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April 8, 2002

Professor designs, builds some electrifying rides

Photo of Tong Zhou and scooterTong Zhou was designing a sit-down scooter for his 100-year-old grandmother when he had a revelation: Maybe fully electric cars aren't the future, and maybe electric bicycles are.

That was nearly 10 years ago. Today, Zhou and his brother have multiple electric scooters and bicycles on the market, including one distributed by Roadmaster and sold at Camping World stores. Other products are for sale through his wife's business, ACEME, located on Power Inn Road.

"We believe that electric bicycles and scooters have a great future, both in China and in the United States," says Zhou, a CSUS professor of mechanical engineering. "They're convenient and they reduce air pollution."

The whole business started with Zhou's grandmother. In her old age, she had a hard time walking, and Zhou wanted her to be able to get around town on her own.

But when he started to look for a scooter, he realized they were quite expensive. They also, in his opinion, were not designed very well.

"I thought to myself, 'I can design it much better than this.' And I did," Zhou says.

Later, he and his brother pulled together capital, set up a supply network and built a small production facility in China. Their first set of three-wheel scooters for the disabled and elderly, called the Jupiter Mobility Scooter, shipped to Australia in 1998.

Now updated scooters based on that original design are competing with similar products throughout Europe and parts of Asia

One was even seen during a special NBC Olympic broadcast in 2000 - a torchbearer featured in the report was using one of Zhou's scooters. "That was one of my proudest moments," he says.

Building on the success of the Mobility Scooter, Zhou developed an electric scooter and bicycle for general users. They're the e-Beetle, a $350 two-wheel scooter, and Dual Glide, the bicycle sold through Camping World for about $900. Each can go about 15 miles an hour, though peddling along with electric power can add additional speed with the bicycle.

The cost to charge the products is just a few cents, Zhou says.

On the bicycle, the battery pack is charged by peddling and by plugging it in to a wall socket.
Charges last about 12 miles, longer if the rider also peddles. Aside from a small battery pack attached to the frame, the bicycle doesn't look much different than a traditional bicycle. It also folds so it can fit in a car trunk.

With the two-wheel scooter, the battery pack is charged in a wall socket and is good for 8-10 miles.

By state law, riders have to be 16 or older and wear a helmet.

Zhou's company sells a conversion kit that can turn most bicycles into electric ones. He's also built a one-seat golf cart, which has gotten strong reviews from golf course managers who have seen it. Zhou says more products are on the way, though he may sell them himself as he does with the e-Beetle.

"I'm always thinking about something new," Zhou says. "It's a professional practice. I can use my work in my teaching." Last semester, for instance, he used his transaxle in his machine design class.

Zhou's business, ACEME, can be reached at (916) 386-2001.


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