Appalachian student builds and sells electric tricycles

Senior Tommy Ausherman was looking for a quick, safe ride to class each day. What developed not only got him to school on time, it's now become a business.

He builds and sells electric-powered, recumbent tricycles through a company he founded with two friends called FFR Trikes—which stands for Fast, Far, Real. "I was riding my bike to class but wanted something that could keep up with traffic," he said.

Their model is built to travel at 30 mph, in keeping with North Carolina law. It can travel up to 50 miles on one charge. Recharging the battery takes less than an hour, and he's working on how to cut that down to 30 minutes.

"About 10 cents of electricity will take you about 30 to 50 miles," said Ausherman, who is double majoring in appropriate technology and geography with a minor in mathematics. "My goal is to create an alternative for people, to get them out of their cars and do it in an exciting way."

Ausherman is from Chambersburg, Pa., and will graduate in May 2011. He plans to turn his venture into a full-time business and keep his company in North Carolina.

Growing up, Ausherman had a strong curiosity for how to make things better. He even kept a little notebook of ideas for inventions. He sees the FFR trike, which moves via pedal power as well as electricity, as a cross between a Moped scooter and a bicycle. "With a Moped you can get somewhere quickly, but you're not getting any exercise. With a bicycle you can get tons of exercise, but you don't get somewhere quickly. This takes good things from both of those," he said.

"I hope it catches on, and I want to bring the price down to where more college students can afford one," he said. His current models retail for about $5,000, using a frame built in the United Kingdom but with machinery and parts made almost exclusively in the United States. Some parts are made in Charlotte by a company owned by the father of Ausherman's business partner Daniel Rhyne, a building science major who graduated from Appalachian in 2009.

Ausherman's commute around town is easy, yet often filled with stares from passersby. "There's always someone who wants to talk to me about it, looking under it and trying to figure it out. I have lots of people ask me where the gas goes. I say, there is no gas," he said.

If more people rode electric tricycles, Ausherman said he envisions a more sustainable society that is more conscious of how and when it travels. "My lifestyle changes have been an unexpected outcome of this—I think about my trips more, I don't just drive for the sake of driving. When I go to the grocery store, I don't get a huge cart of stuff. I just get the things I need."

What drew this entrepreneurial spirit to Appalachian?

"I love mountains," said Ausherman, who started out as a geography major. "I love to mountain bike, I love to climb." Ausherman also is skilled at building machinery, so a friend recommended he check out Appalachian's Department of Technology. "It's been a perfect fit for me," he said of adding a major in appropriate technology.

He credits his professors in the Department of Technology and in the Walker College of Business for supporting his idea and making his business venture possible. After graduation, he plans to move to Asheville, buy a small house with a workshop and start expanding the business.