This interview first appeared in the May issue of the Ashland Locals Guide
Ashland Electric Bikes – Changing the World One Bike at a Time
Jerry Solomon is a man who walks, or to be more accurate, rides his talk. A life-long bike enthusiast, Jerry opened Ashland Electric Bikes over five years ago after converting his own standard bicycle to utilize electric-assist technology. The results were nothing less than an epiphany of sorts for him and he immediately started work on a 2nd and then a third bike. The momentum kept building and within six months time it became obvious to Jerry that a business was wanting to be birthed. Six years later his thriving business in the Hersey Street Business Park stands as a testament to that original epiphany. I talked with Jerry recently to learn about how he has been able to align his passion for environmental sustainability with his livelihood.
Congratulations on 5 years of success Jerry. Tell us about your journey in the early days of the business.
This journey began as a passionate interest in the possibilities that electric bikes offer. I saw that e-bikes could truly make a tangible difference in our reliance on fossil fuels for transportation. Ashland is a perfect town for electric bikes due to the combination of our small size and the terrain challenges. I investigated and saw that the traditional bike shops weren’t embracing the new technologies. I felt compelled to introduce Ashland to this amazing transportation alternative and I was able to do it in a way that supported community rather than competition. I jumped in and began a learning curve that had my head spinning at times. Every bike I sold represented one less car driving around Ashland some of the time and that payoff is what kept me moving forward.
Ashland can be a tough market for retailers. How have you managed to do so well?
The primary key to the success I’ve enjoyed is something my father instilled in me at a young age. He said that if your product is good and your customer service is great, people will beat a path to your door. Its proven to be true even though my door isn’t the easiest one in town to find! Additionally, I have proceeded slowly and allowed the business to grow in an organic, loan-free fashion. My study of the industry and ongoing training with experts in the U.S., Canada, and Australia has helped me to make solid choices about products and companies. After five years of seeing what has come through the door in need of repair, I know which brands to steer clear of in my desire to offer quality bikes.
I understand that the technology has progressed in a short period of time. Has this made your job any easier?
Absolutely. Batteries have gotten lighter with greater capacity and more dependability in the last five years. The quality brands are even more reliable overall than they were when I got started back in 2009. The industry is evolving very quickly and we’re all learning every step of the way. However, there’s still plenty of cheap product out there. Buyer beware; if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Conversely, a higher price isn’t always a guarantee of higher quality. As the demand for e-bikes grows globally more and more players are getting involved at every level from production to sales. Many of these companies and retailers will fall away as the industry matures, leaving the solid core intact. You want to invest in a product and a seller who will be around to support you through the years.
Lots of people in Ashland use bikes to get around town. Who is ideally suited for an e-bike?
I’d say anyone who wants to be more environmentally friendly and wants to move away from their reliance on cars is a candidate. Any household considering a second car is ready for an e-bike. I’d love to see parents gifting young graduates with their first e-bike rather than adding yet another auto to the roads. E-bikes are perfect for anyone wanting to shift away from an auto-centric lifestyle.
Jerry you are quite an inspiration when it comes to the sustainable transportation lifestyle. How doable is this for the average person?
I grew up in suburban Chicagoland and watched the ravages of growth and sprawl firsthand. I saw how an auto-centric lifestyle keeps us so disconnected and how it literally gobbled up acre after acre of beautiful rich black topsoil. I vowed to always make housing/lifestyle choices based on the ability to commute primarily by bike instead of car. It didn’t matter if rentals were cheaper ‘down valley’ or the next town over; my home, my work, and all my other needs had to be within biking distance. Its a decision that has served me (and my environment) well.
I know that we’re not going to get the majority of people onto standard bicycles as their primary means of transportation. However, an electric bike changes the entire dynamic. Hills and distances become less of an issue as does the impact of getting hot and sweaty on your way to work, etc. E-bikes are truly the best of both worlds. You have the simplicity, fun, and interaction with nature that bicycling affords combined with the welcome assistance of a quiet, non-polluting motor. With a modicum of clothing additions anybody can get out and ride in all but the most extreme weather conditions. Do the math – its simple – if you choose to ride an e-bike for half of all your trips around town you’ll have reduced your impact by 50%. That’s huge! Can you imagine half the amount of cars and traffic we now see on the roads? That’s a sight I’d love to behold! The longer I pursue this low impact transportation lifestyle, the more I see how this choice can make a substantial difference in people’s personal lives as well as in their communities.
Does this personal and professional integration translate into any other passions you have within the community?
Every e-bike trip around town gives me an opportunity to model what this lifestyle looks like. Rarely do I make a trip via my e-bike that I’m not stopping to educate somebody on the details and merits of my chosen ride. I do my best to spread the e-bike gospel via my monthly article here in the Locals Guide. I also provide a bike every year for the Havurah’s annual fundraiser, and I sponsor and exhibit at our local Earth Day event. I’ve just begun a dialogue with local and federal officials regarding e-bike access to the many wonderful mountain biking trails surrounding Ashland.
Your shop is literally FULL of so many different models. How do you decide which to carry?
Many of my customers ride their bike almost daily. They expect it to perform reliably day after day, therefore quality is the first requirement of any e-bike that makes it into my shop. Excellent company support is just as critical. Currently I have over thirty bikes representing eight different brands on hand. People like to have choices and everybody’s needs are a bit different. Every bike offers a particular set of features that may or may not serve your individual needs or tastes. I’m trying my best to accommodate the widest range of riders within the constraints of the space I have.
Any thoughts of seeking out a larger space?
(Laughs) Yes, absolutely, please, and hurry! We are bursting at the seams at the current location as well as at two additional off-site storage facilities. I’m looking for a space that’s four to five times the size of the current shop, preferably in the railroad district/downtown area. With all that I’m offering currently there’s still so much more that I’d like to present to my riders. I’m just getting started with this adventure!
What is your suggestion for someone looking to enter the world of electric bikes?
Explore my website; it has an abundance of info on the particular bikes as well as other related topics of interest. Come and check out the bikes in person. Take a test ride. I say repeatedly that a test ride is worth ten thousand words. No matter how a particular bike stacks up on paper, its how it feels to you that should be the final deciding factor. A bike that feels comfortable and inspires confidence is the one you’ll choose to ride day after day.
Thanks so much for talking with us. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you or the shop Jerry?
I am passionately committed to do my best to improve the quality of this world we all share. Its become clear to me that my dharma – my purpose – is all about ‘moving the people’. These are incredibly exciting as well as challenging times. Everywhere people are discovering just how powerful they can be to implement change in the world around them. When we join together in solidarity our impact is magnified exponentially. If you feel moved to explore a shift in your lifestyle and you’re ready to embrace a new way of moving about town, come see me. Even if your motivation begins as just a desire to have the most fun you’ve had since you were a kid, that’s a start! Come see me; I’m here to serve.