MATC student, partner launch electric trike business

March 13, 2014

From “Electric trike entrepreneurs set off on an Odyssey” — A high school project that began with scrap steel and parts from a machine used to groom ski hills has morphed into an electric trike and a business.

The latest iteration of the three-wheel vehicle from Odyssey Trikes of Slinger has a top speed of 50 mph and a range of about 50 miles before it has to be recharged.

Odyssey Trikes is a fledgling business started by Dustin Herte, a Milwaukee School of Engineering graduate, and Ryan Bass, a Milwaukee Area Technical College student.

Herte and Bass were in high school when they built their first electric trike in 2009. It has since gone through many design changes to become a prototype that’s nearly ready for the marketplace.

Odyssey Trikes has launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign meant to raise $25,000 by the end of the month. With Kickstarter, businesses seek money from the public to get projects underway.

Herte said the trike has the power and speed of an electric motorcycle, with the added benefit of a third wheel for more stability.

The trike has pedals so that legally it’s classified as a bicycle. In stock form, it has a top speed of about 20 mph, but the motor can be tweaked for faster speeds.

The trike will sell for about $6,000. Still in the development stage, Odyssey has landed only one sale through Kickstarter but is gearing up for additional business, including sales to police departments that could use the trikes for patrol work.

Herte says he and Bass will use their website to sell trikes.

“I am not worried as long as we get the foundation of the business established,” Herte said of taking the prototype trike to a product in the electric bike marketplace.

“I realize there’s a lot more that needs to be done that will cost a lot of money … but we are trying for no debt. We haven’t needed outside money yet,” he added.

“If we have all the parts lined up, we can generally assemble one trike per day. We know where to get the parts we can’t make, but we want more options — and we want to be able to produce even more of these parts ourselves,” Odyssey says on its website.

Power-assisted bicycles have been around for more than a century, but recent lithium battery-powered motors have increased running times and speeds. The electric bikes allow people who are not necessarily in good physical condition to commute to work, school or run errands in town. They’re cheap to operate and easy to ride.

Some of the three-wheel versions are capable of carrying hundreds of pounds of cargo in addition to the driver. In Europe, United Parcel Service is testing electric trikes for package deliveries. In Milwaukee, at least one restaurant is using them for food deliveries.

Some electric trikes, where the rider sits only inches from the ground, are capable of going from zero to 30 mph in a few seconds.

“They can be somewhat dangerous, since automobile drivers don’t quite know how to react,” said Craig Peterson, an electric bike enthusiast and the founder of Buffalo Water Beer Co. “They don’t know how to anticipate how fast these things go.”

Under Wisconsin law, electric bikes are limited to a top speed of 20 mph when operated with motor-only power. They are allowed to go faster when the rider pedals and the motor assists. They’re allowed on bike paths and city streets.

“As long as you are riding respectfully, like everything else in life, there shouldn’t be an issue,” said Henry Blum, an electric bike salesman at Len’s Electric Bikes, in Madison.

Trek Bicycles, based in Waterloo, has made electric bikes, including models with different operating modes that vary the motor assistance. As the rider pedals, the motor will adjust to achieve the most efficient electric assistance. The bike also has a manual throttle to get maximum motor speed.

One of Trek’s bikes uses regenerative braking to capture some of the energy lost during braking and put it back into the battery. On a long downhill ride, the pedal power will charge the battery even more, extending the bike’s range.

Electric trike manufacturer Outrider USA recently introduced a full-suspension trike aimed at people with physical disabilities, including limited muscular function. The trike can be configured many different ways, depending on the rider’s needs, and is built for all-terrain use.

“Nothing compares with being outside and getting some good miles behind you,” said Jesse Lee, a partner in Outrider, based in Fletcher, N.C.


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