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Race N.Y.C. With $12,000 Electric Bicycle, $19,000 Golf Cart

An Optibike. The $12,000 850R is Optibike's best-selling, and most expensive, bike. As tested, it came to $12,740. Source: Optibike via Bloomberg
An Optibike. The $12,000 850R is Optibike's best-selling, and most expensive, bike. As tested, it came to $12,740. Source: Optibike via Bloomberg

Oct. 21 (Bloomberg) -- I was reminded of the tortoise and hare while pitting a Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet against a Vespa GTS scooter in a “race” across Manhattan.

It was a low-speed sprint, with Bloomberg TV anchor Matt Miller wending his Vespa around the crosstown traffic I was stuck behind. My top speed was 15 mph.

Despite the $140,000 and 478-horsepower disparities, my Porsche was beaten by a full two minutes. (See the video here

What are the best ways to get around the city? Usually I prefer walking, the subway or a taxi, in that order. If it weren’t for arriving everywhere sweaty, I might take advantage of the new bicycle lanes.

So I decided to test two rather unusual but very green options -- a $12,000 electric bicycle and a $19,000 street-legal golf cart.

The e-bike is from Optibike, a Boulder, Colorado-based company which makes about 100 electric bikes a year.

It has a thick, BMX-style frame which hides an electric motor and lithium-ion batteries. The rear wheel can be powered by electricity, pedaling or a combination.

“This is the ultimate hybrid,” said Optibike founder Jim Turner. “The electric motor runs at about the same cadence as your legs at a comfortable speed, so they work in parallel.”

E-Bike Flies

Turner started the company in 2006 and the 850R is his best-selling, and most expensive, bike. As tested, mine came to $12,794. It has two speeds (fast and economy), 14 gears and front and rear suspension.

I cranked the motorcycle-style throttle and the bike pulsed forward, accompanied by an innocuous whirring sound. Quick, but not alarmingly so, I let off and began pedaling. It felt like a regular, if heavy, bicycle.

Then I twisted the crank and pedaled furiously. Wind gathered around my ears and the digital readout showed 29 mph, in the ballpark of a professional racer.

Bouncing over a big pothole on West End Avenue, I was thankful for the suspension. It was raining and the hydraulic disk brakes were smooth and efficient. I flew from 60th Street to the 90s in minutes. (Little did I know that I was technically in violation of New York State motor vehicle regulations. Check with local laws regarding motor-assisted bicycles.)

Turner says that the electric range is about 45 miles; 60 if you also pedal. Time is also an issue, as it runs for less than an hour in fast mode, and more than two hours in economy. It takes about five hours to recharge using a regular outlet.

Lone Star Cart

At 58 pounds, you could get it to your apartment in an elevator. So it is a conceivable city crawler.

Which then led me to the Garia LSV golf cart. It is a Low Speed Vehicle, a classification which means you can register it at the DMV and get a license plate. (Rules vary by state and area.)

Designed by a Danish company, it is built in the same Finnish factory as the Porsche Boxster. The company says many parts are automobile quality, including the windshield and double-wishbone front suspension. Top speed is 25 mph.

There’s no mistaking the Garia’s main function -- it’s a golf cart. No doors or side windows, a flat floor and space in the rear for clubs. My $19,100 tester came with upgraded 12-inch wheels, shiny rims and synthetic leather seats. You can opt for a refrigerator in the dash.

It had a license plate -- a Texas one -- but no proof of registration or insurance inside the cart. I wondered how long it would take to get pulled over by a curious member of the NYPD.

I popped it in drive and dipped into the pulsing river of New York City traffic, slightly terrified. It lacks air bags, crumple zones and a solid silhouette.

Crowd Pleaser

“Drive that all the way from Texas?” a silver-haired woman on a scooter asked me. No, but I was heading for Times Square. Pegging the pedal to the floor, I scooted down Seventh Avenue, gathering stares by the hundreds. I stopped in front of three cops with automatic weapons on 44th Street and nodded. They nodded back -- no reaction. They’d seen it all, apparently.

With a range of 40 miles and about eight hours in stop-and-go traffic, I wager a driver will give out before the golf cart does. It takes eight hours for a full charge, so you’d need a parking spot with a socket -- an issue in the city.

In the West Village, I pulled up next to a Smart Car. We were the same size. “Wanna race?” I asked. The driver’s window was down, but he refused to meet my eyes. I’m not sure if he was embarrassed by me -- or for me.

No matter. I had the coolest golf cart in town.

The Optibike 850R and Garia LSV Golf Cart At a Glance

Engines: 850 watt electric motor; 3 kW electric motor.

Top speeds: About 30 mph; 25.

Range: 45 to 60 miles and two-plus hours; about 40 miles and 8 hours.

Price as tested: $12,794; $19,100.

Best features: Green as you can get; both pretty fun.

Worst features: Limited electrical time with the Optibike; have to find an outdoor plug for the Garia.

Target buyers: The city dweller who likes his or her options.

(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.

To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at

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