Humboldt Park Man Who Built A Bike That Can Survive Chicago's Intense Weather Wants To Make One For You
This summer, as a small experiment, Grant is making a limited run of 12 Electric Elk bikes. He hopes to have the first ones available in June.
HUMBOLDT PARK — Trevor Grant, of Humboldt Park, wants to get cars off the roads and replace them with electric tricycles with cabins so you can ride them year-round in Chicago's unpredictable weather.
Grant thought it would be nice if they also had a space to carry groceries or a dog, he said.
And since there wasn't anything like that in the market — he built one.
Grant, 38, finalized his prototype for Electric Elk last year. It's now his way of getting around. This summer, Grant is making a limited run of 12 electric tricycles. He hopes to have the first ones available in June, he said.
"People say biking is only a hobby since in general you can only do it when the weather is nice and it's not raining or snowing," Grant said. "So if we bring a ‘bike’ to market that can be ridden year round, would that elevate it to a more legit form of transport?"
Grant — an AI engineer by trade at IBM Research, a mechanic by hobby and a National Guard veteran — calls himself "a sustainable transit radical by evenings and weekends."
Ironically, his interest in tinkering started with cars.
Originally from Macomb, Illinois, Grant said he found an abandoned car in a field when he was a teenager and learned how to fix it with help from a local junkyard guy and auto parts shop.
Grant later played with other cars, including some classics, until he realized tinkering with bikes and trikes "was much more rewarding, safer and easier on the wallet."
Grant experienced a mild stroke in 2021, which made him uncomfortable driving in the city, he said. That also contributed to his mission of creating a sustainable, functional and Chicago-centered alternative to cars, he said.
Considering the vehicle-to-passenger weight ratio, rising car prices and the cost of operating cars, "the math of cars just never made sense to me. Once I got into it, I also realized how bad they are for the environment and dangerous for little kids," said Grant, who has a 1-year-old.
Grant's had the idea for an all-weather bike with a cabin since he was a kid, he said.
"The rise of e-bikes, and especially the e-trike, made this dream attainable. So I bought several base model trikes on Alibaba … and tinkered with them," he said.
Electric Elk has a boxy look with a plexiglass windshield and roof built into an aluminum frame, bright colors and neon signs in front and back. It weighs about 300 pounds and can go up to 20 mph when used with a pedal assist, Grant said.
The name came from following an old naming convention in software — it had to start with an "E" and include an adjective and an obscure animal, Grant said.
"It landed really nicely because I could use an ‘e’ for ‘electric,’ and elk is not that nimble, quick deer, but it kind of just moves along and does its thing," he said.
Since Grant started riding it last year, people have stopped to chat about it, and some even expressed interest in buying one, he said.
Sharon Kaminecki, who owns Earth Rider bike shop in Bucktown, said Chicago weather is an issue for bicyclists. Customers sometimes cancel their rentals because they "got scared of a little rain." Riding a bike with a cabin could be a solution, she said.
"Theoretically, they make a lot of sense. But they haven't taken off here. I’m not sure why," Kaminecki said.
One good thing about unusual bikes is they are visible, which can be good for safety, Kaminecki said. But she also warned against home-built electric bikes, which can be dangerous if not designed and properly stress tested.
So far, Grant said he hasn't had many problems using Electric Elk.
"Drivers are shockingly very courteous," Grant said. "I get less close passes, and they treat me more like a car."
Grant recently added vinyl sides and soft doors with a zipper. The final product might start at $7,500, depending on what options make it, he said.
"Now that I’ve got the prototype, I’m reaching out to people and asking, ‘Here's what I want; can you make 12 of them?’ Because it's a weird number that is too big for me to do personally, but it's almost too small for a fabricator," he said.
Though last summer Grant registered an LLC company, he said he doesn't really focus on profits.
"I can only scale this so large. If anybody wants to copy — I’ll be more than happy because the goal isn't to make a lot of money. If somebody runs wild with it and makes 10,000 of them, that's cool, because that's 10,000 people driving these instead of cars," Grant said.
"The more people ride bikes and use micro mobility, the more infrastructure gets built up for it, which makes more people ride. It's kind of a feedback loop. The entire point of the company was to help get that feedback loop started."
Until then, Grant's favorite part of driving Electric Elk is bringing his buddy, a German shepherd named Patchy, to work every day.
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