Our story started in the beautiful little college town of Boone, NC. Dan and I (Tommy) were roomates, and lived about 5 miles from Appalachian State's campus. With Boone's congested and expensive parking and often delayed bus routes, we both decided that commuting by bike was the best bet. We're both avid mountain bikers, so we were eager to try to commute to class every day, regardless of weather conditions. There were really no safe routes to campus from our apartment, which was located in a rural area outside of Boone. The road we traveled had little to no berm, and traffic cruised at a steady speed of around 40-50 mph. Like many commuters, we outfitted our bikes with the best lighting possible, said our prayers, were hyper aware of our surroundings, and made the commute daily.
I'd been doing the commute for about two years, when one day as I was on my way into campus, I was passed incredibly closely by a large truck. Though I was fine, I'd had enough of threading that dangerous needle. The two years of commuting by bike had gotten us both into incredible shape, and it was a great stress reliever, but it was admittedly a bit slow, and definitely too dangerous under Boone's conditions. I decided that there had to be a better way. From my many hours on the road, I'd realized that when I was moving quickly downhill, I very rarely ever had any issues with motorists. I noticed that it was most dangerous when the speed differential between me and rear-approaching traffic was high. So my conclusion was simple: to build a vehicle that could keep up with the flow of traffic and enabled the rider to get exercise at the same time. The existing electric bikes on the market, equipped for 20 mph were too slow to keep with the flow of traffic. What I needed was a high speed electric bike, so that's what I spent the next few months building.
Dan grew up in a machine shop, his family business revolves around one, so he was naturally inclined towards the project. We began sourcing components for a build that was capable of the necessary 40 mph for our commute. The product of our labor and a meager college budget was the T-Wrex:
The T-Wrex was a thrill, and got me through a year of school before I decided it was time for some major upgrades. The powerful motor, heavy lead batteries, and all steel bracketry overwhelmed the dainty chassis. The aerodynamic drag at high speeds was surprisingly significant, and the single front disc brake wasn't up to the job of braking duties at high speeds. At this point, we began researching new types of chassis, and new battery systems.
We began gravitating towards recumbent chassis because of their incredible aerodynamics, which translated to significantly increased range. The search for more braking power led us to the recumbent tadpole trike chassis for its dual front disc brakes. After endless hours of battery research, we settled on lithium chemistry batteries. Because we were operating on a college budget, we chased down hundreds of used battery packs from cordless drills, disassembled them, tested hundreds cells individually, and assembled them into one centralized pack. The pack, though it was nearly free, cost hundreds of hours of labor. When all of these parts came together, the result was the Skunk:
Weighing in at nearly 125 lbs, and clocking 56 mph, this was the steady steed that saw me through the next year of school. I couldn't have been more thrilled.
After almost a year on the trike, I began to see through my lovestruck eyes some opportunities for some very large improvements on my faithful steed. Namely, in the motor department. As I researched, I began to discover that lightweight, extremely powerful motors from the RC helicopter industry were beginning to make their way onto bikes and trikes. Having the opportunity to trade my 25 lb motor for a 5 lb motor, while maintaining the same power level and increasing efficiency, I decided to take the plunge. The Transition One was the result:
With its tire smoking torque, and nearly 40 lbs shaved off the overall weight of the trike, I was more than thrilled. Dan and I began to work closely with Matt Shumaker (Recumpence) at this point to further refine his compact, high power drive systems.
With the increased capability and range of the new trike, I found myself using it for almost everything. My car would often be parked for days on end, and all of my traveling miles accomplished on the trike.
At this point, Dan decided to start a build of his own, using a Trek that had been around the family for years, in combination with one of these drive systems. Here's Dan with his early masterpiece: