You could say that Don DiCostanzo turned over his green leaf later in life. He spent more than 20 years working in the upper ranks of Wynn's, an automotive specialty chemicals and service equipment, a decidedly non-green enterprise. At the age of 50, he got hooked on electric bikes. What started as a few e-bikes in the garage quickly turned into his opening up an electric bike store which lead him to making the bikes himself.
He found a business partner and started Pedego Electric Bikes
. In just a couple years since launching, they've sold thousands of bikes through 150 dealers in the U.S., Canada and Europe.
I can personally attest to the quality of Don's bikes. I have been riding a Pedego Comfort Cruiser that the company sent for me to review
. It's a bike and a second car (or in my case, a first car) all at once. It's through my relationship with his company that I got to know him a little better and walked away impressed at what he's building.
Don lives in Southern California where he commutes on his e-bike every day while still squeezing in an average of 50 miles during the weekend.
MNN: What's the difference between green and greener?
Don DiCostanzo: As a society, the path to green is a long one. I believe that there is not going to be quantum leaps but rather millions of very small steps. The good news is that in the last 10 years, awareness and involvement has gotten on a fast track, and while it will likely take generations for us to become green, more and more people around the globe are on the right road and we are making measured progress. I recycle everything possible and ride my electric bikes whenever I can to save fuel and get some exercise. A few short years ago, I did none of that.
Does the world need saving?
Only from ourselves! The human race is highly evolved and very intelligent. We are, probably by design, problem solvers. For example, when I moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s, we had countless smog alert days when a layer of ugly, thick brown atmosphere blanketed our surroundings. We were warned to “stay indoors” and “don’t do any heavy exercise”. In the past 10 years, I don’t ever recall a single smog alert and our sky is almost always blue. The problem was solved by going to unleaded gasoline and much higher standards were created to virtually eliminate the causes of the smog.
Don leads a group of Pedego owners on a group ride.
Who is one person doing good in the world (besides yourself) who we should know about and why?
Without question the pastor of my church, Rick Warren, has created the opportunity for so many of us ordinary people that are fortunate to live in the U.S. to go to make a difference in the world today. Rick’s PEACE Plan is a massive effort to mobilize Christians to attack the five global, evil giants of our day — spiritual emptiness, self-centered leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease and illiteracy/education. His plan has sent thousands of people around the world to help those less fortunate.
(I invited Don to make up and answer his own question here) How and why did you make the transition from eco-terror to ecopreneur?
It all started with a desire, at 50 years old, to ride a bike again. As a boy, I lived for my bicycle and have nothing but fond memories of my first Stingray and subsequent 10 speed bikes. The problem at age 50 was my house was at the top of a hill so the idea of the end of the ride being painful uphill battle was reason enough not to ride a bike. A colleague of mine introduced me to the idea of an electric bike, and I was very intrigued. After buying my first electric bike, I became infatuated and within a year after buying five different electric bikes from five different manufacturers, I was infected with electric bike syndrome. Finding electric bikes was a bit of a problem because typical bike shops did not, at that time, offer any electric bikes. Frustrated, I decided to open my own bicycle shop and within a year’s time, became the one of the biggest sellers of electric bikes in the country. This only causes further frustrations because my suppliers did not provide good service, did not offer quality products and lacked styling. I woke up one morning and decided that I had become complacent in my 30-year career in the automotive chemical business. It was time for a change so I decided to become an electric bicycle company. I recruited my longtime friend as a business partner and created Pedego Electric Bikes. In just two short years after we launched, we have sold thousands of Pedegos through a growing list of about 150 dealers throughout the U.S., Canada and very recently, Europe.
What gets you excited about electric bikes?
The reactions from customers after they take their first ride and then again a few months later. We have countless testimonials regarding weight loss, saving money and even helping a marriage. The biggest reward though is from customers telling us how much fun they are having. I hear it almost every day and never tire from it. It is fun that we offer our customers and the electric bike we sell is just a way to achieve it. The best news about electric bikes is that virtually everyone can ride one. Riders need not be fit or wear tight-fitting bike attire. Only a very small percentage of the population ride bikes today, but electric bikes are expanding the market opportunity to those who might not ever ride a bicycle again in their lifetime. Converting just a small portion of that huge segment of the population to riding bikes is very rewarding.
Do electric bikes belong in the bike lane or the road with the cars, trucks and motorcycles?
Being a big safety advocate, I believe bikes belong on bike paths whenever possible. Living here in southern California, we have countless miles of off-road paved bike paths that pass under roads and freeways with no traffic lights to slow us down. My eight-mile commute to work is almost entirely on these off-road bicycle paths and is something I look forward to twice a day. While these paths are utopia, wide consistent bike lanes are the next best thing. Thirdly, I like sidewalks whenever the first two options are not available. Last, and almost never for me, the road is a dangerous place for any type of bicycle. I use extreme caution whenever I do and always assume I am invisible to drivers. While most bicycle riders are quick to criticize drivers, bicycle safety statistics say that 70 percent of all bicycle accidents are the fault of the bicycle rider, not the vehicle driver. It is very important that bicycle riders obey all traffic laws.
How has the Obama administration been in regards to bike policy, both electric and conventional?
I have heard lots of verbal support from Washington about all the positive things bikes can do for us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and decrease obesity, but seen very little in actual results. To be fair, cities, states and counties are better suited to improve the infrastructure for bikes, but it could help with some federal funding. We need better bicycle riding infrastructure to encourage more folks to use bicycles.