“The residents of Garberville, Calif., didn’t know what to make of 15-year-old Mike Radenbaugh and the odd motorized bikes he was concocting in his family’s garage.
It was 2005, the home-brew era for electric vehicles, and there he was, a high school freshman zooming by at up to 35 miles an hour, not even pedaling. He seemed to defy gravity as he ascended the region’s steep winding roads lined with 300-foot redwoods.
As the captain of the school’s mountain-bike racing team, he had collected a heap of spare frames and parts. Mr. Radenbaugh started tricking them out with old motorcycle-starter batteries, moped motors mail-ordered from Japan and crude powertrains held together with bungee cords, pipe clamps and thick layers of electrical tape. “I needed to find a solution where I had freedom as a young person without a lot of dollars,” he said.
Before long, he was making his 16-mile school commute on his electric Frankenbike.
Wires fried and batteries died. But after six months of experimentation, Mr. Radenbaugh had a semi-reliable electric bike. “It got better and better. And it got faster,” he said. “All of a sudden, I’d be riding into town passing slow cars. I quickly became known as the kooky e-bike guy in my little hometown.” “