E-Bike Revolution

It feels like a normal bike shop. It looks like a normal bike shop. But Wakefield Gregg’s E-Bike Store is unlike any other bike shop in Portland.

Wakefiled Gregg, a George Fox MBA student, in his bike shopGregg, a George Fox MBA graduate, sells electric bicycles. Although his store has the typical, laid-back feel of a friendly Portland bike hangout, it’s with a twist. His customers at the store drink free lattes and speak in terms of watts, charge times, power curves, torque sensors and mileage.

“The bikes make total sense,” Gregg said. “They reduce your gas bill, help people get exercise and are good for running errands. Forty percent of all car trips are two miles or less. The average commute is 5-12 miles. These bikes fit all that.”

During a trip to China while a student, Gregg watched as gas in the United States climbed to more than $4 a gallon and noted that there were 90 million electric bikes on the road in China. He instantly wanted one for himself.

The bicycles come equipped with racks and fenders and can cruise down the road 20 mph – even uphill. They handle surprisingly well, and riders can zoom down the street while casually pedaling. Some of the bikes have twist throttles. Others have torque sensors that can tell how hard the rider is working. Depending on the setting, the bikes will kick up the electric assist when the going gets tougher.

“The people who are buying want to be part of the cycling revolution, but they don’t feel ready or in shape to buy a traditional bike and are nervous around cars,” Gregg said.

Portland is well-known for its bike-friendly atmosphere, and while the response has been overwhelmingly positive, some of the cycling purists sniff at the thought of electricity helping push them up hills. But even the purists appreciate that electric bikes help get cars off the road.

“I believe in sustainability,” Gregg said. “This business is an outgrowth of that value. I wanted to create a business that promotes sustainability and health inherently. This was a natural fit given my value set.”

Everything in his northeast Portland store speaks to his commitment to sustainability. Some of the wood came from an old barn from the coast. The slat walls he got from another business that didn’t survive. Energy-efficient lights are hung by brake cables.

When Gregg, a lifelong bike enthusiast, began his MBA at George Fox, he knew he wanted to start a business. The trip to China with his cohort gave him the idea he needed. At first, he thought he’d import his own line but quickly realized that he would go bankrupt doing that. Then he considered being a sales rep for an established line, but the response from traditional bike shops was tepid.

When Gregg started looking at a loan for his own bike shop, the banks said “sure” at first. But then the economy tanked.

“The only loan I could get was a $10,000 [Small Business Administration] loan at 12 percent,” Gregg said. “And there was a 58-page application.”

Gregg took the lessons from his class on entrepreneurship to heart and got creative. He built a strong connection with Eric Sundeen, who runs a store in Seattle and is one of the electric bike pioneers in America. Gregg sold bikes owned by Sundeen so he wouldn’t have to incur heavy inventory debt and looked for inexpensive ways to outfit his shop.

“It’s incredible how inexpensively we’ve been able to do this,” he said. “We’ve put less than $30,000 into all this.”

Gregg’s passion for bicycles and sustainability has paid off well so far: The shop has turned a profit since the first month. Looks like there will be much more talk of watts, charge times and power curves in Portland.

On the Web: ebikestore.com