Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Power Booster

Charles McVean bets on a hybrid recumbent bicycle.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 21, 2010 at 12:32 PM

When the Shelby Farms Greenline bike trail opens in October, don't be surprised to see a silver-haired septuagenarian cruising along on an electric-powered recumbent bicycle.

Memphis commodities trader Charles McVean is betting that the Aerobic Cruiser Hybrid Cycle will ride a wave of enthusiasm for the bike trail, going green, and alternative transportation.

The bicycles will be manufactured in Memphis and sold at a new bike shop in the High Point Terrace neighborhood where McVean grew up. The trail is about a quarter of a mile south of the store, which shares space in a small shopping center with a grocery store, pub, and dry cleaner.

The Aerobic Cruiser Hybrid Cycle is a rich ride. It will sell for $5,000, including $800 worth of lithium ion batteries, putting it in the price category of motorcycles and used cars. McVean plans to have them on sale before the Greenline opens October 9th. After the initial production of two-wheelers, he hopes to have a three-wheeler within a year.

"It's an alternative to a car if you have a safe place to ride," said McVean, founder of McVean Trading. "The biggest problem is the inability to get across I-240 safely. Now we go right under it on the bike trail."

Conventional recumbent bicycles have small wheels, a low profile, and an ample seat with a backrest to make pedaling easier on the knees. The electric hybrid can switch between pedal power and electric power and cruise at 15-20 miles an hour.

McVean got the bug a few summers ago when he was vacationing in northern Michigan. The countryside is hilly and windy. McVean was riding a high-tech semi-recumbent tricycle built in Montana and reading up on the lithium battery that will power General Motors hybrid cars.

"I was working out and along comes a guy in an electric car. He parks the car, goes inside the facility, and rides a stationary bicycle for 30 minutes, grimacing the whole time. Then he rides off in his electric car. It dawned on me that we could create a comfortable mobile exercise machine that gives the same workout while riding through the countryside at 20 miles an hour and making exercise fun."

McVean is always looking for useful ways to spend his money and energy. Six years ago, he decided that his college alma mater, Vanderbilt, had enough to say grace over and that his wealth would have a bigger impact at his old high school. He funded a foundation and peer-tutoring and cash-incentives program at East High that has helped many students graduate and go to college and graduate school. Other kids, however, hold up their end of the bargain and graduate but aren't college material and can't find a job.

McVean and his right-hand man, Bill Sehnert, are working with the vo-tech people at East and hope that eventually Aerobic Cruisers will provide some jobs and develop mechanical aptitude.

The High Point shop will have a service facility, food and beverages, "organized junkets" but not rentals, and high-end mountain bikes and road bikes as well as hybrids. The company is the title sponsor of the grand opening of the Greenline.

"The green wave is going to be a huge deal," said McVean, whose previous brainstorms included indoor horse racing with robot-mounted hackney ponies back in 1987 when Memphis had a serious flirtation with pari-mutuel betting.

Electric hybrid vehicles are getting serious attention from General Motors and FedEx, among others. Bicycles? Well, they led to bigger and better things for Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers. So if you're riding the Greenline this fall and get passed by an old guy on a rolling easy chair, remember he might be power-assisted.

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