By Stefanie Sears
Electric bikes, originally from Europe, are the latest product that helps enhance the biking experience, says Chris Caiazzo, Voltaire Cycles owner.
Voltaire Cycles is a bicycle and service shop franchise located in Denville since December 2017. Caiazzo, an avid bike rider, got involved with this franchise after a personal incident one time in Maine.
“I got to an age where I could no longer ride my traditional bike the way I wanted to,” Caiazzo explains, “I couldn’t keep up with my friends, I had four knee operations, a back operation, and my physicality has declined a little bit. I was looking for an alternative. I was up in Maine going up Cadillac Mountain with a couple of friends and halfway up I had to bail because I could not keep up. I went back to the bottom of the hill and they had an e-bikes store that rented electric bikes. So I rented one and within five minutes of riding I had an epiphany. I was able to ride back up the mountain using my own physicality and the assist that the bike provided. I became such a huge advocate.”
When he returned to New Jersey, he looked around for electric bikes, also known as e-bikes, and found that the pickings were slim. He found Electric Spokes in Verona and bought an e-bike each for he and his wife Cynthia. Electric Spokes then called him, offering the opportunity to franchise, and Caiazzo, who also works in medical insurance and vapor retail, expressed his interest.
“Our main thrust is getting people back into being active again, especially those people who have been staring at their bicycles in their garage for the last 20 years and getting them enthusiastic about using their bikes to do errands, shopping, to get some exercise, to integrate with other people, socialize,” he says. “Just to be involved again, and certainly to take away the anxiety of riding a traditional bike and finding that halfway through your ride you have to call an Uber back to your house.”
Much like Caiazzo’s personal situation, he finds that e-bikes have changed his customers’ lives. One woman was at first not interested in purchasing an e-bike, but after some encouragement from Caiazzo to try it, she did so and was then convinced of its benefits. Another woman in her 60s came in and lamented about how she could not go bike riding with her grandchildren anymore, unable to keep up. Then there are the cases such as couple where the wife had multiple sclerosis and was using a wheelchair and a cane. She had a three-wheeler but was unable to keep her feet on the pedals, and they modified her bike with a battery and motor.
“I probably get emails from her on a monthly basis telling me how the integration of a motor and battery into that tricycle has completely changed her life and that she spends time with the grandkids and the great-grandkids, and they ride the back of it when she rides down the boardwalk,” says Caiazzo.
There are three categories of electrical assist. Class 1 is a 20 miles an hour bike that works by pressure one applies to the pedal. Class 2 is also a 20 miles an hour bike that includes a throttle with a button on the dash to regulate speed. This one is recommended for bikers in their 60s and 70s. Finally, a Class 3 bike, known as speed pedal, allows the rider to pedal up to 28 miles per hour but will not allow throttling passed 20 miles per hour in New Jersey.
Here is how they work. On Class 1 and Class 3 bikes, there is a controller in the bike that dictates to the motor how much power one needs during a ride as pressure is put to the pedal. With the Class 2 bikes, however, the riders can keep their feet on a horizontal position and just use the throttle.
Though Voltaire Cycles specializes in electric bikes, Caiazzo considers it a one-stop shop. The store also provides repairs and other products, such as traditional bikes, skateboards, scooters, helmets, and other miscellaneous items. It also provides an ambience that most bike stores do not. They make it comfortable and spacious and also include a resting area with a TV, coffee and a fireplace.
Caiazzo is now in talks with a union in N.J. that wants to offer electric mobility to some of their members as well as chiropractors, surgeons, physical therapists, and physicians about integrating e-mobility into their patients’ rehabilitation. This is what helped him after his last knee operation.
“Being able to ride my e-bike and continue to rehab my knee replacement was an excellent attribute, so I do believe that e-bikes can also enhance in other places,” he says.
However, Caiazzo also makes it clear that e-bikes are not here to replace traditional bikes, but to provide an additional option especially for those who need an electric assist.
“Up until three years ago, I would never ever in a million years consider doing anything other than riding my bicycle with my own power,” he says. “It was only when I started to experience physical problems, lesser energy levers. We’re here to enhance the experience of bike riding, and that’s what electric bikes do. They let you ride further for longer, a little bit faster, without as much anxiety.”
Caiazzo, his wife Cynthia, his children Nicole and Daniel, and grandchildren Cole and Jayda all enjoy bike riding and together even made a commercial for Channel 12 for Voltaire Cycles.
“My daughter Nicole, my son Daniel, they are big proponents of e-bikes, and they ride them all the time,” he says. “My daughter has an e-bike with a child seat on the back and she carries Jayda with her all the time.”