Mitch Shults pedals to work on a bicycle that costs much as a Harley but couldn't keep pace with a Vespa. Still, the 45-year-old Intel consultant happily trudges back and forth an hour and 10 minutes each way between his Southeast Portland home and his Hillsboro office every day on what's probably the most expensive bicycle in Portland.
Shults sports a brand new Velomobile, which is not a brand at all but a type of enclosed recumbent bicycle more common to Northern Europe. Low to the ground and aerodynamic, the sleek, canary-yellow pod resembles the cockpit of a Formula One racer. His is German-made with an aftermarket electric motor that facilitates speeds of up to 35 mph on flat ground while the rider stays clean and dry.
Shults has certainly paid his two-wheel dues. For years he biked daily between Tigard and Hillsboro, but got tired of getting wet. "I kept thinking there had to be a better way to enjoy cycling, get some exercise, but not be miserable all the time." One night he was tooling around the Internet and saw the Velomobile. After a couple months of waiting and $13,000 spent, his bike arrived in January.
With help from the electric-assist motor, Shults maintains up to 15 mph uphill on the 7-percent grade of the Sylvan Hills. At the top, he switches the motor to regenerative mode and transfers 50 percent of his downhill effort back into the battery. With the combination of regenerative power and an overnight charge, Shults can get from Southeast Portland to Hillsboro on a half battery.
"What I think I'm demonstrating here," he says, "is that the notion of a human-electric hybrid vehicle is really a practical alternative to an automobile for most of what I need to do in an urban setting."
So, is he doing it to save the earth?
"If this were to become widespread, it would go a long way toward addressing our global-warming issues, gasoline prices, and most importantly, healthcare issues, because people would have to get some exercise in order to get around."
The same person who designed the Smart Car designed Mitch's bike, but he says the similarities end there. "A Smart Car really isn't that smart in the sense that it still burns gas," he says. "I'm burning bacon and eggs, croissants...and a few electrons...and getting some exercise in the process." Shults has even taken on sponsors to cover the cost, including Portland-based DragonFly Chai, whose logo is displayed on the side of his bike.
If the name Mitch Shults sounds familiar, it's because he ran for treasurer in 2000 and 2004 on the Libertarian party ticket, and he served as that party's chairman for three years in the early 2000s. As an electric-bike-riding politician, how does he feel about cars? "The ultimate middle-class welfare program is the automobile, the road system that comes with it," he says. "It encourages people to sit on their fat asses and watch TV." The solution: "Get off your fat asses, don't watch TV, and you will be healthier."
As for safety, Shults says he worries a little about getting hit, as his bright yellow bike turns a lot of heads. "Eventually I'm sure I'll get an angry guy in an SUV throwing a beer bottle at me...but it won't hurt when it hits. The Kevlar makes it bulletproof." But would-be antagonists be warned: "As a Libertarian, I do travel armed."