By Darren Lum
Minden Hills-based company Tekrider is using its decades of expertise manufacturing protective equipment for dirt bikers and snowmobilers to create a protective vest to keep people using e-bikes safe.
Over the last several weeks, the company has created 10 prototypes during the research and development phase of a yet-to-be named vest with similar attributes to their dirt and snow protective Tek Vests. The alterations for e-bike users included reducing the overall size of the vest for mobility and it was designed for the riding position. There will also be greater ventilation, options for hydration and the addition of rows and columns of webbing (often seen on backpacks and military vests), so people can add attachments to hold a mobile phone or a toolkit.
Owner Steve Brand said this new product is directed at protecting older riders, who may be out of shape or haven’t ridden in a while and are choosing to ride an e-assist bike.
“We just made phone calls and just went online and [learned] about these 66-year-old people going over the handlebars and breaking six ribs. With the e-assist it doesn’t require a level of fitness … anybody can hop on these things and triple the speed of a pedal bike. They’re riding them in the winter because they’re not going to Florida. They fall off the track and go over bars. There’s lots of accident stories out there,” he said.
The cost will be in line with Tekrider’s other products and is expected to start close to $400. Sizes will range from children’s to XXXL and will be ready to purchase online through Tekrider on May 1. Vests will be shipped mid-May.
There will be two models. One is zippered, and the other is a pullover version, which offers the greatest protection and is suitable for people with previous mid-body injuries.
There are adjustment straps to fine-tune the fit, and there will be options for customization.
After 24 years in business protecting people with their Tek Vests in power sports such as snowmobiling and off-road riding, Brand said it didn’t take much effort for his team to shift to protecting e-bike users.
“We’re already dressing human bodies in various power sport configurations and this is really no different,” he said.
His customers’ testimonials over the years are proof of their products effectiveness.
Brand directs people to the company’s Facebook page to learn of a story related to a user who survived a crash. Tekrider’s focus is on protecting vulnerable parts of the body.
“Nobody covers as much body area as we do and we focus on the lower left and right abdomen area. I call it the engine room. The area immediately under the rib cage,” Brand said.
He adds current protective equipment ignores the soft tissue area close to the waist and focuses on protecting the sternum, which he said isn’t as vulnerable.
“We have since day one recognized that covering the areas down to the waist line are way more important. That’s where the engine room is. That’s where the vital organs are. Snap off three ribs and they break inwards and then you have internal organ damage so we’ve been on top of that for decades,” he said.
He said the new product is part of a move that helps the company to diversify, ensure year round employment, and will meet the demands of the growing industry of e-assist bikes.
“That industry dwarfs the power industry, so there could be a scenario where we’re actually producing more vests for the bicycle world than our traditional projects, which will be fine because that means we’ve got year-round jobs, and [didn’t]have to lay anybody off in the past few years. The more diversified our product portfolio is, the stronger position we’ll be in to attract more people because we have to grow,” he said.
According to Brand, the company was also motivated to add a new product because of how the federal government moved to buy personal protective equipment from overseas manufacturers rather than Canadian companies such as Tekrider, who had received approval and altered operations to adjust for the change.
“Top marks for the government for moving fast in setting us up in the first place, but failing grades for not following through. They said they were going to never again [be] a slave to overseas production. They quickly dropped that thought,” he said.
Current product lines, which include medical PPE, and the potential for the newest vest to do well have Brand looking to growth. He said the company is in the process of adding a building. He believes with more people moving up here that the labour pool can only grow.
Although the current target market is for older riders who commute, there is an eye toward a future with trail riders using their vest. Brand said the company sent out vests to two competitive riders for feedback, as part of this potential direction.
Retired Minden Hills resident Russ Duhaime, 62, is among the test riders, who appreciated the vest following a winter ride in Snowden a few weeks ago.
“Super comfortable,” Duhaime told the Times. “It’s light and fits well without restricting movements. I could hardly tell I was wearing anything without restricting.”
Brand said it’s important the public knows the Minden Hills-based company sources all their materials from Canada and the U.S., except for the zipper pulls, which come from overseas.
“If we can take it from North America, we take it from North America,” he said.