Vashon’s annual Passport to Pain bike ride is one of the island’s most popular events and draws thousands of bike riders seeking the pain of climbing up the island’s steepest hills. But not all who live on, or visit, the island are interested in that kind of punishment. With that in mind, two islanders have opened an e-bike rental business and retail store for those hoping to bike the island without the pain.
Vashon E-bike is the brainchild of Doug and Erin Kieper, an island couple known in the community for their Vashon Watersports business that provides kayak and paddleboard rentals out of the Jensen Point Boathouse. E-bikes are their newest venture, and the store in Vashon Village is set to open at the end of March with a grand opening planned for the first Friday in April.
“The idea was that we had people coming to the boathouse who didn’t like water so what else could they do?” Erin Kieper said last week. “The rest was Doug’s idea.”
Doug, who commutes by e-bike to his job in Seattle, saw the electric pedal-assisted bikes as the perfect solution to the difficulty of biking on Vashon.
“I always thought biking on-island would be awesome, but it’s quite the undertaking unless you’re a regular cyclist,” he said.
The Kiepers found a German e-bike company, Riese & Muller, and ordered 16 for a rental fleet, as well as additional to show for sales.
The rental bikes are a step-through design, meaning riders don’t have to swing their leg over a high frame to get into the seat, but the company makes multiple models from mountain bikes and street bikes to cargo bikes.
“We’re following the Tesla model of buying,” Doug Kieper said. “We’ll have a display model here, and then you can order it and have it customized to you.”
All bikes are equipped with a rechargeable battery pack that assists with pedaling depending on the amount of incline and energy required. The assistance can range from giving an extra 30 percent of pedaling power to 300 percent for going up steep hills. The bikes can cruise at up to 20 mph, but will not move without being pedaled. Because of this speed and Washington state law, e-bike riders must be over the age of 16.
In addition, the bikes have hydraulic breaks and a continuous gear shift with a belt instead of a chain, which prevents the gears from getting stuck or hung up when shifting under load.
“We’re one of the few companies in the U.S. importing these high-end bikes,” Doug Kieper said. “It’s like riding when you were a kid and not thinking about how hard it was, just how much fun it was.”
The bikes range in price from $3,000 to more than $7,000 depending on the model and features, but Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Marsh said there seems to be a market for e-bikes.
“Four years ago, Seattle e-bikes showed their bikes at Strawberry Festival and they sold all of their displays,” he recalled.
The Kiepers said that since the bikes are a “green” investment, Puget Sound Community Credit Union will also offer low-interest loans for those interested in purchasing.
As for rentals, the Kiepers say they would like to provide self-guided winery, cidery and farm stand tours, as well as a “Pedal and Paddle” where participants can ride from the store to the boathouse, kayak or paddleboard and then come back. Lunch would be included courtesy of a small bag that can be strapped onto the bikes.
“How cool would it be if I were staying at a VRBO and could do the farm stand tour like a scavenger hunt?” Doug Kieper said. “You can get all your ingredients and a few bottles of wine and go.”
The Kiepers are also considering the potential for a guided tour with Chris Austin from the Mostly True Vashon Tours.
The booking and availability portion of the Vashon E-bike website is not yet operational, but should be by the store’s grand opening in April.
The e-bike business is the most recent of the Kiepers’ business ventures. In addition to Vashon Watersports, the couple is working alongside King County to manage and take reservations for six primitive camp sites at Maury Island Marine Park. Information about all three ventures can be found at vashonadventures.com.
The business is also one of the first to open at the village since two island businesses and an organization became the most recent to move out of Vashon Village, citing high rent.
In early January, Vashon Village was nearly empty save for Core Centric and the House of Tara boutique. Since then, four new businesses have moved in, including Vashon E-Bike.
Joining the Kiepers will be three themed antique shops owned by Susi Johnston, a curator and collector of Asian art who has most recently lived in Indonesia. According to Vashon Village owner Scott Shapiro, Rosebud, Aspidistra and Zebra Productions will all feature different kinds of goods. Rosebud will be full of antiques “of a distinctly masculine character,” while Aspidistra will focus on Asian arts, ancient and excavated jewelry, weapons and fine antique textiles. Zebra Productions will sell 1950s, 60s and 70s advertising art, photography-related objects and vintage studio lighting.
The Beachcomber’s emails to Johnston requesting further comment on the new shops were not returned.
Shapiro said all of the new businesses help achieve his goal of “building a great mix of like-minded tenants that will enhance each other, Vashon Village, The Lodges on Vashon, and Vashon in general,” he said in an email last week.
He also said a lease for another one of the spaces is out for signature and there is a second “very interested party for another space.”