The little engine that could
Motorized bikes spark interest with older set, RVers, commutersBy Lawrence Powell
Stephen Wade remembers his first bicycle with fondness even after all these years. He got it for a grading present around Grade 5 and drove that Supercycle all through high school — even when he became way too big for it.
“I wore it out,” Wade admits, but he’s proud of the fact that he stuck by that bike when his friends kept trading in for newer versions. And the bike stuck by him.
All these decades later, the Arlington Road resident is still biking and extols the benefits of staying active despite the onrush of years.
Wade has a new Supercycle – the company’s 70th anniversary edition. The gleaming red bike with the classic look, 26-inch rims, fat white-wall tires, and the wide seat is a sturdy piece of equipment. At about six feet tall, Wade may still be a bit big for it, but he can make it move just the same.
The difference between his first bike and the shiny new one is the 49-cc engine that can power Wade up those hills that he used to take with ease when he was a kid.
STARTED AS A HOBBY
The addition of an engine wasn’t even something Wade thought about until a friend from Saint Stephen, NB came visiting this past summer. His friend, a retired police officer, had purchased an engine kit for his bicycle, more or less as the beginning of a hobby. There was so much interest from others that the ‘hobby’ took on a life of its own and soon it became a busy job.
“He got me interested,” Wade recalls of his friend’s story.
Wade, who has always been mechanically inclined, bought his first engine kit and he’d barely fitted it to a bicycle when people were dropping by or stopping him to find out more about the little two-stroke engines and how they worked. Soon he was buying bikes off the rack for others and fitting them with engines that he orders from California.
Adding the tiny engine to a bicycle isn’t a difficult process. Kits include the engine, a sprocket, chain and chain guard, clutch lever, a throttle with a kill switch, a gas tank that sits on the crossbar, all the mounting brackets, plus wiring and cables.
The only necessary consideration is that the frame has to be the right size. But Wade said the right bikes can be bought almost anywhere – like Canadian Tire and Walmart.
The sprocket is added to the left end of the back axle, the motor is fastened to the frame below the crossbar, and a heavy chain links the two. When depressed, the clutch lever on the left side of the handle bar engages the engine that starts on the compression from the bike’s forward momentum. Hit the kill switch on the left handle bar and the engine stops.
Wade said the benefits of the motorized bicycles are appreciated mostly by older bikers who want to keep going with the sport but can’t manage the hills as well as they used to. Although he’s just started assembling and selling the bikes, his most frequent customers and those showing interest are people in middle age or seniors. Riders will find the hills manageable and can consider longer trips.
“They’re powerful enough that they can carry a very heavy person up a steep grade with no problem at all,” Wade said.
He said people with recreation vehicles are also interested because the bikes can be strapped to RVs and used as auxiliary transportation when the RVers reach their destination. In fact, the motorized bikes will fit easily onto a car bike rack.
Wade sees the bikes as being beneficial to people traveling back and forth to work as well. They provide a tremendous fuel savings as the engines are rated for 175 miles per four US litres.
The bikes are being used more and more in large cities like Toronto, and even farmers, hunters, and fishermen are using them.
“They have multiple uses,” Wade said.
WORD OF CAUTION“These bikes are capable of breaking the speed limit, so they have to be used wisely,” Wade said. The 49 cc engine is legally allowed on the road without license or registration and can attain speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
He noted that the engine’s exhaust is tucked out of the way of feet and ankles, and the new versions have heat shields as an added precaution. However, he said the exhaust doesn’t get hot enough to burn the driver even if contact is made.
Wade services the bikes as well, and he said spare parts are readily available. But not much maintenance is needed because the bikes are so simple – the odd carburetor adjustment or cleaning the spark plug.
Wade said his experience in just a few short months demonstrates that there is a demand for the bikes. People stop by or call, and while he realizes he got into the business late in the biking season, he’s already taking orders for the spring.
The bikes alone cost about $300 but he’s been able to add the engine and get them road ready for just under $700. That’s the starting point. The price goes up depending on the bicycle the customer wants.
October 28, 2009 by Leave a Comment