Summers builds electrified bicycles in his Pittsfield Village condo. He calls the business Human-Electric-Hybrids, and says it was born of frustration.
In 2012, he was working as an industrial controls engineer in Canton, and burning a tank of gas a week on his commute. “Usually it would take me thirty to forty minutes,” he recalls, “but if I took [M-]14 in and there was really bad traffic, it would take me two to three hours one-way.”
A longtime biking enthusiast, he tried pedaling to work, but didn’t like showing up “all sweaty.” That got him interested in electric bikes. When he researched them online, though, he found that a good, fully outfitted one ran $2,000 to $3,000. So he bought a motor and battery online and set to work customizing his own bike.
When problems cropped up during the installation, the manufacturer was no help. When he complained to his wife, Kim Mayes, about the lack of support, she suggested, “Why don’t you be that guy?” He used his engineering skills to solve the installation problems on his own bike, and found he could get to work in about forty-five minutes, gas free. Six months later, he and Mayes founded HEH.
Installing an electrification kit, he says, is “not for the faint of heart. I’ve had six to eight people bring me kits with their bikes, asking if I’d do the project.” Depending on the kit, the motor may be installed in the front or rear wheel hub, or occasionally both; he also builds turnkey ebikes.
Summers says he’s worked on about 125 ebikes so far, including twenty-five for neighbors who got in touch after seeing HEH’s company van outside his condo. That’s how Patrick Padilla found him. “We talked, he made measurements, and it [the bike’s motor] fit perfectly,” Padilla says. “It used to take me thirty-five minutes to bike to work [at State St. and Michigan Ave. in Saline] without a motor. Using the motor, it takes fifteen to twenty.” Padilla says he gets lots of positive comments, including “That’s really cool!” “How long does it take you to get to work?” and “Where did you get that done?”
Summers says HEH’s charge for a low-power kit and installation starts at $500 (or less if the customer provides the kit). Turnkey bikes run $700 and up. Unlike scooters and mopeds, ebikes aren’t considered motor vehicles, so riders don’t need registration, insurance, or a driver’s license. Riders can choose whether to propel themselves by pedal power alone, cruise with the electric motor and manual throttle (there’s a 20 mph limit when using this option), or pedal and use the motor simultaneously. Batteries can be recharged from a regular household circuit and are good for ten to forty miles, depending on the battery, motor, and amount of pedaling.
Summers says that Performance Bicycle, REI, and Walmart all sell turnkey ebikes, but unlike HEH, their local stores don’t have demonstrators for test drives, and the bikes need to be ordered and can take weeks to arrive. “We’ve got ten bikes ready to go that people can try out,” he says. “We can give [a customer] a customized bike with the fit and level of power they want in a few days.”
Summers says his buyers include middle-aged and older people trying to stay active, and younger ones who don’t want to use a car but still want to reach their destinations quickly. He counts himself in the second group: “My wife will drive across town and I’ll use the bike, and be there first as I can legally cut across parking lots and miss traffic.”
In November, Summers quit his engineering job to work full-time at HEH. With the onset of winter, he admits, “I thought I’d do ten bikes between November and March.” But he sold that many before Christmas–and another twenty-five by mid-March.