ST. PETERSBURG — A new word and a new business are coming to Beach Drive. Ontario-based Magna Marque is opening its first showroom in the world to demonstrate its "pedelec" system that can add the power of electricity to a traditional bicycle. The store, which will demonstrate and eventually rent bikes powered by a BionX motor, is going in on the floor of the Florencia that used to house Fanitsa's, a home decor and gift shop.
A bicycle fitted with a BionX system can go 20 mph for 20 to 60 miles, depending on the battery size. Plug it into a wall outlet, brake or pedal in resistance mode to recharge the battery. There are four pedal assist settings.
"The first setting you get a little assistance, but not enough to compensate for the additional weight of the motor. The second one helps compensate for the added weight," said Ron Tustin, owner of Trail Sport Bicycles in Seminole and St. Petersburg. "On the third one you can definitely feel it and you're zipping right along. In the fourth setting you feel like you're Lance Armstrong and you're cruising along at 20 miles per hour."
Magna Marque sells 100,000 BionX systems a year worldwide, including 20,000 in Canada and the United States through bicycle shops. They range from $1,400 to $2,000. The new St. Petersburg showroom at 100 Beach Drive NE will not compete with existing distributors because it will demonstrate the pedelec system, not sell it. A Dec. 1 opening is planned.
"Our approach is green and healthy," said Vincent Lamoureux, sales and marketing director for Magna Marque International and its parent company, Magna International. "We are trying to convince people who are biking, or not biking anymore, the benefit to having a pedal-assist bike. They will be able to bike even if it is tough or they are not in good shape anymore and get back in shape in controlling their cardio."
There are a few other makers of electric-assist bicycles, but most don't have the sophisticated BionX pedal assist system and high-torque motors. Either the power is fully on or it is off. Tustin, who has just started carrying the BionX system, said he prefers it to other electric bicycles or enhancement systems.
"If I'm going to work at 20 mph, I don't break a sweat. If I were to pedal a bike 20 mph on my own, it's a lot of effort," he said. He thinks the BionX will appeal to people who commute by bike and perhaps persuade more people to do so. "People who like to bike already do not like the idea of going to work with a bicycle and being all sweaty and tired when they get there."
Magna International designs and manufactures automotive supplies at 242 plants in 25 countries. It has 80,000 employees and trades on the New York Stock Exchange. Magna Marque International's founder and president, Manfred Gingl — who was CEO of Magna International — bought a condo at 400 Beach Drive in 2009, became enamored of St. Petersburg and decided it would be a good place to open the company's first showroom.
By March, Magna Marque hopes to rent its pedelec bikes to tourists and locals. It will also sell and rent a four-seat pedal-driven boat called a SeaScape. The 12-by-6-foot boat will cost about $5,000 and operate much like the bicycles with a BionX motor.
"You can pedal slowly and reach up to 8 knots. You can cover a lot more ground" than with a traditional paddleboat, Lamoureux said.
The only other product it will sell is a Styriette bicycle, made to look like a vintage gas-powered bike. It was invented in the Styria region in Austria in 1938. Magna Marque is making 500 Styriettes with the BionX motor and will sell 113 in North America for $4,500 each.
Reach Katherine Snow Smith at (727) 893-8785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.