Local bike company rolls out new innovation

gmartin@islandpacket.comMarch 12, 2012 

Several years ago, Matt Papka was walking his dogs around his Hilton Head Plantation neighborhood when a neighbor on a bicycle pulled alongside to chat.

Papka watched as the man's bicycle seat sank as he slowed, enabling him to place both feet on the pavement when he stopped.

As he began pedaling off, the seat rose back up, prompting an incredulous Papka to call out a question he says he's heard hundreds of times since:

"Where the heck can I get one of those bikes?"

Papka soon learned that his neighbor, retired auto assembly line worker Bill Becker, had crafted the bike in his garage and had already secured a patent for the innovative design.

The two longtime Hilton Head Island residents formed a business partnership shortly thereafter -- with Papka, recently retired from a career in finance, promoting the product -- and eventually founded Elev8 Bikes in 2007.

The bicycles will make what Papka calls their "world premiere" at next month's RBC Heritage golf tournament, where they'll be promoted at an Elev8 tent.

In April, they'll finally hit the local market, where they'll sell at Bluffton's Sports Addiction for almost $1,000.

Despite the steep price, Becker says the bicycles could be in high demand among the area's many retirees.

"Women and men stop buying bikes as they age because they fear starting and stopping and getting on and off," he explained.

People buy bikes with increasingly lower frequency after turning 50, Papka said, adding that census data indicates half the country's population will be older than 50 next year.

The Elev8 system, which Becker says he tinkered with for about a decade in his garage, is relatively simple to use. Bikers can adjust the height of their seat as they ride by moving a thumb lever on their handlebar, not unlike the movement needed to change gears.

The lever activates a mechanical, pneumatic air pump, enabling riders to approach the bike from behind rather than swing a leg over the top of it, a movement Papka says can be difficult or even dangerous for older bikers.

Conventional bicycles had long been problematic for Maurice Cordray, a neighbor of Becker's who was diagnosed with neuropathy -- a disease that withered the muscles in his lower body -- about a decade ago.

"I couldn't ride a bike at all, because I couldn't put any weight on just one leg when I had to stop," said Cordray, 72.

"Bill said 'I've got a bike that's perfect for you,'" Cordray said. "And I was skeptical. But now I use this bike about 10 hours a week."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

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Elev8 Bikes

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