The Pedal and the Metal

Cheata Bikes hopes Mil­wau­kee will be fa­mous for an­other mo­tor­ized two-wheeled ve­hi­cle

Milwaukee Magazine - - Culture - By Matt Hrodey

In a bland three-story build­ing in South Mil­wau­kee, up an el­e­va­tor and down a dark hall, Cheata Bikes is build­ing what might be the finest mo­tor­ized bi­cy­cles in the coun­try. In­side, a half-dozen em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing head en­gi­neer Bill Rankin, make ev­ery Cheata Bike by hand. With curv­ing lines, two-tone paint jobs, and names like Apollo, Go­liath and Varuna, they look as if they ma­te­ri­al­ized out of a 13-year-old’s dreams.

Rankin points out that the cen­tral engine is sep­a­rated from the frame by rub­ber mounts and tricks, re­duc­ing the vi­bra­tions that are a ma­jor prob­lem with mo­tor­ized bi­cy­cles. Cheata Bikes also use a pro­pri­etary hub de­sign for the rear wheel, which can be turned by ped­al­ing, crank­ing the throt­tle or both.

Ravi Bha­gat, a Mil­wau­kee-area real es­tate in­vestor and for­mer tech­ni­cian at an aero­space com­pany in Illi­nois, built the first Cheata Bike for his son, who needed a means to travel back and forth from a Down­town apart­ment to Mil­wau­kee Area Tech­ni­cal Col­lege. It didn’t last long, how­ever, as it was stolen off the street by a thief wield­ing some se­ri­ous cut­ting equip­ment. “Some­one wanted it that bad,” he says.

Cheata bikes, as Bha­gat likes to point out, are le­gal to drive in both the bike and reg­u­lar car lanes, as they’re wired to go no faster than 30 mph. With the larger Go­liath model weigh­ing in at about 70 pounds, they have some­thing of a mo­tor­cy­cle feel.

Bha­gat claims that his bikes are both more ro­bust than high-end “e-bikes,” which are pow­ered by a large bat­tery, and cheaper to main­tain. But as with the most ex­pen­sive e-bikes, the ini­tial price of en­try is pretty steep, rang­ing from $1,795 to $3,995 for the Apollo model.

Cheata sold about 100 bikes in 2017 and hopes to sell twice that many this year as the bikes wig­gle their way into more mo­tor­sports deal­er­ships. Rankin mod­i­fies the en­gines – small, four-stroke mod­els not much larger than a weed whacker’s – to pack more punch on the way up to 30 mph, with­out fall­ing be­low 150 miles per gal­lon. As for range, Bha­gat once rode 50 miles to a meet a friend, and 50 miles back, the far­thest he’s gone to date.

The head-turn­ing bikes have cre­ated their own buzz, both around town and on­line, and “rev­enue has been nice,” Bha­gat says. He’s got­ten them put on dis­play at sev­eral Mil­wau­kee ho­tels, where out-of-town vis­i­tors see them as ex­actly what they ex­pected from a city that was once called the Ma­chine Shop of the World.

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