Janesville man uses his head, legs to overcome a mountainous challenge

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Ken Veloskey
Tuesday, August 7, 2012

— After tinkering in the garage with the family Chevy, imagine hauling it off to Daytona and finishing third in the 500.

Adam Griffin, 39, of Janesville didn't make a big splash among NASCAR's elite, but in the world of electric bikes, Griffin raised eyebrows of big manufacturers after finishing third in the 12 1/2-mile Pikes Peak Hill Climb with his garage-built e-bike last month.

Griffin learned the intricacies of an electric bike to become the first rider to climb Pikes Peak in a hub motor powered bike. Griffin upstaged high-end factory-made e-bikes with sponsored riders.

Griffin invested $1,600 to turn a stock Trek 3700 21-speed, 26-inch mountain bike into an e-bike that defeated five hand-built $13,000 Optibikes and finish just behind two $8,000 FFR Trikes.

"I'm a civil engineer, not a mechanical engineer," said Griffin, a 1991 Parker High graduate, whose father, Mike, is a retired Parker teacher and coach. "Once you know what you are doing, it doesn't take too long to put it together, maybe eight hours worth of work."

Three years ago, Griffin began tinkering with a discarded gas scooter with his stepson, Devan Laser, who will be an eighth-grader at Edison Middle School.

"It evolved into an electric scooter, and from there to an electric bike," Griffin said. "I've built a couple of electric bikes."

Griffin started with a kit that had all the parts and the instructions, but he wanted more.

"You can buy the separate parts," Griffin said. "It's a little trial-and-error as you try to improve things and make the bike faster and better than kit form."

Griffin learned about the Pikes Peak Hill Climb last year.

"I heard about it on an electric bike forum online," Griffin said. "The only electric guys who made it to the top were from these bigger companies that produced (e-bikes) in mass quantities, and they are super expensive. I thought I'd give it shot."

Griffin went to work on a mountain bike he bought at Michael's Cycles in Janesville.

"I modified it my own special way so that I gave myself the best chance to make it to the top," Griffin said. "I tore the (electric hub) motor apart and rewired it to handle more electricity."

One of Griffin's hurdles was getting the electric motor to survive the heat stress of a steep climb.

"That's the problem with electric motors, the steeper it gets, the more heat they produce and the biggest enemy is overheating your motor," Griffin said. "I spent the last year trying to fix the overheating."

Griffin rigged an oil-cooling system to withstand the demands of the steep Pikes Peak climb.

Standing at the starting line with his garage e-bike, Griffin felt intimidated.

"I felt like I brought a sharp stick to a gunfight," Griffin said. "I don't think guys who race on factory teams paid attention to me. They probably thought, 'Another one of these guys.'

"But me, I was intimidated," Griffin said. "I felt pretty small."

Griffin knew he would have to peddle the bike to help preserve the electric motor.

"I really wanted every advantage I could get to be able to peddle harder, longer and give myself the best shot to make the top," Griffin said. "Pikes Peak is 14,000 feet elevation and there is hardly any oxygen to breathe, which makes it more difficult to peddle the bike at all."

Griffin shed 22 pounds, which helped him physically and meant less weight for the motor to carry.

"It wasn't too difficult (losing weight), but it was not as easy as when I wrestled," said Griffin, who finished fifth in the WIAA State Wrestling tournament at 130 pounds his senior year. "I certainly did try as hard as I used to."

Griffin said he relied on pedal power a lot.

"I set controls to only output so much electricity not to overheat the motor," Griffin said. "I peddled as hard as I could. I was a peddling fool, don't get me wrong."

Like driving a car, Griffin learned you have to pay attention to the road.

"Halfway up the climb, I thought I'm not really taking in some of the scenery. I'd better do that," Griffin said. "I started looking around and I almost drove off the edge. There is pavement, a foot of gravel and the edge and that's it and if you go over…whew!"

Griffin averaged 28 mph and finished the climb in 26 minutes. Griffin could ride at 42-mph on flat ground reliably, and for a long way given that his bike packed a 1,300-watt-hour lithium polymer battery in the fabric triangle bag.

"I was just hoping to finish," Griffin said. "I was nervous about that. I certainly exceeded my expectations."

Griffin rides his bike 6½ miles to his downtown office several times per week. He estimates he saves about $4 in gas money.

Griffin's ride to work isn't always a smooth one.

"It's fine until you get someone in a car who feels you don't have the right to be there," Griffin said. "And wants to show you that you don't have the right to be there.

"It can be dangerous because of that, but for the most part, most people are great they will move over for you," Griffin added. "But for whatever reason you will get someone who feels the need to pass you at 50 mph two feet from your handlebars."

And then there are those who go against the odds to take electrifying bike rides up Pikes Peak.

Ken Veloskey is a sports writer for The Gazette.

Last updated: 5:13 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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