Hit the Rhoades with solar-powered bike
Friday, June 07, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 23 — By Hollie Deese
If you’re looking for an environmentally friendly way to get around town, ride a bicycle. Not everyone, of course, has the ability or desire to hit the open road alone on two wheels. But thanks to Hendersonville’s Rhoades Car International, anyone can enjoy riding without producing emissions. Rhoades Car is a four-wheel bicycle manufacturer that received the Tennessee Green Business Innovator of the Year Award in 2011. Some models are powered simply by pedal-power, while others have an electric-assist motor powered by two rechargeable, 12-volt batteries.
“People who are weight-challenged, have balance issues or certain disabilities can enjoy the experience of biking without the worry of falling,” says Phyllis Shelton, the company’s vice president. “The two- or four-seaters allow a healthy person to take a disabled person – even a blind person – out for exercise, as well.” With an optional motor and up to 42 speeds, people use the bikes as cars in rural areas, small towns and sustainable neighborhoods. The motor is completely silent and allows the bike to go about 13-15 mph. It is deliberately set to go under 20 mph so the bikes won’t be regulated like a motor vehicle. That means no license, tag, oil or gas.
All American, All Midstate – The latest model to roll out of Hendersonville – available in two or four seats – is the SOLARride, an off-the-grid combination of pedal power and electric-assist motor powered by a 240-watt solar panel that charges the battery system. An optional add-on would allow users to plug in, starting at $6,405. The solar model is only the latest step toward sustainability, a natural progression for a product that also fits well in a health-and-wellness niche.
“When we got the company in 2010, sustainability was just starting to roll, and we thought this was going to be important,” Shelton says. “We’re trying to really be totally green.” That includes buying parts for the car as close to home as possible, and with over 80 percent of the components made in America, Rhoades Car is certified Made in the USA. “It is so important to us to use Middle Tennessee suppliers,” Shelton says. “Our frames are from Mount Juliet or Goodlettsville, and the powder coating is [from] Millersville. A lot of parts come from Smithville and Clarksville. The canopies are from Hendersonville. We do as much as we can.”
Aside from the original CycleCar and new SOLARride, other models include the SportPed with seven-speed steering and curved Plexi-glass windshield with UV protection, and – also new this year – the Connect-Bike GoBoy, which allows four people to all pedal independently – in different gears – all at the same time. The technology for that product was designed by a senior design engineering class at Tennessee Tech University.
“We just have to do a few enhancements on what they did, and it’s a great thing for business,” she says. “It was 75 percent of their grade, and they give us the CAD [computer aided design] drawings and intellectual property and everything. It’s huge.”
Shelton is a member of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center’s Catalyst program. She has asked Vanderbilt University engineering students – via her course instructor and Vanderbilt senior lecturer on entrepreneurship Michael Burcham – to design moveable handlebars on a new Omni-Bike Cross Trainer that would allow the rider to enjoy an upper-body workout in addition to pedaling. It is under consideration by the department.
Hendersonville is home – J. David Rhoades founded the company nearly 30 years ago when he designed and built the first Rhoades Car in a small barn at his Hendersonville home. Operations soon moved to a nearby industrial park. The company grew until Rhoades became ill and sales dropped. Shelton and Bill Pomakoy acquired the company in 2010 after Rhoades died. Sales increased 26 percent in 2011 and 52 percent in 2012, thanks to a revamped website, the new models and a network of dealers cropping up across the country.
“We’re changing things slowly and surely, and we are on target to make a profit this year,” Shelton says. “I just presented a package of information to Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda for the Wounded Warriors program. “We have a groundswell of interest building on Facebook and around the country, and we’ve had a cult following on the Internet for many years. We are here, building bikes, and giving Tennesseans jobs.”