March 6, 2000
Volume 52, No. 24
Two wheels are better than four, finds Knox Todd
by Eric Rangus
Gridlocked traffic around campus got you down? Is looking for a parking space more stressful than a first date? Does just thinking about tackling Atlanta's thigh-burning hills on your bike get you winded?
Knox Todd has uncovered the solution to these problems.
Todd, vice chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine and director of the Emergency Medicine Research Center, is one of Emory's first converts to PTVs, personal transportation vehicles. The vehicle in question is his E-Bike, an electrically powered bicycle he purchased last spring to use on short commutes as an alternative to his car.
"I'm one of those guys whose always had at least two bikes in the garage and rode them fairly rarely," joked Todd, a laid-back type who sometimes works in his office without shoes.
Todd came to Emory seven years ago from UCLA, where he received his master's of public health. Emory's emergency medicine department has been in existence only since September. Prior to that it had been a division of the Department of Surgery. The Emergency Medicine Research Center is even younger, having been created just six weeks ago.
The center has a wide range of research focuses, including public health, health services and traumatic brain injury. One of the center's grant proposals is for an investigation of how the hormone progesterone can be used to treat brain injuries; another is a study on geriatric falls-how they can be treated as well as possible avenues for prevention.
Coincidentally, Todd is the lead researcher on a study investigating how air quality in Atlanta affected emergency room admissions at 34 area hospitals, an interesting segue into how he personally contributes to the cleansing of Atlanta's environment.
Todd lives west of campus, a mile-and-a-half from his office. On his bike, he can make the commute in five-10 minutes-less time than it takes in a car and without the headache of finding a parking place.
"When you see students driving these huge SUVs from their apartments two miles off campus to search for a parking lot, you just have to shake your head," Todd said.
Like PlayStations, chainsaws and power drills before them, the E-Bike, which is basically a modified hybrid, ranks pretty high on the toy scale.
"My wife has requested to ride it a few times-I'm not sure if I've ever said yes," Todd said. "My 12-year-old is interested in riding it; if he behaves himself, he may get to do that."
Todd's wife, Carolyn Kaplan, is an infertility specialist and medical director of Georgia Reproductive Services. They have two children, their aforementioned 12-year-old son Sam, and 6-year-old Ben.
The E-Bike is the brainchild of Lee Iacocca, former chairman of Chrysler, who founded its manufacturer, EV Global Motors, in March 1997. Iacocca first began experimenting with electric transportation while an executive at Ford, but technology had yet to catch up with such progressive ideas.
While mass production electric cars has not yet arrived, electrically powered bicycles have a lot of potential. Nowhere, perhaps, is this more relevant than on Emory's compact, congested campus.
"We're open to any type of alternative transportation," said Erick Gaither, senior associate vice president for business management. He oversees the director of parking and saw Todd's E-Bike shortly after it was purchased. "If we had enough people [riding electric bikes] we would consider putting charging stations near bike racks," he said.
According to the Southern Company, the leading producer of electricity in the U.S. and parent company to Georgia Power, an electric bike saves 3.4 pounds of hydrocarbons, 25.3 pounds of carbon monoxide and 1.8 pounds of nitrogen oxide per every 500 miles compared to the emissions of an automobile.
While it would take several hundred trips across campus to reach those numbers, the positive effect on the air is still significant, particularly in a notoriously smoggy city like Atlanta.
Like any new technology, though, E-Bikes are taking a while to catch on. Saturn dealers in Decatur and Morrow are the only places in the metro area to purchase an E-Bike, although they can also be purchased online. Nationwide more than 120 automobile dealers sell E-Bikes, and more than 100,000 were sold in the U.S. last year.
"They sold a lot when we first got them, then they slowed down during the winter. Now they are picking up again," said Donald Carter, who is in the service department at Saturn of Decatur, the nearest E-Bike retailer.
Carter said he sells E-Bikes primarily to people in two groups: thirtysomething commuters, and older people who want exercise but have trouble with conventional bicycles.
The bike handles remarkably well. The thumb-activated accelerator is located on the right handlebar, and a simple press makes the bike go. The bike is also equipped with cruise control to relieve tired thumbs.
While shock absorbers are standard equipment, the E-Bike is not an off-road machine. It weighs more than 60 pounds, which is just fine on pavement or smooth dirt but would be unbearable on even an easy trail.
The motor's top speed is 15 mph, and it has a range of 20 miles in between charges. Todd charges his bike overnight. Pedaling is optional; if the rider doesn't use the accelerator, it's the only way to make the E-Bike go.
The motor comes in most handy when going uphill. Pedaling the bike in combination with the motor makes even the steepest hills manageable. On flat surfaces, easy pedaling along with the motor makes for a good cruising speed with practically no effort.
"It's kind of a novelty. The real beauty of the bike is that it's built for the commuter," Todd said.