It was five years after the X Games had put extreme sports on the map. Teenagers were taking to slopes and skate parks to test their skills — a market in which John Simpson originally thought his vehicle would thrive.
“I thought it would be perfect for kids to take to the skate park and do crazy tricks, but the market that really responded was the baby boomers who wanted a fun way get in shape,” Simpson said.
Simpson and Gildo Beleski founded Trikke Tech Inc., which produces an array of three-wheeled carving vehicles. It looks somewhat like a pronged scooter but the difference is in the riding motion. Riders say the vehicle is propelled by a sidewinder motion similar to cross-country skiing.
“It’s like planting ski poles and pushing that right handlebar forward then pressing down with your right foot as it lifts slightly off the ground,” said Cheryl Brown, who has been riding for nine years and owns four Trikkes. “It’s similar to a skiing motion where you push off with your foot and alternate like a sidewinder.”
Beleski invented the product and was riding a prototype in Santa Monica 11 years ago when he ran into Simpson. The prototype was designed to corner at high speeds as riders lean into turns, but they quickly learned the vehicle could generate its own momentum by winding back and forth — even up hills. The body-propelled Trikke was launched in 2002 and was awarded with the Best Invention of 2002 by TIME Magazine.
“The fitness and no-impact demographic is what market started responding,” Simpson said. “It’s a really engaging and fun carving experience, but it’s really a whole-body workout that uses legs, a twisting core, arms and shoulders so there’s never a boring moment.”
Since then, Trikke Tech has expanded its products with variations of body-propelled, electric-hybrid and Skki Trikkes. Simpson said children are even using the body-propelled models in their physical education classes.
“I’m surprised by the sensibility putting a motor on this vehicle and what good it can do to leave cars at home,” said Simpson, who wants to adopt a test city and provide tax rebates for using the Trikke instead of a car to reduce gridlock and oil dependency. “Now we discovered it’s a viable replacement for a short trip.”
Brown said she wishes she could ride the Trikke to work, but the 15-mile trip is a tad too long. Instead, she takes it on eight-mile trips to the post office and other errands.
“It takes no time at all to go to the shopping center eight miles away, and it works all parts of your body while doing it,” she said.
John Sanchez, who reads water meters every day for the City of Buellton, said he used to hurt his back running in and out of a truck dozens of times a day reading the meters and heading to the next property. He also cut down a two-man operation to a solo job and finished the route quicker.
“Instead of using a truck and a co-worker to relay the readings, I can cut through backs of buildings and industrial sections and cover a lot of ground,” said Sanchez, who can travel around 15 mph on his electric hybrid Trikke. “I end up doing the whole book in six hours instead of eight.”
But most importantly, he’s having fun while working.
“It’s just fun. You can be across town in a couple minutes and people will stop you and want to try it themselves,” Sanchez said, adding that all a rider needs to do is bend his or her knees — it’s that easy.
Simpson said he sees the opportunity for other city workers such as police to use a Trikke for patrolling.
“Officers can fold it up and put in the back of their car, so it’s easy, portable and user-friendly,” he said.
Long Beach, Sacramento and San Francisco are all in testing phases with the Trikkes and may be used for deploying the units for tours, rentals and inner-city business deliveries to supporting police and staff mobility around airports and large facilities.
“We want to get word out there to investors and municipalities, and it wouldn’t cost much to do a test city with widespread adoption,” Simpson said. “We’ve got the product and the ideas. Now it’s just finding the supporters to leverage this tech opportunity.”
With gas prices rising and environmental concerns on the radar, many people are talking about investing in hybrid cars, but Simpson said this is an opportunity to ween communities off four wheels.
“I think our timing is really good because with the price of gas going up we’re a part of that national conversation,” he said.
Assemblyman Das Williams selected Trikke Tech Inc. as the 2011 Small Business of the Year in District 35, which includes most of Santa Barbara County and part of Ventura County. Simpson asked Williams to ride an electric hybrid model around town two years ago.
“From what I heard, people would see Das riding around all over town and he put a sign that said ‘Vote for Das,’” Simpson said. “It was a real attention-getter for someone in the public eye, and it fits perfectly into his environmental position and effort to reduce the state’s dependence on coal and oil.”
Still, Simpson said it was a surprise when Trikke was honored as Small Business of the Year.
“Trikke Tech is exactly the kind of innovative solution that is both responsible and fun,” Williams wrote in an email. “Just like the three wheels of the electric Trikke I have been riding for more than the past two years, the company addresses a demand to reduce our dependence for oil and our carbon footprint, it promotes an active lifestyle and it’s downright fun.”
After looking through about two dozen 460 Forms that list the contributions received for Williams’ 2010 campaign, Noozhawk found no record of Williams’ Trikke. Officials at the county office said they had not received the 801 Forms that included gifts candidates received but said the information should have been available in the 460 Forms. According to a report in the Ventura County Star, Williams reported $2,567 in gifts, the most expensive being a one-year rental of a Trikke valued at $420.
Williams said Trikke Tech did a good job advancing its product.
“This business is a model of how to take an idea and consciously evolve in a smart way,” he said. “The business started with the basic body-powered Trikke, then introduced the model for the snow, naturally advancing to the electric powered option, which helps address the larger need to help save our environment.”
The average cost for a Trikke is about $300, and the electric hybrids run about $1,900. Children’s versions run $99 to $199.
With factories in China and Brazil, Simpson said the company is looking for the resources to concentrate more of its operations in California.
“We’ve had to weather some ups and downs,” he said, “but we haven’t had much help from outside investors. Now we need some help.”