Troy Rank throws his bicycle over his shoulder in one effortless move and walks up the steps into College Town’s Corner Bakery Cafe.
“I think this is the lightest one on the market,” he says about the electric bike he made, which weighs 27 pounds and reaches a top speed of around 20 miles per hour. “I don’t know of anyone even remotely doing the same thing. The closest I heard was 36 pounds.”
Rank is founder and product architect of Maxwell Motorbikes, a Rochester-based company that makes the Maxwell EPO, an electric bicycle that has a range of about 20 miles before needing a charge.
The electrical engineer has logged countless miles on his electric bikes over the years— and 4,400 of them earned him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for “longest motorized bicycle journey.” The 30-year-old made a trip from his hometown in Walworth to Boulder, Colo., in 30 days in August 2014 because “I thought it would be great to see what was possible without a chase vehicle carrying spare batteries.” Despite having to put in 150 to 200 miles a day, and challenges that included three flat tires in a 24-hour period, he broke the previous record of 4,200 miles covered over several months.
Now his challenge is to get the Maxwell EPO to more beta testers (attention: Rochester bike enthusiasts) as the first orders to paying customers head out in April.
“Our goal is to give people an alternative to using their car every day,” he says. “E-bikes offer a huge gateway to use this type of transportation.”
An added bonus: You don’t have to get sweaty on your way to work pedaling up steep hills or into the wind.
“This morning I had a 20-mile-per-hour headwind on the canal path,” says Rank, now at a table, hands wrapped around a steaming coffee cup. “A normal bike would be crawling at 5 miles per hour. But this,” he pauses to point to his bike now resting by the front door, “was able to maintain a normal riding speed.” The Maxwell EPO can work like a traditional bike (and are compatible with traditional bike accessories) or be operated with pedal assist—a power switch lets riders toggle between the two options. A battery pack that offers a 300-watt boost in electrical power ampli es the 150 watts generated by an average rider. Cylindrical batteries fill each piece of the frame, one of the features described in detail last year by technology magazine Gizmag. With help from a regular wall outlet and a port on the control unit, housed in a black triangular cover on the frame between the pedals, a charge takes roughly 45 minutes.
The Maxwell EPO base model sells for $2,000. A fully equipped model with customized upgrades—additional speeds, fenders and racks, lighting, etc.—can cost nearly $3,000. It’s a far cry from Rank’s first attempt at constructing an electric bike in 2005. “It originally weighed over 100 pounds, and the technology is kind of antiquated by today’s standards,” he says. “It has been an eternity of time since 2005 in the e-bike realm.”
The prototype for the current model took a couple of months, with a team of five people, in the spring of 2015. Since then, Rank, who has a master’s degree in entrepreneurship from Rochester Institute of Technology, where students and advisors from the Simone Center’s business incubator help out as contractors and interns, has been trying to improve its weight and appearance.
Parts come from elsewhere—controllers and speed regulators from Toronto, base frames from Taiwan—but the e-bikes are constructed and modi ed here in Rochester. Rank has help from Justin Schmidt (frame design and component sourcing), John Lillibridge (industrial design) and John Beilman (mechanical engineering).
“We overuse cars,” Rank says. “If we can offset them just a little bit, there would be a huge world of opportunity to save time and money.”
Rank has become such a convert, he doesn’t even own a car. While his wife, Kerra, uses one to commute from their East Rochester home to Canandaigua, his attitude toward automobiles shifted dramatically after a serendipitous find in the trash. Around 2004, he and Kerra were on a walk when they spotted a couple of bikes in a heap of garbage. Sure, the wheels were a little bent, and both bikes needed new tires, but after a little work and about $20, they were good to go.
“I said, ‘We should go all the way to Buffalo,’” Rank recalls. So they did. “I got a rush out of that. I just felt extremely independent and unencumbered. I realized I didn’t need a car to get around. It’s just the lifestyle we’re prescribed.”
He started using his car only in the winter, then only for a few months. That led to selling his car and renting one in the winter, which led to renting a car only in “nasty snowstorms.”
Even if most people don’t get to that point, Rank hopes more move in that direction: “This allows you to be a world-class cyclist without training and eating protein shakes every day.”