Jim Benkert and bikes go together.
You can find him repairing bikes and giving them away.
Or organizing a Bikes on Rice ride.
Or riding one for fun or serious training.
Now, you can add renting bikes to the portfolio.
The Lihue man recently opened eco e-bikes Kauai on Rice Street. He rents and sells pedal-assisted, battery-powered two-wheelers for a relaxed and relatively easy way to cruise the island.
“This suits me because I’m sitting around tinkering with bicycles anyway,” he said in a recent interview with TGI. “People who ride bikes are who I hang out with. If I’m not renting bikes, I would be working on them or riding them and having fun.”
The e-bikes are designed as one-size-fits-all, and fold in half for easy transport, so if you don’t want to start from Benkert’s shop, you can put them in your car and drive to another destination.
“I can fit four of them in the back of my wife’s Honda Element,” he said.
A charge, from a basic electrical outlet, will power them for about two hours.
There is a bit of work involved.
“You have to pedal to make it go, but you have six levels of assist,” he said. “The more assist you have, the less you have to pedal, but the more it uses the power. So the more you pedal, the longer it lasts and the further you can go.”
It has a range of about 50 miles and speeds of between 15 and 20 mph.
“It’s toned down so you can tour at a reasonable pace without being too fast,” Benkert said.
E-bikes rent for $19 an hour, $89 a day or $329 a week. If you rent two, which most people do, they go for $499 a week.
Benkert’s goal is to encourage and promote cycling.
He’s an avid biker who has completed several Ironmans. His driveway is usually filled with bikes that he’s repairing and donating to those who need them. He estimates he’s given away more than 50 bikes.
He is also the event coordinator for Bikes on Rice, a program to encourage bicycling and get drivers used to seeing cyclists on the road.
“I think the city and the state and the county will be a more pleasant place, specifically Rice Street, if more people are cycling and less people are driving,” he said.
“I think cycling needs to be seen as a way to commute to and from work or to your business versus driving your car.”
Benkert leads by example. He lives a few miles from his shop, at 4347 Rice Street, Suite 120, so he travels by bike coming and going.
“There’s no reason I would get in my car and drive my car to work every day if I can do this,” he said.
“I think the reason more people don’t is there’s more hilly terrain where it’s difficult. You don’t want to work out necessarily to go to and from work and it’s not as safe as we’d like it to be.
“E-bikes take care of the hard part. When it gets hard, you can have pedal assist,” he said.
“As far as safety, the more bikes that are out there, the safer it’s going to be for everybody.”
E-bikes are gaining ground in the U.S.
CNNMoney reported that “Established bike companies and startups are embracing ebikes to meet demand. About 34 million ebikes were sold worldwide in 2017, according to data from eCycleElectric Consultants. Most were sold in Europe and China, where the bikes already have exploded in popularity. In 2017, the U.S. market grew to 263,000 bikes, a 25% gain from the prior year.”
Benkert sees potential for continued growth.
“You go to any major city in the world, specifically Europe and Asia, there’s e-bikes everywhere. And I think we need to do that,” he said.
Eco e-bikes Kauai is generally open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and by appointment. They can be booked at ecoebikeskauai.com and Benkert will deliver from Kapaa to Poipu for daily or weekly rentals.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or email@example.com.