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Torrington inventor makes motorized bicycles

Posted: Monday, Sep 22nd, 2008

You may have seen him riding around Torrington on a three-wheel bicycle, but chances are he wasn’t pedaling.

Marvin Hughes, a retired farmer from Morrill, Neb., has invented a motorized bicycle in his Torrington garage that takes him around town on errands without the fuss and expense of a car. Hughes made his first bike in 2006, when he put an electric motor on a three-wheel bicycle. In 2007, he made two more custom three-wheel bicycles that are driven by an electric motor.

Hughes says he invents in order to stay busy. At 83 years old, Hughes can frequently be found “tinkering” in his home and garage, inventing items like an automatic can crusher, a device to get fish worms without digging and custom table lamps.

“I like to have something to do,” Hughes said. “Some people say I am crazy but when they want something fixed, I am not that crazy.”

According to Hughes, it takes three bicycles to make one three-wheel bike because he only uses the front wheels on his invention.

The bicycles are powered by lawn mower batteries and have 24-volt systems. The bike made from a normal three-wheel bicycle has two batteries while the two that have custom-made rear frames have room for four batteries. The extra batteries give the bike motors electricity for a longer running time but do not make the bikes go any faster.

According to Hughes, the battery-powered bikes do not require a motor vehicle license since they all have pedals. Hughes said he clocked one of his bicycles at around 20 miles per hour at its top speed. His bikes can handle riders weighing up to approximately 275 pounds.

“I took the black bike to the canal north of town and then traveled about 11 miles,” Hughes said. “When I got back the batteries were fully charged in 28 minutes after traveling 22 miles. Around town you get more mileage because you can use the motor for one-third of a block and coast the rest of the way. I go out to Pamida, the Family Dollar Store and to the grocery store.”

Hughes’ bikes are equipped with a bulb type horn, front wheel brake, mirror and turn signals. A smaller wheel on the front of the bike has a sprocket with a chain going to the electric motor. When a toggle switch on the handlebars is pushed, the motor that drives the smaller wheel is activated. The smaller wheel presses against the larger front bike wheel and rotates it by friction. When the toggle switch is disengaged, the motor quits and the bike coasts.

“The smaller wheels and sprockets on the front of my bikes were the back wheel on two-wheel electric powered scooters,” Hughes said. “I can get more wheels and sprockets but am having a hard time getting more electric motors. I didn’t make the bikes to sell but I have a man that I would like to have start a business making the bikes. Sonny’s Bike Shop in Scottsbluff (Neb.) has electric motor powered bicycles for around $350. The way to see what the bikes are like is to take one for a ride.”

Hughes’ motorized three-wheel bikes are a hit with his family – some of his nieces have promised to find transportation to get the three motorized bikes to a family reunion in Fort Robinson State Park next August.

Although Hughes’ design is original, getting a patent for his invention is not possible.

“My son checked into getting a patent on the bikes,” Hughes said. “Getting a patent is impossible since most everything on them is already patented - the frames, the seats and the wheels.”

There are several bikes currently on the market that are similar to Hughes’ invention. Most have similar top speeds and ranges, but Hughes’ bike can carry the most weight.

Hughes’ bikes, which are not quite bicycles and not quite motorcycles, may need to be registered with authorities to be ridden on city and county roads.

Bob Stoffacker, chief investigator at the Wyoming Department of Transportation Compliance and Investigation Division, said that according to Wyoming statutes a motorized bicycle actually falls in the category of motorcycle. A bicycle with a motor cannot be considered self-propelled. He said technically a motorcycle operated on any public roadway needs to be licensed.

“It boils down to the community and what they will allow,” Stoffacker said. “Mopeds are exempt from registration and you can ride them all over.”

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