Lawrence resident Del Christensen has built hot rods all his life, but his newest creation doesn't roar down the road. It hums.
Christensen has built a ready-to-ride electric bicycle capable of going up to 35 mph, with a range of about 20 miles before it needs to be recharged. He plans to market and sell the bikes over the Internet through a new Web site, www.currentcyclebikes.com.
The bike is powered by four batteries attached to the frame, using a bracket that Christensen designed and built. The biggest challenge, he said, was loading it in a way that wouldn't interfere with the bike's handling.
There's no pedaling required, something that may cause people to turn their heads if they see Christensen giving a test ride near Kansas University.
"What I like is going up the hill by KU and slowly pedaling backwards," he said.
Christensen and his fellow electric-bike designers may be a step ahead of Kansas law.
He built the bike with a power system developed by Electric Rider, 628 N. Second St., which sells electric-bike kits on the Internet.
According to Electric Rider owner Dave Dierker, the kind of vehicle Christensen built is not, technically, street-legal in Kansas.
It doesn't fit the state's definition of a "motorized bicycle" because it can go faster than 30 mph and lacks an automatic transmission. That might make it a "motor-driven cycle," except those are required by Kansas law to have things like turn signals, brake lights and a license plate.
"It's in a gray area," said Dierker, who prefers to get around on his own electric bike dubbed "the Insane-o-cycle." It can reach up to 53 mph.
The more sedate Current Cycle Cruiser is listed online for $1,995, plus shipping and handling.
Dierker said he's sold hundreds of kits to people in states such as California and Florida, but just a handful to people who plan to ride them in Kansas. He said that in his view, Kansas is not "electric-friendly."
City prosecutor Jerry Little said it's a common thing these days for him to come across a hard-to-classify vehicle. The other day, he said, he took a case to trial in which a KU employee received a ticket for riding a "Gator"-style utility vehicle on the streets on campus. The judge found it had to be registered, he said.
As for the kinds of bikes Christensen is building, Little said he couldn't make a call on them immediately.
"It's a complex issue. We have to look at the standard traffic ordinance, all the various definitions and figure out if it falls into one of those categories," he said. "My guess is it's going to fall within the definition of a vehicle, and as a vehicle they have to be registered. That's subject to interpretation by a court, I guess."
More about electric bikes
Christensen said he hasn't researched the laws in detail, but that a love of speed and the spirit of innovation are what drives him.
"I'm coming from a little bit of a hot-rod, farm-boy and inventor viewpoint, and just sort of going for it," said Christensen, who also has a master's degree in sculpture. "At some point, the state is going to have to start dealing with alternative formats in a vehicle. They're not going to do that if nobody ever makes use of what we have."