By Niamh Bailes
Steve Crutchfield doesn’t cringe at the gas pump anymore. Up until two months ago the Cullman native paid $100 a month to drive his pick-up truck back and forth to the Rehau industrial plant, where he has worked as a shift supervisor for nine years.
Recently, he’s been visiting the gas station just as often, although it is costing him a tenth of the price, at just $10 a month. He has been getting over 150 miles to the gallon with his new vehicle: a bicycle he fitted with a gas powered engine.
“Me and my co-worker were talking about gas prices and alternative ways for us to get to work,” said Crutchfield. “We talked about riding bicycles, but I didn’t want to pedal ten miles and then arrive at work needing a shower. He mentioned hearing about gas-powered bicycles so we went and looked up several different companies that sold the gas motor kits on the Internet.”
Crutchfield and his co-worker ordered the kits, bought bicycles and put their new vehicles together in their garages. Crutchfield’s bicycle cost $250 at Werner’s Outdoor store and the motor kit cost him $200.
“I have $550 in the whole thing,” he said. “Not bad, considering it has saved me so much on gas.”
He has saved about $200 on gas since he started using the bike. It will more than pay for itself within six months.
The bike’s top speed is 35 miles per hour, but that is fine for Crutchfield since it only adds five minutes to his 10-mile drive from Baldwin and he doesn’t need to go on the interstate. His wife, Annette, works as a Legal Secretary in Birmingham, so she opts for a conventional vehicle.
“I thought I would have problems with other vehicles passing me on the roads, but that hasn’t really happened, even on main roads like Hwy 278,” he said. “Cullman is not a bike-friendly town, but is possible to ride back and forth to work safely. It would be great if there were more bike trails around the county, but in the meantime, I just hope car drivers will pay attention to other people using the road.”
Being so visible out on the roads every day has led to a lot of inquiries about the unusual vehicle.
“People stop and ask me about the engine all the time,” he said. “They pass me in their cars and give me the thumbs up. A lot of them say they think it is a very smart idea and they are interested in doing the same thing.”
The only drawback, which Crutchfield has only encountered a few times since he began riding the bike to work, is getting caught in inclement weather. When it rains, he tries to pull into a gas station if there is one close by or stay under an awning until it passes.
“The heat has never been a problem,” he said. “I have never been uncomfortably hot going to work. The problem is rain. If there is no gas station nearby, well, you get wet.”
The plant manager at ReHau, Bruce Claridge, took notice of Crutchfield’s initiative since it is in keeping with the company’s efforts to be environmentally friendly. He had a bike rack installed and began offering incentives to employees to form carpools or use alternative, gas saving, forms of transport.
“It feels good to work for a company that appreciates this kind of thing,” said Crutchfield.
Although his main motivation for riding the bicycle to work is to save money on gas, doing something positive for the environment is a welcome side effect.
“I like to recycle and do different things to conserve energy, but I don’t go around making a big deal about it,” he said. “I think it is everyone’s responsibility to conserve whatever way they can. People are always saying they wish more people would do what I am doing, and I do too. Maybe then, if there was lower consumption, gas prices would go down.”
One bonus Crutchfield didn’t see coming was his rapid weight loss. These days, if he leaves aside his much heavier wallet, he is a lot lighter on the scales.
“You can still pedal the bicycle with the engine installed because it is so light, so I decided to try to get some exercise by pedaling on the way back home from work,” he said. “I have already lost 12 pounds. I had always liked being outdoors but before this, my time outdoors was spent out on the lake just floating; nothing very active. I didn’t even own a bike before.”
By Niamh Bailes