NORTHGLENN, Colo. — A Colorado man is working to change the way we travel by helping people get out of their cars and onto electric bikes.
“Last year alone, 2.6 billion gallons of gasoline were wasted just people sitting at a stoplight waiting for the light to turn green within five miles of their home,” Gary Lowe said.
Lowe is the owner of the Smart Citiez Group, a Boulder-based technical data analytics company for the traffic and transportation industry. Their goal is to help cities with clean and renewable digital solutions for public safety and environmental sustainability.
But Lowe also loves to build with electric motors as a hobby. So, when his buddy made him a bet that he couldn’t build an electric bike for under $1,000 that would beat out a 1,000-watt custom e-bike that costs $8,000, Lowe couldn’t refuse.
"I did it for... just under $400," Lowe said. "So, when the day came and I destroyed him in front of his family and kids and friends and everything like that, he made me promise that I had to share this with others.”
When Lowe did share it on the Nextdoor app, he realized there was a big need, especially for people with special needs.
"I haven't ridden a bike for over 40 years,” June Mitchell said.
Mitchell has a rare lung illness and mobility issues, so when she connected with Lowe over social media, she had no idea what would be possible.
“He listened to my story and figured out what I needed, and he actually built the bike,” Mitchell said. "She's lovely. She's a trike, so she's got three wheels, and she has a motor."
When she got on the e-trike for the first time, she said it was "pure joy," and she can't wait to travel farther and use her car less.
“I used to ride my bike constantly as a kid. So, I didn't realize how much I had missed that. It was just really fun to be able to be on a bike and going down the street and having that freedom.”
It was a similar story for Larry Heriford, who bought an e-trike from a Denver store so he could get around more with his friend and his dog.
He quickly realized that having a front wheel motor wasn't the best for him because it was hard to get up his steep driveway. When he met Lowe, Heriford learned the trike could be updated to rear wheel drive to better fit his needs.
"I'm tickled to death," he said. “I've ridden probably 20 miles in a given day.”
After Lowe updated both Heriford and his friend's trikes, they can now travel farther, and it’s allowing him to spend less time in his old 2004 Buick Park Avenue.
"It only has 125,000 miles on it, and I want it to last as long as I can drive," Heriford said. "This will allow me to let it last that long.”
Since Lowe first started his efforts, he's built more than 60 different types of electric bikes and trikes, and he even brings in student apprentices to the Crossroads Community Center in Northglenn to teach them the valuable life skills needed to build with electric motors.
He’s also created an electric drift trike that’s made it to the second round of interviews for the TV show "Shark Tank." The drift trike was originally made for a boy with cerebral palsy who couldn’t sit on a traditional trike, but it turns out it’s pretty fun for adults, too.
"It's incredibly stable, and because of the straps that we have on there, anyone from 3-foot tall to 6-foot-6 can sit in the bike and have fun with it," Lowe said. "In Boulder, Colorado, a lot of dads have made a little motorcycle gang with it. It's pretty funny. The dads take it more than the sons."
All in all, Lowe's goal is simply to keep getting people out of their cars and into more affordable, sustainable forms of transportation.
“To see that young man or young woman pick up a bike that now will actually help lessen the carbon emissions in our environment... which actually helps them get back on the road again, helps them lose weight, helps them do so many different things... this is amazing,” Lowe said.
“His magic that he's able to do and his heart and his passion have really helped so many," Mitchell said. "I'm just so thankful because I've had this opportunity to be a little bit normal again.”
Depending on a customer's needs, updating an old bike into an electric bike costs around $800-$1,500. Lowe has also created an electric bike kit for people to take an old bike they already have and turn it into an electric bike themselves with the help of a 10-minute video.
People who purchase the e-bikes are also eligible for a 15-30% rebate on their taxes because of President Joe Biden's energy plan, Lowe said.