This column has always been a cheerleader for Glosta firsts and onlys. So let’s call it out and celebrate it before the rest of the world and state catches up.
Yes, Gloucester still has the only All-Electric bike shop in the state and one of the few in the country. Hoorah!
Through misdirection and skullduggery, this old-fashioned pedaler was shanghaied into Cape Ann Electric Bikes on his birthday by a clever wife who took us, naturally, to the Cake Ann mini-mall at 24 Eastern Ave.,called The Commons, next to Paws-at-Play. It seemed only natural to go to the cake shop on a birthday, but that was just a ruse to get me there. “Aren’t we going to the cake shop?” the birthday fool asked, curious about our parking choice at the other corner of the lot. “I just have to pick up a part for my bike,” she said. In we went, destination: the future.
Once inside, the obvious set-up became clear. The owner herself was ready to paint the picture for the future of old person (me, 69) bike riding. This was Kathy Moynihan, Gloucester born and bred and eagerly ready to breach the conventions of the past. She was the daughter of a former mayor of Gloucester, Steve Moynihan, who had been elected in the 1970s under Plan E government, which mandated that the city councilor with the most votes was the mayor. Her brother, Matt, had been a superstar tight end for the GHS Fishermen in 1988 when we got robbed by a ref’s bad call in a frozen high school Super Bowl of epic proportions in Foxboro, long before the Pats got good. He’d even mowed our lawns for a summer. The point is that she’s been connected to the city forever.
But here, in 2019, Kathy and her husband, Dan, were spreading the news about power-assisted pedaling, the wave of the future. Earlier electric bikes had pedals but they were not connected to the electric power. The electric came on like a motorcycle, when you gave the throttle a goose. All the bikes in this store, however, turned on their power when you began pedaling. A short effort and on came the juice, which was, unmistakably thrilling -- like a shot of adrenaline. The gear switching system was both very simple and very complex, with various levels of pedal gears -- as a regular bike would shift -- and various levels of power thrust speed when you were launched. Once you got moving, you wanted both a higher gear of pedal and more speed on the assist. Woo hoo! On your neighborhood street, you might be in first gear on both, but on the Back Shore, you’d be at Level 4 for both. The technology was easy to understand and just one rush after another.
The shop specializes in rentals for the day or weekend, as you might do in Block Island or any other tourist destination. It was pretty easy getting around Gloucester and off into Rockport “the long way” around to avoid traffic and feel the ocean breezes in your face. What a glorious feeling too when that juice comes on, like a reeeeeally strong cup of Starbucks coffee or a ski run off the top of the mountain.
They sell and rent 24 different models. All but one of which have “fashion fat tires” that can navigate off-road environments or even sand, as well as the blacktop. They have three “trike” versions as well as a tandem bike for two, the Rolls Royce of their fleet. All of them look cool as heck with multiple color variations and wild rim choices. Even this old codger looked cool for cats. Did I mention that no special license is needed? So anyone can try. Don’t get me wrong, there is a twist-style throttle for quick bursts of power without pedaling, as a motorcycle does -- especially good for hills. But the exercise is in the pedaling. The speedometer keeps you legal but your guilt-o-meter keeps you pedaling. As for being the first and only all-electric shop in the state, Gloucester stands alone, as it did decades ago when Mystery Train became the state’s first CD-only record shop. Sure, a bike shop in Salem carries a trike version you can rent but it is the exception in a forest of normal bikes. These Glosta bikes are far from normal. When I was out riding later, I saw two of them coming my way, orange rims and all. I stopped to check ‘em out: it was one of my best friends, completely blissed out on his bike.
So, Gloucester is first and only in our neck of the woods. This nascent industry is centered in California, naturally. No mystery there. It’s crowded with exercise nuts and old people (and young people who act old). The other Cape is rumored to be getting their own all-electric shop very soon so we’ll have to share the mantle. But for now, celebrate this vanguard store that has brought us a taste of the future for technology. Robots, hacking, cyber wars, Big Brother, facial recognition, artificial intelligence, election interference, devices that spy and report on their owners: all “bad future.” Power-assisted pedaling bikes and your power and imagination is the “good future.” Try it, enjoy it, master it. Obviously, it blew my mind.
Gloucester resident Gordon Baird is an actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine and producer of “The Chicken Shack” community access TV show.