Westfield engineer develops adult tricycle
WESTFIELD, Mass.—Back when the recession first hit, mechanical engineer Gary P. Webster noticed the manufacturers that had always hired him to design and build automation systems for their factories were sending those factories overseas.
So he decided to come up with a product of his own and build it here.
"We had better start doing more manufacturing here, or otherwise my grandchildren will be stuck doing some pretty menial jobs," Webster, who lives in West Springfield, said.
The thought lead to the American Eagle Cycle. It is a tricycle for adults - especially senior citizens or some living with disabilities - looking for a little outdoor exercise on a solidly-built machine but unable to hold balance themselves on a regular bicycle.
"I have a road bike and bad back," Webster, 66, said. "A road bike and bad back do not go well together."
After three years of tweaking the design, he says the American Eagle is ready for production. He already has four employees at his company, Berkshire Group, 184 Falcon Drv. near the Barnes Air National Guard Base.
Westfield was famous as the home of Columbia Bicycles. But Columbia Manufacturing now focuses on school furniture and other products. Webster said he's showing his design, which he patented in February, to Columbia looking for feedback.
Owning one won't be cheap. He plans to sell them for $2,499 each plus shipping and handling. But he said all the bearings are sealed, so there will be no maintenance cost. He could have done it cheaper by buying foreign-built parts and materials.
Some parts, such as the Shimano wheel hubs, had to come from overseas because there are no more domestic companies doing that kind of work. However, Webster owns the molds for the fiberglass seat and has them made for him by a Vermont company.
A lot of the research Webster did was on his target market. More than 40 million Americans are 65 and older, a figure expected to grow fast over the next few years as the nation's 78 million baby boomers age.
"As you get older it gets harder and harder to find ways to get exercise outdoors," Webster said. "When you think about the large retirement communities in Florida and the West. There is a huge market out there."
But baby boomers can be touchy, marketing director Lisa Lococo said. At first, American Eagle avoided the term "tricycle" on its website and in its printed material until she learned that the company was hard to find on the Internet without the keyword, Tricycle.
"But our focus groups said there was a negative connotation to the word," she said. "It sounds juvenile."
American Eagle isn't just a supersized version of a toddler's trike, Webster said. "We specifically wanted to avoid this appearance because many of our focus group participants didn't want to be seen on this style," Webster said .
Instead, the 65-pound American Eagle is semi-recumbent. That is, not like a regular bike but not as low-slung as a fully recumbent bicycle. It's on an aluminum chassis and steers with two handles that swing out of the way so the rider can sit down. The handles are linked to the front wheel with aircraft cable.
The seat is 16 inches off the ground, about the same height as a desk chair, Webster said.
Both handles have brake controls for the back wheels. One handle controls a variable-speed transmission enclosed in the chassis. The fiberglass seat has a storage bin in the back and provides back support.
Webster said he knows there are some tweaks he has to make to the design. The current American Eagle lacks a parking brake for instance.