It’s no secret that the pandemic, lockdowns and isolation have fueled a growing demand for bikes and riding in the last year, which has also led to a worldwide bike shortage, meaning new bikes are very hard to find, impossible, even. 

That bike shortage has also affected an innovative local program that originates at a local bike shop, ‘Webster Cog and Sprocket,’ and is spearheaded by the Burnett and Polk County Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC). 

According to Burnett County Administrator Nate Ehalt, over the last five years, the ADRC has been able to provide custom, motorized electric tricycles to eligible people 55-and-older or those who live with disabilities and are unable to drive. Under the program, the ADRC has covered the cost of building the ‘E-trikes’ and delivering them to hundreds of people since the effort began.

“It is a cool program,” ‘Webster Cog and Sprocket’ co-owner Sherrill Summer said. “We convert an adult, single speed trike into an electric trike here in Webster. They are very popular for those who get them!”

This year the ADRC funded a total of 50 E-tricycles, distributed equally between the counties, with 25 going to Burnett and 25 going to Polk county residents.

“Interested residents of Burnett and Polk county can contact the ADRC to be added to a list for future years, although the program may be a bit smaller next year, depending on funding,” Summer said, also noting that the innovative activity and their engineering is gaining popularity across the region. “We have Minnesota residents also interested in purchasing trikes, but we are waiting for trikes.”

Future program funding is not the only threat to the program, as Summer pointed out the worldwide popularity of bike riding over the last year has made new products all but impossible to find.  

“There is a shortage of bikes/trikes, but hopefully this fall we can get more,” she said optimistically.

For people who haven’t ridden an E-bike, the power is surprising, and the systems do allow human assist – encourages it, even – so the rider can add some horsepower to the journey. But even if they never pedal a stroke, the electric system assist allows a newfound mobility for people who may not be able to walk, drive or pedal great distances. The E-trikes make hills seem like no big deal, and add a level of freedom previously unknown to hundreds of local folks.

However, the added demand for bikes of all flavors and new product shortages means the ‘Webster Cog and Sprocket’ crew has had to get innovative.  

“Yeah, the demand for electric bikes/trikes is through the roof,” Summer added, noting that the bike shop has found a way to work around the shortage. “We can’t keep the most wanted models in stock so we are converting suitable bikes to electric in a similar way we have been doing to the trikes for years.”  

According to administrator Nate Ehalt, the ADRC program has allowed the Webster shop to convert, create and then give out 317 E-trikes, so far. The program recipients also receive a tire pump, lock, helmet, cover and even a safety flag, at no cost to the recipients.