Carbondale entrepreneur introduces the brand new, all-electric Terra Bike
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Like a lot of people, Dylan Brown sought shelter from the COVID-19 storm in 2020 by retreating to an out-of-the-way, uncrowded place to ride things out — in his case, the Utah desert.
He didn’t just hunker down, though; he eventually went to work to build a better bike.
The impetus was a plan to set out on some road trips with a raft to run the desert-country river stretches.
After moving in with his parents in Escalante, the Glenwood Springs native and his fiancee, Sarah, were looking for a different way to run shuttle on rafting trips that didn’t involve ride shares or hitchhiking and the inherent risk of disease spread that presented.
A mode of transportation that would be open-air and could be transported with a basic bike rack was also preferred.
An avid mountain biker, Brown started looking at e-bike options to ease the ride and make better time on the typical 15- to 20-mile returns upstream to retrieve the transport vehicle.
“I started looking at what was out there and didn’t see anything that would have the range and speed that we needed to hop on a county road and be safe,” he said.
With the forced down-time after suspending his work as a commercial photographer when he couldn’t travel due to the COVID restrictions, he decided to turn his efforts toward coming up with a transportation solution.
The end result is the Terra Bike, an all-electric motorcycle without the pedal assist that falls in the same classification for licensing purposes as a moped. The bikes are equipped with a 72-volt rechargeable battery and can reach a top speed of 55 mph with a 60-mile range.
Brown is now ramping up for on-demand production of the slick new e-cycle this year and, in the meantime, can often be seen riding and showing off his working prototype model, the Terra Prime, around Carbondale.
Initially, to aid on those river trips, Brown ordered up the parts to build a Stealth Bomber bike — a juiced-up type of electric pedal-assist bicycle, or e-bike, that had become popular as a racing machine in China and more recently in Australia.
“I built it in like four months, and it was really fun, and I learned a lot,” he said. “But there were definitely some things that I came to realize that I absolutely didn’t like.”
Namely, the more powerful the motor, the more bike pedals just tend get in the way and end up becoming a protrusion on which to bash your shins.
Brown also wanted his bike to be versatile enough to navigate muddy, dirt trails and ride pavement. That meant he needed to design a better center of gravity for the motor and also find a way to contain the motor, battery and controls in a waterproof compartment.
He credits his dad, Ricki Brown, with the background knowledge of motorcycles that helped him with the design. His dad always had a motorcycle rebuild project in his shop when Dylan was growing up. That helped him develop his own love for classic motorcycles.
But a motorcycle wasn’t practical for what he was trying to accomplish. Plus, he didn’t care for the grease, the pollution and, “honestly, the noise” of a motorcycle, he said.
There was definitely something to be said for the design, though.
He took his ideas to the drawing board and came up with the Terra Bike — a low-powered electric motorcycle that’s versatile enough for commuting to and from the office or errands around town to ripping dirt trails. The bikes come with street-legal head, brake and indicator lights and a horn.
Critical to the final design was to come up with a fully water- and dust-proof enclosure with watertight seals for the motor, battery, electronic components and charging port.
“Think about trying to go over Cottonwood Pass or up on top of McClure Pass, and it’s raining,” Brown said. “It doesn’t matter how much you seal a regular e-bike; water ingress is the real issue that can cause problems.”
Brown grew up in Glenwood Springs, graduating from Glenwood High School and going on to study civil engineering at the University of Utah before deciding in his junior year that wasn’t what he wanted to do.
He switched majors to photojournalism and also started racing mountain bikes on the Rocky Mountain circuit until an injury ended that pursuit.
He worked in newspapers in Utah and Montana and then for a bike magazine before becoming a commercial photographer, which he’s been doing for the past dozen or so years.
His engineering studies came into play through his work mapping out photo shoots for commercial advertising, especially in working with fabricators and engineers to get the right angles for the latest mountain bike models.
“I also got to ride a lot of different bikes, so I could understand the geometry and what they were trying to capture (in the ads),” he said.
All of that definitely came in handy when it was time to design the Terra Bike.
“The idea behind the bike was to keep it as lightweight as possible because anything electric, the more weight you put on it, the more strain it’s going to have on the battery,” Brown said.
Currently, the end product weighs 160 pounds, including a mid-drive, 3-kilowatt motor, which is different from standard, pedal-assist e-bikes that have the motor in the rear hub or combo rear/front hub.
“Living in Carbondale, I wanted to be able to go up to places like the (motor bike) trails on The Crown or up Transfer Trail and rip some trails,” he said.
That meant placing the gearing where the center of gravity is lower and centered on the bike.
By keeping the motor at 3 kilowatts, the Terra Bike is classified as a moped, so a full driver’s license is not needed.
It combines mountain bike, e-bike and motorcycle components for a crossover design that combines some of the best performance features of each.
For instance, there’s a sturdier downhill mountain bike fork with a typical mountain bike headset, handlebars and e-bike style piston brakes.
Brown said he initially looked at incorporating mountain bike wheels, but that was where the motorcycle dirt bike design ended up coming into the mix.
The Terra Bike comes equipped with a 19-by-1.85 inch dirt bike rims and 10-gauge spokes, with a custom rear hub Brown has sourced from a shop in Denver. This allows the bike to hold speeds of 55 mph.
James Bleakley, a custom mountain bike frame builder out of Fort Collins, helped Brown with the frame design that’s now used with the final product.
The motor has three speed modes, including a lower mode, called “city mode,” that tops out at 25 miles per hour, then a mid-range for up to 40 mph and high-speed mode for up to 55. The bike is not legal for the Rio Grande Trail and is not recommended for longer stretches on state highways but is fine for county roads and forest routes, Brown said.
“If you’re riding sub-30 miles per hour, you’ll get 60 miles or more on a charge,” he said. “And if you’re riding at 55, you’ll probably get more like 45-50 miles. So, it’s really speed and acceleration dependent, just like driving a gas motor.”
Brown said his ideal customer for the Terra Bike ranges from the city commuter to someone looking for a new toy to take out onto the backcountry trails.
Someone like Draper White, one of Brown’s first customers who is looking forward to owning his own Terra Bike.
“I never really considered myself a dirt bike person, but I liked the idea of having an electric bike that’s quiet and that I can get on the back of my Subaru,” White said. “I do a bit of elk hunting, so it will be nice to take up to spot where I can’t drive my car.”
On nice days, it can also be a way to get from his home in Missouri Heights to his work studio in Basalt.
“It’s also another fun thing to ride around the dirt roads and just another way to explore.”
Brown said he’s gearing up for a pilot run of 10 bikes, most of which are already spoken for. Reservations are also being taken for bike deliveries in November or December of this year.
More information at terrabikes.com.
Bonedale Bike Week gets rolling, fueled by free coffee, snacks and a scavenger hunt
The Bike Scavenger Hunt and finale party begins at 6 p.m. Thursday at Aloha Mountain Cyclery. It’s a scavenger hunt around town for teams of two to six people. Participants will meet at 5:45 p.m. at Aloha Mountain Cyclery (580 Highway 133).