Pictured: Robin Gardner (left) and Peter Miller are the founders and owners of Dogleg electric bicycles in Ventura. Photo by Kimberly Rivers.
by Kimberly Rivers
The wind in your face, the exercise, not having to find parking, no emissions, a great way to get where you’re going: All are common reasons for riding a bicycle. Over the past 20 years or so, many companies have been working to increase access to the joy and health benefits of bicycle riding by adding electricity to the mix. In addition, advances in battery technology have made electric bikes not just feasible, but economical.
“When lithium batteries started becoming affordable, that is when bikes made sense,” said Peter Miller, founder and co-owner of Hill Billy USA, which supplies golf trolleys, bags and accessories. Hill Billy is one of three businesses operated out of a warehouse on Palma Drive in Ventura that rely on electric batteries. Coast Cart sells golf carts and similar four-wheel drive e-vehicles; Dogleg is its electric bicycle brand. The lithium battery option “really reduced the weight so much from the typical lead acid [battery]. 2008 is when we got the first bike in to start testing.”
Dogleg was formed in 2009, and takes its name from a golf term. A dogleg is a bent route between the tee and the hole. Miller attributed the name to his business partner, Robin Gardner, whom he met in the 1980s working at Vandenberg Air Force Base building space shuttle launch equipment.
The two connected again in 1996 to form Hill Billy, which offers battery-powered push trolleys used by golfers as an alternative to a heavy cart. Miller, originally from Scotland, said that “hill billy” is a British term for billy goats.
“We did that through mail order and grew that business as the golf world was growing and Tiger Woods was on fire,” he recalled. Hill Billy would get a lot of calls about fixing golf carts and it seemed a natural move to become a dealer. Miller and Gardner had knowledge of the batteries, and had connections in the industry, so they began designing bikes.
The Hill Billy trolley business is booming at the moment. With physical distancing rules at golf courses disallowing golf carts, the electric-assist trolley for heavy club bags has been in high demand and Hill Billy is shipping multiple units every day.
There’s been a noticeable uptick in interest in electric bikes as well.
Hill Billy’s customers run the gamut, but Miller said that, “We sell to a lot of boomers with bad hips and bad knees . . . the bikes help them stay active.” For one customer in Santa Barbara with multiple sclerosis, “The bike gave her her life back.”
Miller said that a lot of folks first approach e-bikes with the idea that they are for “lazy” biking. “It’s not about being lazy, it’s about being smart.” The more we enjoy something, the more we will do it, including exercise. And at least one study (1) has found that the heart rates of those riding electric bikes were comparable to those for standard bikes riders. e-bikes can encourage folks to “get out and exercise” when they otherwise wouldn’t, said Miller.
The frames are built in China and the bikes are assembled in Ventura.
“China can build a better bike than anybody else. China builds more bikes and uses more bikes than anybody else,” Miller said, pointing to the quality of the welds in the bike frame body. “They are not cheap or cheesy . . . China has got it dialed in.”
Dogleg’s concept was focused on affordability as well. Standard e-bike models range from $1450 to $2350. “You can get a $7,000 [standard] mountain bike from Colorado,” Miller noted by comparison. “Originally we were trying to get prices as low as possible to open up to the masses.” It was also important that any bike shop could tune and repair the bikes. “Nothing proprietary . . . We choose to make it simple to do a repair or change out a tube.”
The first model was on a fold-up e-bike, still sold today. (“It’s a great option for people with RVs and boats, or you can put one in the trunk of your car,” said Miller.) The Step-Thru beach cruiser was inspired by Ventura’s beach vibe and Promenade. The mountain bike, called the Smoothie, is for the folks who “want to throw around a little bit more. It is a bit heavier” than a standard mountain bike. With the power assist the rider can stop battling steep uphill climbs and enjoy the ride, increasing access to trails that riders might not otherwise choose to tackle. Dogleg also offers a fat-tire model with a motorcycle seat and electric tricycles.
Together the three businesses — Hill Billy, Coast Cart and Dogleg — employ 12 people and serve as U.S. distributors for Yamaha mountain bikes and a cargo electric bike called Barletta (designed by the Domino’s Pizza company in Australia), which is popular in densely populated cities such as New York.
A family test trek
I grew up riding bikes, but it would not be my first choice for exercise or for getting around. When my family recently had an opportunity to test out some electric bikes, I was excited.
First, our family stats. Ages range from 14 to 51, fairly healthy, no major joint or muscle injuries other than some fairly typical middle age “back issues,” for the oldest.
Over the course of two days, I personally rode about 45 miles on flat paved bike paths, on roads, and on the up-and-down Shelf Road loop that requires a long and steep climb to get to the trail. We also did a battery range check ride to Foster Park and back on the Ojai Valley Trail. My son and I did an evening ride, requiring the use of the bright front and rear lights (connected to the battery). I also did a morning milk run.
On every ride I got exercise. On the longer rides with hills I breathed hard, sweated and used my glutes, core and thigh muscles. I also smiled the entire time. If you hit the mountain bike trails hard and love it, then maybe you won’t be interested, but if you’ve got a knee injury, an ankle problem that makes those shifts in pressure on the pedals painful, or similar issues, an e-bike might keep you riding longer and farther.
Step Thru cruiser
The Step Thru has seven gears and is marketed as a unisex bike. The design allows the rider to step through rather than swinging a leg high over the seat and middle bar to get on — helpful for those with limited hip movement.
The electric motor on the cruiser is installed in the rear wheel, which changes the center of gravity just a tad.
The cruiser has a “twist-grip” throttle that allows you to engage the electric motor without pedaling. It’s designed to help get you started from a stop (very convenient) and works even on a hill. The bike has three settings for levels of pedal assist — low, medium and high.
Riding this bike from near downtown Ojai to Foster Park and back, 20 miles, using the low and medium settings for the downhill portion and using high assist all the way back (uphill the whole way) used up the battery. I had one “bar” left when I got home.
All family members liked this bike, even my skeptical husband. He enjoyed the “twist and go” throttle and reported it worked great to cruise up small hills with just the throttle.
Full Smoothie mountain bike
This slick eight-speed bike is super fun to ride! It has a larger wheel (27.5 inch) than the cruiser and comes with full suspension, air shock (rear) and Rock Shox (front). It only has pedal assist, no throttle option. But this bike seems to have more get up and go than the cruiser, particularly noticeable on inclines.
I tested both the cruiser and the mountain bike up two different steep hills. The cruiser got me to the top of both, but it felt like the engine was straining and it used a lot more charge than the mountain bike, which took me up with ease. For those who think you’re not going to get exercise with pedal assist, I’m here to say — you’re wrong. I set the mountain bike to the proper gear and still had to push; it was just much more manageable (which made it more fun). Being able to get up the Signal Street hill with ease opened up a trail to me on a bike that I wouldn’t otherwise choose to ride on, even on a warm summer evening.
The Bafang motor is in the pedal housing, centered on this bike. On my very first test ride, it felt more comfortable than the cruiser, with the power source being right underneath me — that’s the same as riding a standard bike. This bike has five power levels for pedal assist.
A major difference we all noticed on the Smoothie was the better display compared to the cruiser. It is easier to read the battery power level and includes speed and distance.
Even though this bike has the same range per specs as the cruiser, in our test rides, this bike seems to use less “juice” on the same trail as the cruiser, and got home after the 20-mile trip to Foster Park with more life left in the battery.
All about town
Perhaps my favorite jaunt out on the cruiser was a milk run, down the hill to the midtown market on a Sunday morning. A little bit of exercise, out in the sunshine and no use of fossil fuels. I also used the bike for a work-related outing. This bike is perfect for errands about town and local commuting.
Take home message: e-bikes are awesome! A lot of fun, and well-suited to a variety of needs and activity levels. I’m missing it already, and will be working one into the family budget.
- “Pedal-Assist mountain bikes: A pilot study comparison of the exercise response, perception and beliefs of experienced mountain bikers,” Hall, Cougar; Hoj, Taylor, et al., Department of Public Health and Department of Technology and Engineering Studies, Brigham Young University. www.formative.jmir.org/2019/3/e13643/.
- National Forest Service e-bike info: www.fs.usda.gov/visit/e-bikes.
Disclosure: Dogleg advertises in the VCReporter.
E-bike Options in Ventura County
- eBike Adventure: E-bike rentals and tours. 184 Kellogg Way, Ventura, 805-991-6653. www.e-bikeadventure.com
- Oxnard E-bikes: Custom designed and built. www.oxnarde-bikes.com
- SoCal Electric Bikes: Rentals and sales. 3639 E. Harbor Blvd., #110, Ventura Harbor Village. www.facebook.com/scebusa/
- Trek Bikes – includes electric bike sales. 805-416-8735. 4060 E. Main Street, Ventura. www.trekbikes.com
- Ventura Bike Depot: Rentals and sales. 239 W. Main St., Ventura, 805-652-1114, www.venturabikedepot.com