Colorado Springs electric bike business generating success, smiles | Business Leave a comment

“It all started with one ride!”

So begins a blog post by Caitlin Murphy in which she describes a sunny but cool day in late May 2019 — and a bike ride that changed her life.

Her father-in-law, John Murphy, had two e-bikes and invited Caitlin to go on a ride with him. And so they went, up North Cheyenne Canyon Road, winding up at a closed portion of Gold Camp Road and along an old railroad track, heading into the mountains. The fat tire bikes handled pavement, dirt and heavy gravel with ease during the nearly 30-mile trek.

Before, Caitlin thought electric bikes were “dumb, it’s cheating, all the typical stuff.” But that fateful ride made her a convert.

“I still felt like I did a workout,” she says, but she was thrilled with the distance they covered and the hills they tackled with relative ease.

“I just couldn’t quit smiling,” Caitlin says.

She was working at the time at Gray Line Tours of Colorado Springs, owned by John’s brother, Chuck, and run by Chuck Jr. It was a job that had boosted her confidence about the workplace after 10 years or so largely as a stay-at-home mom. She and her ex-husband have three children, ages 10 to 15; though she is now divorced after marrying into the Murphy family, she and her kids are still very much part of the family. “We’re very, very close,” John says.

The bike ride on that May day set her on a new career path. “The next morning, we were both like, ‘We need to share this,'” Caitlin says. By late summer, she had started Rocke Mountain Bike out of her garage, renting e-bikes and delivering  them to customers at, for example, their hotel or a trailhead.

“We just dabbled in it at first,” she says. “We would just kind of go exploring, see what they (the bikes) could do, how far they could get.”

2020, after a lull at the icy start of the year, was a success, Caitlin says — fueled in part, perhaps, by the pandemic, which drove people to escape the isolation of their homes by taking to the outdoors in droves. Nationally, sales of e-bikes soared last year as people embraced them for recreation and even for commuting to avoid public transit.

Outdoor enthusiast Kent Drummond explains the different kinds of e-bikes, how they work, and how they’re allowing the activity to become more accessible. (Video by Katie Klann)

In late December, Rocke Mountain Bike moved into a building on North Tejon Street owned by John, occupying a space that was formerly home to Mountain Chalet, which had moved elsewhere downtown. Rocke Mountain Bike now rents, sells and services e-bikes.

E-bike 101: What to know as electric cycling moves to Colorado Springs trails

“I always thought it would be amazing to have a shop in a downtown,” says Caitlin, 37, who grew up on a ranch in Wyoming and jokes that she has traded her horses for bicycles. “I’m intrigued by the feel of downtowns.”

The benefits of e-bikes

Caitlin is well aware of the debate in the cycling world over e-bikes, with some purists remaining opposed to them — even as they’ve been reported as the fastest-growing segment of the cycling industry.

“E-bikes have kind of a bad rap,” she says, “where they’re perceived as more of a motorcycle than a bicycle, which is not the case.” But she says she has been met largely “with kindness” from the cycling world.

The motor on an e-bike gives a boost, augmenting human power but not replacing it; for the most part, you still have pedaling to do. Rocke Mountain Bike rents Class 2 bikes, which include a throttle that will activate the electric drive system. But the throttle is typically used only in limited circumstances, such as helping a rider get started on a hill or crossing an intersection more quickly; if you rely on the throttle, you won’t get far on a charge, Caitlin cautions. 

“We’re not zooming around,” she says. “We’re not on singletrack, we’re not flying down endangering any hikers. We’re being responsible. We’re using these bikes for the purpose they’re meant for, which is distance or severe climbs.”

She’s excited by a yearlong pilot program beginning May 31 that will allow electric-powered bikes on all trails maintained by the city of Colorado Springs — and could introduce even more people to the benefits of e-bikes.

E-bikes allow someone who is older — or who, say, comes from Texas and wants to experience a ride at altitude — to tackle terrain they might not be able to otherwise and allows anyone to ride farther, she says.

“These mountains are no joke,” she says. “You’ve got to be an Olympian to tackle these. That’s kind of our premise: Ride like an Olympian in the Olympic City. The e-bike jump kind of enables people to experience something they wouldn’t normally.”

As an example, she points to the Broadmoor Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb, which last year for the first time included electric bikes in an exhibition ride; this year, there will be a competitive race with e-bikes.

Their legs were shaking and their lungs were burning by the end, but Caitlin and John, then age 74, both made it to the summit last year. John has been into cycling his whole life and says he’s thrilled that e-bikes have kept him in that world, even as he has aged and fought cancer for several years.

E-bikes to be allowed on Colorado Springs trails in year-long pilot program

“Science saved my life,” he says, “but e-bikes gave me back my health.”

Growing the business

Amid COVID, with demand for e-bikes soaring, it has been tougher getting bikes and parts. “Everybody’s back ordered,” John says.

But Caitlin, who recently got a new shipment of bikes in, is working to maintain a “healthy storefront” while continuing rentals. She hopes to add a store manager and perhaps a couple of more mechanics. Mechanic Don Niewald, who she knew from Gray Line, has been invaluable in keeping the business going, she says.

“He’s just fearless,” she says, “We’ve ripped into motors; we’ll stay up until midnight to figure out how to make a bike run.”

Caitlin has no desire to  compete with regular bike shops. The focus will remain on electric bikes, though she may branch out to electric scooters and trikes. While she also sells commuter electric bikes bikes, the rental business will stick to the fat tire mountain e-bikes.

The downstairs part of the shop, where bike repairs and tune-ups are done, is big enough for workshops or events with other businesses, she notes. She also envisions growing the business across the state, perhaps even franchising.

John Murphy, praising Caitlin for her “tremendous will” and her commitment to customer satisfaction, has no doubt she’ll succeed.

“I only go on aces, straights and flushes on investments, and that is Caitlin,” he says. 

Colorado Springs man taps into family’s small business roots | Young Professional : Mehal Jivan

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