GTPulse: Traverse City Man Makes Bikes for Young, Old, Disabled
Outdoor activity in Northern Michigan is engrained in the culture and lifestyle. Throughout all seasons, residents of the region find ways to get outside and absorb some vitamin d, get their heart rate up and spend quality time with nature. Getting out and enjoying physical activity isn’t reserved for the youthful or even necessarily, the fit or able-bodied. Charlie Lakritz has ways for people of all ages and ability to get out and enjoy a bike ride.
There’s a strong bike culture in Traverse City. With Norte being a community leader in making bikes fun and accessible to everyone, streets designed with bike lanes and the TART trail, there are plenty of ways to get around by bike in Grand Traverse and Leelanau. The area’s bike inclusivity was a big draw for Charlie to move here.
“Well my nickname is Charlie Fix, my mom gave me that nickname when I was a kid because when I was 10, 12 years old, I was hunting for bike pieces all over the neighborhood in New York.”
Charlie grew up in Queens, New York where he developed a knack for fixing and building bikes. He also joined a group called the American Youth Hostels. The nonprofit, now called Hostelling International USA, provides hostels all over the U.S. and gave Charlie a place to stay when he started doing bike tours. How does someone from Queens, New York end up in Traverse City, Michigan?
“It’s a long, sad cowboy song,” he said.
He moved to Miami where he eventually opened up three bike shops. Charlie met his wife while living there and when they got married and pregnant with their first child, he wanted to move. His then-wife was from East Jordan, Michigan and she suggested that they look there for a place to root their family. Queens and Miami are a far cry from Northern Michigan, but Charlie was taken with Traverse City quickly.
“We were driving through Traverse City and I kept thinking, ‘this is like the Florida Keys.’”
The little family moved to East Jordan where they lived for seven years before Charlie didn’t want to anymore.
“One day I said, ‘I had enough I can’t do this anymore.’ Then the wife was after that.”
He moved out of East Jordan, he and his wife got divorced, and suddenly Charlie found himself on his own again. On his own, but not alone.
“We had two young boys and I took care of the kids and made sure they got through school up until they were graduated. You know, I did the dad thing.”
Charlie insisted that he was retired but Bayfront Scooters says differently. The downtown Traverse City bike and scooter store is full of bikes old enough to be vintage and new enough that some don’t require much pedaling from the rider. He knows how to fix cars and motorcycles as well and spent time working on them in Traverse City. After feeling some burnout as a service manager, he left a job working on motorcycles.
When my summer days were filled with coffee at the outdoor tables at Horizon Books I saw a teen on a scooter pass me by every 10 minutes or so. Being local teens themselves, Charlie’s sons knew how popular scooters were becoming.
“They were all over town and in skateparks. If it wasn’t for my kids this store wouldn’t exist.”
The store offers vintage bikes, electric bikes and scooters, and something new that Charlie is proud to sell.
“One of my customers has Parkinson’s disease and he was on a regular electric bike that was helping him ride for three or four years. As his Parkinsons got worse, he’s losing his balance.”
The customer was quickly losing the ability to keep his bike upright, and Charlie’s wheels started turning.
Trike bikes are those three-wheel bikes that are low to the ground with the outstretched pedals by the front wheel. The bikes are good for riders who may have back problems, or just want to be more comfortable when they’re riding. Charlie thought that a trike with a personal touch would be the perfect answer to his customer’s dilemma.
“A lot of the trikes are really low to the ground. Really hard for somebody, especially with a disability to get in and out. So, some of the manufacturers I work with make a trike that’s higher off the ground. Easy to get on and off, and then I put a motor on it.”
The hybrid trike that Charlie has created goes up to 28 miles per hour. The rider will have an option to use the electric motor completely or to offset some of their own pedaling with help from the motor. The bike is rechargeable with 50 miles of distance to travel on every charge. Charlie is an advocate for people to get out on a bicycle, and not just those living blog-worthy, fitness lifestyles. He said regular electric bikes have helped his middle-aged and older customers get back on the bike seat too.
“I’ve got people in their 60s, 70s, 80s getting back out there and enjoying being on a bike without overdoing it and they’re loving it. They can go out for a full day ride instead of just an hour.”