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Electric tricycles arrive in Sonoma

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Lime and Bird now have scattered their electric scooters on sidewalks across the county – but, this summer, a new kind of electric vehicle is making waves.

And Sonoma is one of the first cities to get a fleet of the three-wheeled vehicles.

In recent years, electric tricycles have taken off in popularity on corporate campuses and in medical facilities, at wineries and farms and for tourist rentals – largely, because they don’t require a driver’s license, registration or insurance to operate.

Sonoma entrepreneur Howard Sapper has now brought electric tricycles to Sonoma, with a new rental, sales and tour office opening on July 26 at 414 First St. E. in the spot formerly occupied by Himalayan Bazaar in El Paseo Alley. He’s the director of West Coast operations of eTrikeCo, working under company founder and CEO Nick Smith, who developed the start-up’s first prototypes just eight months ago.

Electric tricycles are exceptionally easy to operate and ride, thanks to a low and completely balanced foot platform. And they attract a crowd. On a recent quick test drive around town, the eTrike attracted both double takes and big waves from passersby.

Sapper loves the accessibility of the vehicles.

“When I’m in my car, I have glass and steel between me and the environment. But on the eTrike, you can smell the flowers as you go by,” said Sapper. “You’re floating through the world at a slow enough pace to really be engaged in it but you’re moving fast enough to get there.”

He is also ecstatic about the ability to bypass Highway 12 traffic. “At the height of rush hour, I can make it from the Plaza to the Sonoma Mission Inn in six minutes as opposed to 25 minutes,” he said.

He has eight available for rent now, and envisions a fleet of 20 to 30 by spring – and several models for sale in their showroom. Within a few years, Sapper hopes there will be several hundred electric tricycles in Sonoma and people will be replacing their local cars and using these to get around, “with less impact on the environment and less traffic congestion.”

Their battery-powered engines can reach a speed of up to 18 mph and a single charge providing a range of 30 miles. They can be driven on the road, in bike lanes and, if used as a mobility devices, on the bike path as well, according to Sapper.

A major advantage of electric tricycles over golf carts is their classification as a bicycle or Type 2 vehicle. So you can ride them on the sidewalk in Sonoma (everywhere except for the four sidewalks surrounding the Plaza), no license or insurance is needed and, best of all, they can park anywhere that a bike can park. They also just plug into a standard 110v wall outlet.

“Within three to five years, nobody’s really going to need a golf cart,” said Sapper. “The trikes provide all the function of a golf cart but are smaller, better turning radius, ADA compliant and a fraction of the cost.”

eTrikes cost $2,895, including free shipping anywhere in the country, compared to $6,500 and up for golf carts and mobility devices.

“Our price is maybe too low but we’re really committed to making these affordable for everybody,” said Sapper. And rentals are available to ages 16 to 95. He noted that the eTrikes would be a viable transportation mode for people who have high functioning cognitive disabilities.

Sapper says he and Smith have a unique product offering in that they are the only electric tricycle that fits 2-3 people plus gear, for a total weight load of 440 pounds. Also, thanks to their narrow width, they can fit through a standard 30-inch door, enabling them to go more places than golf carts, including sidewalks, bike lanes and trails.

Sapper and Smith are also developing one and five passenger designs and all new models have a USB charging port, a GPS and optional add-ons, like roof with a snap-on plastic siding.

Helmets are provided, but are optional (as California law only requires bike riders under 18 to wear a helmet, according to Sapper). Seat belts aren’t required but are included on the back seats. The vehicles are best suited for hard packed surfaces like bike lanes, residential streets and paved bike trails. They’re street legal but shouldn’t be ridden on roads with posted speed limits over 30 mph, unless there is a bike lane.

eTrikes are designed in the U.S.; the parts are sourced in Asia and the vehicles are assembled in Sonoma and St. Petersburg, Florida.

Sapper says the company is poised for rapid expansion.

“There is nothing else like this on the market,” said Sapper. “We are trying to politely and respectfully change the entire vehicle landscape.”

Beginning today, the Plaza eTrikeCo location will be open six days a week, Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.; with Monday reserved for tours by special arrangement.

Contact Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

eTrikes marketing video shows them in action:

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