COLUMBIA — Like a number of cyclists in mid-Missouri, John Robert Holmes likes to ride to work.
Unlike most, he does not have to pedal.
Holmes rides an electric bike, pedaling only when he feels the need — or to conserve his bike's battery power.
The electric bike is not only the mode of transportation Holmes uses to get around, it is also his business.
Holmes and his friend Ryan Kanavich recently opened Volt Riders at 716 W. Sexton Road, just south of Business Loop 70. The shop offers sales and repair of electric bikes, mopeds and scooters.
Customers come in with needs ranging from a tune-up to a complete overhaul. Rates start at $50 an hour, with a $25 minimum. The store also operates a pick-up service within the Columbia area.
E-bikes: No fuel tanks, no exhaust
Electric bicycles or e-bikes are designed to use rechargeable batteries and can travel up to 20 mph. While they can cost as much as $10,000, or as little as $500, most run between $2,000 and $3,000.
Because e-bikes don't run on fuel, they are inexpensive to operate, and with no engine exhaust, they don't contribute to pollution levels. E-bike owners are also exempt from vehicle fees levied by the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Holmes said one of the main reasons he founded the shop was to share information and "to get people interested in e-bikes (which) are socially conscious vehicles. ... You directly control the pollution."
Both he and Kanavich have spent most of their lives in Columbia, bicycling, skateboarding and engaging in other wheeled activities.
When Holmes was a teenager in Columbia, "and most kids were getting nice cars ... I got a nice bike," he said.
A start in bicycle repair
This love for bikes eventually took him to Walt's Bicycle, Fitness & Wilderness in Columbia, building and fixing bikes. After working at Walt's for a few years and graduating from MU, he opened Holmes Hobbies, an online business selling radio-control car electronics.
Not too long afterward, his passion for bicycles overlapped with his electronics business in the form of the electric bike.
Using knowledge he had acquired about batteries and small motors, Holmes built an electric bike for himself. He could now ride up hills, down streets and to the store without turning the pedals.
About that time, he met Kanavich.
"We had friends that kept trying to introduce us," Kanavich said. "Eventually, we met and became friends."
Kanavich is president of the local moped club, MidMoPed, and has had a keen interest in the two-wheeled machines for years. He said his background is mainly in gas engine repair, while Holmes understands electric motors.
After the two got together, Holmes joined MidMoPed, bringing an electric bike influence to the group.
Nearly four years later, the two of them, along with other members of the club, decided to rent a section of a warehouse to work on their motorized transportation.
"The warehouse has been a process, a constant ebb and flow of members," Holmes said.
Three months ago, a few members who rented benches left, leaving a large part of the warehouse open.
When Kanavich and Holmes considered what to do with the space, Volt Riders seemed to be the answer.
Moped club sparks interest
MidMoPed continues to have meetings at the Volt Riders location, and a few members still rent work benches in the back. Thus, the store maintains a clubhouse feel to it, and customers are often welcomed as honorary members.
Customer and club member Nathaniel Doke noted: "John Rob likes taking things completely apart" and "repairing engines has been Ryan's main hobby for a while."
Doke and others often wander in to strike up a conversation with Kanavich and Holmes while they work. Topics range from the weather, music, travel and, of course, the electric bike.
As Columbia gains more bike lanes and trails, the two owners hope to have more of these conversations at Volt Riders.
Holmes said, "There is no time like the present to get started."