Long-time Potrero Hill resident, Eugene Dickey, opened Third Rail Ebikes on Third and 24th streets last November. He’d first started mulling over the idea of launching a bicycle shop after experiencing firsthand the challenging nature of negotiating San Francisco’s steep slopes and confronting high price tags and poor customer service from existing electric bike vendors. He decided to start his enterprise during the public health crises when he saw demand for bicycles and e-bikes jump by 50 percent. The BBC called it the “great bicycle boom of 2020.”
Once an avid cyclist, Dickey become discouraged by aggressive motorists and the need to tackle the City’s multiple hills. While he was always fit enough to climb Potrero’s peaks, he didn’t want to every day. After he and his partner, Pamela Wellner, had children – Isaac and Wes are now in their 20s – they became concerned about the dangers of cycling with their kids in traffic. For good reason: a 2014 study of San Francisco published in ScienceDirect found that 86 percent of cyclists had experienced a near-miss with an automobile; 20 percent had been hit by a car. The study suggested that “near misses were more strongly associated than collisions with perceived traffic risk.”
Dickey has long loved bicycling. When he was twelve years-old he offered to fix flat tires and make minor bike repairs to neighbors on Fire Island, where his family vacationed during the summers. Not many people drove on the island; those who rode bikes had nowhere to go for repairs. Dickey sought to fill that need.
In 1989 Dickey moved to San Francisco from New York. After spending a year in Noe Valley, he moved to the Hill. Dickey pursued a peripatetic career, building cabinets, running a lumberyard, working as a consultant and general contractor. He purchased an e-bike several years ago from Mate, a Dutch startup that launched an Indiegogo campaign. It took about a year to arrive. While it was fun and foldable, it wasn’t built to last.
He searched for an affordable e-bike that was sturdier but only found models in brick-and-mortar stores priced at upwards of $5,000. E-bikes offered online were more reasonably priced, but he wanted to be able to test them out. Many vendors didn’t provide follow-up maintenance or would only do so for bikes they directly sold.
Dickey decided to address these needs.
Third Rail Ebikes offers three models, each with rechargeable batteries that last upwards of six years. The Potrero Roadster features a 300-watt motor, is a mix between a hybrid and cruiser, with a $1,400 price tag. The Goathill Explorer, running on a 1,000-watt motor, is the most supercharged of the three; according to Dickey it can ride through snow. The Bayview Schlepper is a cargo-centric bike with a 500-watt motor. The Explorer and Schlepper cost $2,400.
Potrero’s hills pose no particular challenge to any of the models. All three can reach 20 miles per hour and be used without the motor. Each comes with a rack and fenders. The Schlepper has a small front rack, a larger one on the back, and two wooden footrests on either side for passengers. Dickey plans to add a cruiser, a bit smaller than the Goathill Explorer and a folding bike to his inventory.
Cruising a neighborhood by bike is different from driving through it. Road bumps are noticeable; there’s a tactile nature to the ride. This ease of transportation, getting people out of their cars, is what Dickey hopes to give to new e-cyclists.