As seen in Encore Magazine
November 1, 2014
Kalamazoo is about to be put on the scooter industry map when Fido Motors starts manufacturing its first electric scooter in January.
Fido will have a top speed of 45 mph and a 35-mile range, a detachable battery pack for indoor charging and standard metal parts for easy maintenance. It’s the brainchild of Jeb Gast, owner and president of Fido Motors.
Gast worked in the scooter industry a while before he started Fido. He owned Soundspeed Scooters, a scooter repair and sales shop based in Seattle from 2008 until 2012, before closing the shop, moving to Kalamazoo and committing fully to Fido, which until then had been a side project he had been working on since 2010. Now, two years after he moved to Kalamazoo Gast works with his wife, Krystal, and coworker Andy Searl, and together they help plan the manufacturing and operations of the company.
What makes Fido stand out from the pack of scooters currently on the market is that it’s designed as an answer to frustrations Gast and his customers had when he was a mechanic — most scooters aren’t easily maintained and repaired.
“Fido is really built out of a frustration with what you as a customer are able to buy, all the issues that crop up after you buy a scooter and what happens when you want to take care of it,” Gast says. “Scooter companies really don’t want you to repair your bike yourself. They want the shop to do the repairs. I wanted to change that.”
Most modern scooters are made from an assortment of materials and are designed for aesthetics, making it hard for an owner to get to parts that need to be fixed without removing plates and other parts with specialized tools. To allow owners to do basic repairs on their own bikes, Gast designed Fido to be made from metal, like the scooters of the 1950s and ’60s, and to have standard parts that can be worked on with normal tools — an important money-saving feature.
“You need special tools to work on a lot of other scooters and motorcycles,” Searl says. “And it’s not just a simple set of tools to get the job done. You need proprietary equipment and the knowledge to use it. The parts are produced to be disposable too. It just robs everyone.”
Gast has used his background as a scooter mechanic to make the bike easier to maintain. It includes a rechargeable, removable battery pack, perfect for urban dwellers who don’t have a garage in which to charge their bikes, and tires of all one size (many scooters use a different size for each tire) that can easily be changed after a flat.
“To fix a flat on a modern Vespa, you would basically need a tow truck and about $200,” Gast says.
While Fido Motors continues to work toward a manufacturing launch date, the Gasts and Searl are preparing to debut Fido at an international motorcycle convention and trade show in Milan, Italy, this month, the EICMA (Esposizione Mondiale del Motociclismo).
Meanwhile, the Gasts and Searl continue to network, redesign and manufacture their prototype — a long and sometimes daunting process.
“Jeb’s been working on putting the bike together, and Andy and I have been working on certification requirements from the Department of Transportation to get these bikes on the road (and) funding for the business. And Andy’s been doing a lot of the production work,” Krystal Gast says. “There’s a lot to do, and it’s been a learning process.”
So far, there’s been a lot of interest in Fido, say the Gasts and Searl, who have fielded many inquiries about their project and secured strong investment backing, and the crew is excited to get rolling (pun intended).
“Everyone we’ve shown what we’re doing to seems really excited,” Searl says. “We’re getting a lot of good response.”
But the scooter isn’t the only thing the folks at Fido are investing their energy in — they’re also looking at how to smartly utilize their new space, the old Star Brass Works foundry, at 1415 Fulford St. Fido Motors will use the large space as a business incubator and “makerspace” called Jericho.
“A makerspace is a community space that’s full of people and equipment that allow you to make things,” Jeb Gast explains. “A lot of people liken it to a health club. You pay $100 to go to a health club, and you have trainers and training equipment. A makerspace is the same idea — a place with table saw, 3-D printers and people to show you how to use them.”
Right now, the Gasts host “makers meetings,” which are small group brain-storming and 3-D printing workshops.