Look out, Mopeds!
A University of Pittsburgh senior, who plans to make aliya this summer, is starting his own electric bike company, which he hopes will be a hit here and in the Jewish state.
Micah Toll, 22, was the subject of a recent USA Today story. His company, Pulse Motors, is a Pittsburgh-based startup that will provide two-wheeled electric vehicles to the students and the public.
The PEV0, which is federally classified as a bicycle and not a motor-powered vehicle (no special license or registration is needed to own or ride one) comes with fully functional pedals, and can be ridden as a regular bike. The bike is fully electric; it can reach speeds of 20 miles per hour, can go up to 30 miles on a charge and takes three hours to be recharged.
After he makes aliya, Toll said the headquarters for Pulse will stay in Pittsburgh, though he hopes to open a branch office in Israel within the year.
Toll, a mechanical engineering major who also heads up the aliya group at the Hillel Jewish University Center, got the idea for Pulse two years ago as a way to get college students out of their cars and into more sustainable transportation modes for getting around town.
“We’ve produced five [prototypes] of them so far, but they’re not available commercially,” he told the Chronicle. “We’re doing beta-testing; we’re giving them to college students in Pittsburgh, asking them to replace their standard forms of transportation with one of our PEV0s.
“We’re getting a lot of good responses from students who have replaced them,” he added.
No matter how good the results are, though, Toll said another generation of the PEV0 — not this model — will eventually go into commercial production.
“We’ve started research and development on our next vehicle,” he said. “We’re aiming for release in the summer of 2013.”
Electric bikes are nothing new, but the models, which mostly come from Asia, are typically underpowered and not suited for hilly, rugged terrain. Pulse’s goal is to make a durable electric bike at an affordable price.
“In Pittsburgh that’s a real problem,” Toll said. “We have so many hills, so we designed a vehicle for Pittsburgh that’s strong and robust.”
The situation is the same in Israel, he added, where electric bikes have carved out a niche in Tel Aviv, but not in hillier parts of the country.
Toll thinks the Israeli market is ripe for Pulse.
“Israel is a country of early adopters,” he said. “It has always been at the forefront of new technology.”
He formed the company with two friends who had backgrounds in electric vehicles and bicycles. Last year, they developed their first vehicle — the PEV0.
Pulse recently took first place in the Randall Family Big Idea Competition, a contest hosted by Pitt’s Katz School of Business, which attracted almost 200 entries.
Toll co-founded Pulse with Thorin Tobiassen (chief technology officer), who brings firsthand experience with electric vehicles for the West Coast; and Max Pless (chief operating officer), another graduating Pitt senior who has a background in bike frame construction and repair.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)