It was eye-catching, to say the least. The bike in front of me was electric purple, with fat, sturdy tires, a headlight and a rack on the back. It also had a power button, a battery, and a throttle. But it wasn’t until I gave that very first push on the pedal that I understood the buzz. It was like gaining a superpower: I was still pedaling, but I was traveling twice as far on each pedal. The sensation was a bit intoxicating; I felt as giddy as if I were first learning to ride, feeling the freedom that comes with escaping on two wheels.
Though electric bikes are popular in other parts of the world, like Europe, they have yet to catch the attention of a wide audience in the United States. Denver-based FattE Bikes is trying to change that, by giving folks a different way to commute.
FattE Bikes is the first company to create and sell fat tire electric bikes in Colorado. Owners Kenny Fischer and Victoria Brunner have been selling their bikes for about a year and shipping them around the country, but they recently held a launch party at their office space in downtown Denver.
“We’re trying to get butts on bikes,” Fischer says. “Until you’re on one, you really don’t know. My wife [and business partner Victoria] says it’s like trying to describe ice cream to someone who has never tasted it.”
It’s an apt comparison. Though they look like snazzy mountain bikes—the bright colors help increase visibility, Fischer says—they feel very different from a standard bike. They’re heavier, for one thing; the ability to use the throttle to get moving without pedaling is different, too. They can reach speeds of up to 20 mph (but you could go even faster depending on how well you pedal—just mind the speed limit). And the fat tires? Those add stability and traction, giving more of an all-terrain type of experience over grass, sand, and even snow.
“We want people to know they’re new, but to just give it a try,” Fischer says. “It’s going to be an incredible, eye-opening experience. I’ve never interacted with an object that provides joy every single time. Joy comes with every single ride.”
FattE Bikes are still bicycles: You don’t need a license to drive one. As for where you’re allowed to ride them…well, that differs by county. Currently, as a result of House Bill 1151, a person may ride Class 1 or Class 2 electric-assist bicycles on bike or pedestrian paths where bicycles are authorized to travel, unless a local jurisdiction prohibits such bikes. As electric bikes become more popular, local governments are trying to decide where they’re going to allow them to go. So far, the debate seems to be primarily focused on wilderness and single-track trails, and less on commuting on roads or bike paths.
Speaking of the commute: FattE Bikes can travel between 20 and 40 miles on a single charge with factors like the type of terrain, amount of power used, and the weight of the rider affecting the range. Currently, FattE Bikes offer four different models—from the popular Sgt. Mingo to the foldable Peñalosa (prices start at $1,899). Many aspects of the bike are customizable, and every bike comes with fenders, front and rear lights, and bottle cages. With a battery that looks like an old brick charger for a laptop, simply find a wall socket and you can charge up. For those who need a bit of juice while riding, FattE Bikes even come with a USB charger built in.
While Fischer said their overall goal is to get people out of cars and onto bikes, creating another viable form of transportation, there’s another benefit to these e-bikes: They’re the great equalizer. For many people, especially baby boomers and those who have experienced a decline in physical activity, these bikes are getting them back onto the road.
Golden resident Danny Lavergne said that he has been biking his whole life, but after enduring more than 40 surgeries and procedures, the disabled veteran wasn’t able to do the things he used to do. However, after seeing the FattE Bikes at conference, he took one out for a test ride and bought one for himself and one for his wife for Christmas. Now, he said, they ride everywhere.
“It sounds strong, but…it saved my life,” Lavergne says. “I can get out and do the things we like to do.”