Technology  April 8, 2011

Get your kicks with an electric bike assist

In just about a month, the world will be introduced to a new means of green commuting.

As Ridekick International rolls out its motorized trailer and begins to pedal its cost-effective unit, bike commutes will become faster, easier and less sweaty.

The idea, says Mark Wanger, founder and chief technology officer, is to offer a better solution to jumping into the car for short trips. “Fifty percent of the trips we make are less than four miles and 40 percent are less than two miles,” he explained.

“Our mission is to get more people to use bikes for those short trips,” adds Dee Wanger, vice president and co-owner.

The Ridekick motorized trailer runs on a 500-watt electric brush motor, a 24-volt, 12-amp sealed lead-acid battery and is capable of producing non-pedaling bike speeds up to 19 mph. On a full charge, without pedaling, the rider can go about 12 miles.

Ridekick weighs 40 pounds including battery pack. The cargo space can hold up to 100 pounds and is roomy enough for a laptop computer an/or two or three soft-side grocery bags.

Conversion of any bike to a Ridekick takes less than 30 minutes. A quick-release hitch attaches to the rear hub and a wire goes up to the handlebar for the throttle, which can be set to activate with either a thumb or a finger. Pulling the hitch pin detaches the unit quickly.

Where the ride got its kick

The early days of Ridekick involved Mark Wanger riding around his neighborhood holding a drill connected to his back bike tire to see what energy he could generate. But the story actually begins before that, when the avid cyclist worked out some calculations.

“I worked for Hewlett-Packard for a quarter century and then volunteered for three years at FortZed,” he said. “We were trying to figure out ways to save energy and, in a meeting one day, I did a calculation. I figured that it takes as much energy to run my household for one year as it does to drive my car for one year.”

He had a couple of other realizations about the same time, in 2007.

“I rode my bike to all these meetings because it didn’t seem right to drive when we were talking about saving energy. But I didn’t see anyone else riding,” he said. “And, as it started getting hotter and I was getting sweatier going to these things, I started thinking maybe I should buy a Prius. I decided not to but I also knew an electric bike would cost a couple of thousand dollars.”

Shortly after that, Wanger was watching Lance Armstrong riding the Tour de France.

“He was putting out 320 watts cycling. Later I was in my garage and noticed my power drill was putting out at 400 watts. I hooked up this $60 power drill to my bike and it powered me at 8 mph,” he recalled.

Wanger rode down the street in this fashion and saw his neighbor, John Bidwell, out in the yard. Rather than just look at him and his drill-powered bike, Bidwell disappeared into his garage.

“He pulls out a little trailer with two wheels and a motor he had built,” Wanger said. “We hooked it to my bike and it easily powered me. John had a patent and was selling books that told people how to build the trailer. I figured that not too many people would build it on their own.”

Discussion ensued and they eventually worked out a patent arrangement.

Over the next year, Wanger created a business plan, embarked on an investor parade and pedaled the business plan around. “We found an outstanding investor advisor and, on March 24, 2010, we formed the LLC,” he said.

Ready for rollout

Ridekick will be rolled out to the public for sale sometime in May, according to Chelsey Walker, the company’s marketing specialist. The unit costs $649, as opposed to $1,000 or more for an electric bike.

“What’s so great about this is that it’s not designed for one demographic,” she said. “We’re targeting lifestyles, so it can be people who like to ride to work but don’t want to get sweaty and want to get there faster. We’re targeting the green energy market and even people who don’t bike. It’s about breaking down barriers.”

Response has been very positive so far.

“We attended the Interbike Trade Show in September and showed the product,” Dee Wanger said. “We were in a completely new category with a completely new product and we received encouraging responses.”

 “Hundreds of dealers rode it at the show and loved it,” Mark added.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet got a kick out of the Ridekick in March, when he took it for a spin at the Rocky Mountain Innosphere in Fort Collins, where the company has its headquarters.

“We also had one of our people go on the road to bicycle-friendly communities and visit about 70 bike shops,” Dee said. “Twenty-five percent signed up right away to sell it and more than half were interested and told us to call closer to spring.”

Given the initial response, they expect widespread national interest, but Ridekick International is still a local business, Mark Wanger said.

“Ridekick is designed in Fort Collins and assembled in Loveland,” he added. “All of our talent, from the design team to the marketing team to the supply chain, is local.”

That local effort can have a far-reaching ripple effect, the Wangers believe.

“This is about green energy, sustainability, and also cost savings,” Dee said. “For the equivalent footprint for a gallon of gas, you could go 900 miles on Ridekick. It’s not gas-to-gas since it’s a battery, so the comparison is footprint-to-footprint. Given that, for the equivalent of four gallons of gas, you could ride the Ridekick across the U.S.”

“From sea to shining sea,” adds Mark.

View Ridekick and learn more at www.ridekick.com.

In just about a month, the world will be introduced to a new means of green commuting.

As Ridekick International rolls out its motorized trailer and begins to pedal its cost-effective unit, bike commutes will become faster, easier and less sweaty.

The idea, says Mark Wanger, founder and chief technology officer, is to offer a better solution to jumping into the car for short trips. “Fifty percent of the trips we make are less than four miles and 40 percent are less than two miles,” he explained.

“Our mission is to get more people to use bikes for those…

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