronics, the coursework was presented in such a way that he felt equipped and prepared with the knowledge he needed to be more effective at his job. “Every question we have, we get an answer.”

In 2012, Franklin noticed the rise in popularity of e-bikes as an alternative means of commuting in California.

“The technology they were developing for cars was perfect for electric bikes because they are lighter, they don’t require as much energy,” Franklin said. “I had this idea: ‘I wonder if that would work in Danville,’ so I pitched the idea to the Danville Regional Foundation, they gave me a grant to study it, and I went to the bike manufacturer, thinking I would be buying some bikes for the study, but they liked the idea so much that they gave me seven e-bikes. We called the study ‘E-Bike Danville,’ and we loaned the bikes out to about 25 participants for two weeks each.”

Franklin said the study did yield savings on short-distance travel expenses for the participants.

“The conclusion was that, yes, they are great for commuting short distances, they save money, and they’re good for the environment,” he explained.

Franklin also said that bicycling in Danville is more accessible than it once was.

“You’re seeing a lot more bikes than you used to. Since 2012, things have gotten a lot better in terms of using bike lanes and having bike lanes available,” he said.

The LEVA certification program is scheduled again for Fall 2017. Individuals interested in the program should contact Manufacturing and Technical Services Director Jerry Franklin at 434-797-8573 or jfranklin@dcc.vccs.edu.

E-Bike Danville is also on Facebook at facebook.com/EBikeDanville and current program information is always available at www.danvillecc.edu.

 

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