There is a chicken and egg problem on the islands, and I'm not talking about the chickens that wander wherever they please. The problem for electric biking is that you need some services to make it viable for most people. There are no bike shops on St John, and no bicycle rentals! If you're riding a bike and get a flat tire, there aren't any mechanics, no store with basic bike gear like tubes and patch kits. And why would anyone start any such business, because nobody rides bikes!
I thought I would have to start a business just to be able to ride an electric bike on St John. I worked out logistics for shipping, got some advice from a lawyer, and planned what it would take to successfully have a couple bikes I could bring to the island for my annual vacation and leave them behind so some other people could use them and show them to other people. I tried but didn't succeed last year.
Then I noticed there is a bike builder on St Thomas, who advertised bikes he built on Craigs List. I contacted him and asked him about electric bikes, and he seemed interested. A few months passed, I emailed him again, and he had built an electric bike on one of his Surly frames. A couple months later, I've arranged to have him build a similar bike for me to use while I'm visiting St John in early December. I'm offering the bike for sale to the highest bidder at the end of my trip.
Having a builder on St Thomas is fantastic for getting some traction on the chicken and egg problem. We still need to find some people and businesses on St John that are interested in building out services to make ebiking practical. Anyone interested? Here are some ideas:
- A sales and service agent could start off without a storefront. Just having someone on the islands who residents could ask for a bike demo before they buy, or who could assist with 'road service' for people who get stranded with an ebike, would be one way to jump start a business.
- A store interested in selling electric bikes or just stocking a few basic repair parts would help give people confidence they wouldn't be stranded by a flat tire or other simple repairs. How about one in Coral Bay, and another in Cruz Bay?
- Rentals should be practical in a few places. Maybe Cinnamon Bay campground, or Concordia Eco Resort, or at the place that rents motor scooters in Cruz Bay. I'd like to focus first on building a resident biking culture before introducing rentals, so drivers will get accustomed to expecting to see bikes on the road and the early adopters riding bikes won't be doing it the first time they see the roads on St John.
- Bike tours. Cinnamon Bay to Annaberg Ruins, anyone? How about Coral Bay to Lamesur? Having an experienced guide take tourists on specific fun and safe trips would be a great way to boost ecotourist options on the island.
- Delivery service. Why spend $12 on gas to deliver a sandwich and bottle of wine to someone on a beach, when you get get there almost as quickly for 25 cents of electricity, without worrying you won't be able to find a parking place.
These are just a few possibilities. I don't think I'm going to start any of these businesses myself, but I'd be glad to help facilitate and cheerlead someone else who's interested.