Victor Au took inspiration with the busy streets of Shanghai, China and the innovation of Tesla Motors in developing his own line of electric bikes, which are now available in Downtown East.
Au, the founder of the newly opened Wattson Electric Bikes on Washington Avenue, sells bikes that combine the engineering, look and comforts of a moped with the approachability of a bicycle.
Au and James, his business partner and brother, are banking on the rise of urban living to create a need for the hybrid vehicles. Au got the idea while living in the megacity of Shanghai, where scooters are a common option for traversing packed roads. Once he moved back, he thought to combine them with an electric motor to create a vehicle that’s not quite a scooter or a bike.
“That’s the direction our society is going. The shift of our society here in the [United States] is kind of mimicking what’s going on in China,” he said.
The bikes are meant to fill a gap for people who want to live and work around a dense area like downtown or Uptown, but who don’t want to rely on the city’s public transportation or owning a car to get around. Au, an Alaska native and Roseville resident, said he’s well versed with downtown living given that he grew up around the skyways. His family has owned and operated several restaurants downtown, including Ah Sa Wan in TCF Tower’s skyway.
Last year he began designing and selling the electric bikes, which resemble scooters with blinkers, mirrors and thick tires, but have bike pedals and an engine that keeps them from going over 20 miles per hour. While many electric bikes are simply road bikes with a motor to assist the biker with pedaling, Wattson’s electric bikes have a twist throttle and don’t require pedaling. Au has designed them to fit within the electric bike designation, which means they don’t require a license, insurance or registration to operate. And instead of taking up a parking spot, Au said drivers typically lock them like traditional bikes.
“It looks a little weird in the bike lane, but we made sure it would fall into the regulations,” he said.
Because they’re electric, the bikes don’t emit anything and have a detachable battery that requires charging. The bikes, dubbed the Pivot, have a range of 30-40 miles. At $1,199, they’re cheaper than many scooters or electric bikes. Wattson estimates a 40-mile trip costs just 10 cents in electricity.
Since opening earlier this fall, Au said the bikes have been popular with college students at nearby universities and with drivers who’ve lost their license or never had one in the first place. For seniors or people with disabilities, Au said the bikes offer a longer range and more horsepower than mobility scooters when getting around downtown.
“It’s been an interesting mix of people,” he said.
Wattson Electric Bikes, at 1117 Washington Ave. S., is open 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Sunday. The bikes are available online at gowattson.com.