Would you buy an electric vehicle from ‘Wally Hotvedt’?

MinnPost photo by John Reinan
Rich Kronfeld's streamlined three-wheeler with a carbon-fiber body runs off an electric motor that’s charged by pedaling.

For a brief moment, Rich Kronfeld was in that rarefied galaxy of St. Louis Park baby boomers who made it big. The Coen brothers, Tom Friedman, Al Franken — Kronfeld was taking his place alongside them.

let's bowl
Courtesy of Comedy Central
The “Let’s Bowl” cast, with Kronfeld at left

In the late ’90s, Kronfeld created a goofy game show called “Let’s Bowl.” It ran for several years on local TV, and then the big time called: Comedy Central picked up “Let’s Bowl” in 2001.

Kronfeld and his socially challenged alter ego “Wally Hotvedt” went national. The show ran for two years, gained a cult following — then was dropped.

“I had worked many years to get to that point,” said Kronfeld, now 50. “Then we got canceled, and it was, ‘Now what?’ I hadn’t prepared for that.”

Kronfeld worked a variety of jobs over the next few years, most of them with a public-service focus. He worked with Habitat for Humanity and with a disaster-relief group, Nechama. It was while riding his bike to work one day that he got the idea that would set him on a path he never dreamed of: alternative-energy entrepreneur.

“I’m a nerd in many ways, including a recumbent-bike nerd,” he said. “I was commuting an hour and a half to Eden Prairie on my bike. I was looking for something you could buy that would have an electric assist.

“Then I had my ‘aha’ moment: Why couldn’t the bike pedals be connected to a generator?”

Kronfeld took his inspiration from the velomobile, a streamlined, bicycle-based vehicle that’s popular in Europe. But he knew Americans would need something bigger and more powerful.

His creation is called the Raht Racer, which stands for Recumbent Automotive Human Transport.  The streamlined three-wheeler with a carbon-fiber body runs off an electric motor that’s charged by pedaling. The vehicle will be capable of speeds above 60 mph, and Kronfeld believes he can sell it for less than $15,000.

Kronfeld is billing it as the world’s fastest bicycle, but it also will operate on a battery charge without being pedaled. Why not just simply make a straightforward electric car?

“There have been a lot of electric vehicle companies that have crashed,” Kronfeld said. “I used to think the ‘why’ of this was that it’s electric. Now I think the ‘why’ is the pedals. It’s a bike that can go 90 mph! That’s insane!”

Kronfeld’s project recently got a big boost when Xcel Energy and the University of Minnesota-Mankato awarded him a $50,000 renewable-energy grant.

It’s a strange turn of events for Kronfeld, who jokingly calls himself “a washed-up comedian.” (Not totally washed up, though; he’s currently appearing as a regular cast member in a local children’s TV program, “The Choo Choo Bob Show.”) But he said his experience as an entertainer actually prepared him for the business world.

“That whole Hollywood entertainment world is actually the harshest, purest form of entrepreneurship,” he said. “The product you’re selling is you, and you’re constantly pitching yourself. That’s actually been very good preparation for what I’m doing now.

“And I have to say, of all the creative things I’ve ever done, this has been as exciting as any of them. I’m really looking forward to seeing where things go.”

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Dale Trexel on 07/15/2013 - 11:14 am.

    A Great Idea Whose Time Has Come

    I think this is a great project, and I wish Rich the best of luck. (I also wish Rich would get an actual website for his project, rather than a Facebook page…)

    As someone who has a tight schedule because of working two jobs, and who lives far enough from his day job that making the time to bike commute is rare, I’ve been looking for alternatives to simply driving that also help make up for all the time I spend sitting at computers. I got an Optibike (an American-made electric bike), which helps, but it is still less than ideal. It can’t QUITE keep up with traffic speeds on my commute route, and there are issues regarding whether it’s allowed on bike trails (necessary for crossing rivers where the only other options are high-speed highways). An enclosed vehicle that can ride at highway speeds for the length of my commute and that gives me a workout en route would be the perfect commuter for me.

    I hope that Rich manages to overcome the challenges his project faces to get into production. Will he be able to have it classified as a car, or will it be considered a motorcycle, requiring a motorcycle license to drive and a helmet be worn? How will the batteries perform in Minnesota winters, and will you be able to pull them to bring them indoors to keep them warm when you have to park outside?

  2. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 07/15/2013 - 11:50 am.

    Electric Cars

    My big concern with the model pictured here is that it’s very low to the ground. I’d be worried about being visible while I’m out on the road, low down in the blind spot of a larger vehicle. I drive an ordinary sedan on a regular basis and even something that large is a concern with all the SUVs and other tall vehicles out there.

    Even so, the vehicle is a great concept and I hope it takes off and sells like gangbusters. Just a side note though: a vehicle with three wheels is a tricycle, not a bicycle.

  3. Submitted by MF Haeusler on 07/15/2013 - 01:57 pm.

    Nethama?

    Please correct this error, tis Nechama.

  4. Submitted by MinnPost Moderator on 07/15/2013 - 03:15 pm.

    Fixed

    Thank you for catching that.

  5. Submitted by THOMAS MAUS on 07/15/2013 - 08:40 pm.

    To increase visibility, just mount an orange pennant on a six foot antenna. This should enable FM radio reception as well.

    Also, I hope that the inventor considers including a solar panel option so that the battery can be recharged while parked or moving in daytime.

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