Subscribe: $5 for 5 months!

For cyclists looking for a boost on big hills or long treks, a St. Louis-area couple’s new electric bike shop is intended to offer a solution.

The Pedego store that Bill and Carla Sauerwein just opened at 801 South Holmes Avenue in St. Louis County sells and rents electric bicycles, joining a growing, international trend geared toward accessibility and sustainability.

Bill Sauerwein spent 30 years as an attorney in Clayton. His law firm, Sauerwein Hein, focused largely on real estate litigation. He retired last year and started looking for a new business opportunity. Sauerwein said he wanted his next venture to bring him closer to his community, and especially people around his age. He also wanted to be part of a business that promotes healthy living, and he wanted to work alongside his wife.

Carla Sauerwein spent more than 20 years as a pediatric nurse at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. She went on to work for a child advocacy nonprofit, and now is in school nursing.

Married for 30 years, Bill and Carla Sauerwein both grew up in Belleville and now live in Oakland not far from the store. In January, the couple bought the Holmes Avenue property, which was formerly a fencing business. They kicked off construction on March 1 and demolished most of the building, they said, but managed to officially complete the renovations by June 6.

Carla Sauerwein said they acquired the bike store’s inventory before the building was ready, so for a time the couple’s basement and garage were flooded with bicycles. They have been in business for over a month now, and planned to hold an official grand opening Saturday. The store currently has two part-time employees, and Bill says they plan to bring on at least one more.

Growing trend

Pedego was founded in Irvine, Calif., in 2008 by Don DiCostanzo and Terry Sherry. In the first three years, DiCostanzo said, they struggled to get their products to market. They tried selling to bike shops and scooter shops but could not build the momentum.

Then in 2011 one customer approached them and said he wanted to open a store in Huntington Beach, Calif., specifically to sell Pedego bikes. That store opened in early 2012, and they ended up opening about a half-dozen more that same year.

“It just started to take off after that,” DiCostanzo said.

Now, just over a decade after it was founded, there are 125 Pedego stores in the U.S., and more than 25 others overseas, according to a spokesperson.

DiCostanzo said that at one point he considered franchising but decided that that model required too many rules and regulations.

“We’re more of a guideline company,” DiCostanzo said.

Instead, the stores sign a license agreement with operators who can use the Pedego name and sell the products royalty-free, and exclusively sell Pedego bikes.

The brand has soared in recent years, gracing the social media accounts of Martha Stewart and William Shatner. And according to DiCostanzo, Pedego has recently found a new target audience, selling electric bikes to police departments and security services. DiCostanzo said Pedego sold $21 million in volume last year, up from $15 million in 2017.

Even so, DiCostanzo concedes that electric bikes are “still in the early adopter phase.” He noted that offering rentals and positioning stores near bike trails is helpful for familiarizing people with the concept. Bill and Carla Sauerwein’s property on South Holmes Avenue is bordered on one side by Grant’s Trail, one of the most popular trails in the St. Louis region.

The St. Louis region saw its first Pedego store in 2014, with the opening of a store in Edwardsville. According to co-owner Dave Archer Jr., business has been strong over the past five years, and fitting with the Pedego model, the store is less than a block from a trailhead.

The bikes

The electric bike trend has been lauded as a way for individuals of different ages and abilities to access cycling. Many of the bikes in the Sauerweins’ shop are structured such that riders only have to step over a low bar, rather than swing their leg up over the seat to mount the bike.

Riders can adjust the level of electric assistance with buttons on the speedometers, but the bikes also have throttles for immediate bursts of power.

“If you’re on zero, it rides just like a regular bike,” Bill Sauerwein said.

Carla Sauerwein pointed out that electric bikes can be great for commuters who may not normally have time to bike to work, and the store offers several models marketed toward commuting. It also carries a few more unique bikes, such as a tandem bike, a tricycle with a storage container in the back and a two-wheel cargo bike that can be configured to carry an extra passenger.

The bikes have removable batteries that sit behind the seats and can be recharged in 2-6 hours. The battery life ranges based on factors like speed, weight, terrain and how much electric assistance is used, but generally can vary between about 15 and 60 miles, according to the Pedego website.

Pedego bikes range from $1,895 to $5,495.

The issue of access

Even with ample access to trails, some electric bike enthusiasts face barriers. In some municipalities, electric bikes are not allowed on public trails, as part of the same regulations that prevent motorcycles and other motorized vehicles from using those trails.

These concerns have “been an issue since the day we started,” DiCostanzo said, but he added that in his experience he has not seen any regulations passed to further restrict the use of electric bikes, only to expand access.

Electric bikes are allowed on trails in St. Louis County parks, as long as they stay below 20 miles per hour, said Molly Olten, public information coordinator for St. Louis County Parks. They also cannot be operated by riders under 16 years old unless they are supervised by an adult.

In St. Charles County it’s a bit of a gray area, said Nancy Gomer, marketing coordinator and public information officer for St. Charles County Parks and Recreation.

Currently only non-motorized vehicles are allowed on their trails, so people could ride the electric bikes but could not engage the motor, Gomer said. She noted that this has been a topic of discussion, and that St. Charles County has a young regional parks district that is evolving quickly.