H.E.H. Human Electric Hybrids' electric bicycle shop opened just weeks ago in Ypsilanti, but it's already attracted customers from as far as Toronto.
The store's owner, Ypsi Township resident Jim Summers, opened his first brick-and-mortar store in mid-July at 25 S. Huron St. after running the business from his basement and garage for several years.
All electric bikes, or e-bikes, can run for at least 10 to 15 miles on a single charge and most of them are capped at 20 mph. Riders don't have to pedal on an e-bike, but pedaling while running the motor helps save the battery.
Most of the e-bikes sold at H.E.H. Human Electric Hybrids are factory bikes made by about a dozen other companies, but Summers also builds some of the bikes himself. The shop offers virtually any service relating to both e-bikes and traditional bikes, including conversion, customization, modification, assembly, repairs, tuneups, delivery, and shipment of lithium batteries.
Summers has enjoyed riding bikes since he was a kid with a newspaper route. His interest in e-bikes started later in life when he sought out the best way to commute to work after moving into a new home in Ann Arbor, about 20 miles away from his office in Canton. He didn't want to risk sitting in rush hour traffic if he drove a vehicle and he discovered the round trip on a regular bike was too exhausting after a 10-hour work day.
Summers bought a small motor to put on his bike, but it didn't work at first and he didn't receive much help with troubleshooting, so he used his background as a control engineer to fix it himself. That's what caused him to begin building e-bikes in the summer of 2012, starting with one for himself, one for his wife, and a third for visitors. He realized there was a demand for e-bikes when people kept asking if they could buy one from him, and he ended up continuously selling his spare bike and building a new one.
Summers officially registered his business in early 2013. He and his wife, Kim Mayes, decided to sell their vehicles and buy a company van so they had a way to move bikes around when the business was about a year old. They both try to ride their e-bikes as often as they can instead of driving the van.
"For the number of miles we used to drive and the number of miles we've put on the van in three years, we think we've saved 25,000 to 35,000 miles' worth of driving a vehicle by using bikes," Summers says.
Summers initially liked e-bikes because they allowed him to get some exercise while commuting to work, but after about a year of building and selling e-bikes, he realized their numerous other benefits, including saving money on gas and reducing the use of fossil fuels. E-bikes also make it possible for people with physical disabilities or impairments to get back on a bike and start riding again.
"We've had some people tell us that it's changed their life because they used to love biking so much, but got to a certain age [and] couldn't do it anymore because of an injury or whatever," he says. "But then, once they found e-bikes, they can get back out with their spouse or with their family and do the biking they used to do."
Brianna Kelly is the embedded reporter for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.
All photos by Brianna Kelly.