BELLOWS FALLS — Frank Wadelton - also known as “Frank the Welder” - will soon move his Granger Street bicycle fabrication shop a few yards to the south.
These plans are in response to a business need - he needs more manufacturing space, a showroom, and an office - and what Wadelton deems an economic and cultural need: an “adventure center” for electric-assist bicycle rentals and guides to local trails.
Wadelton wants to make Bellows Falls an electric-bicycle destination.
in 2006, Frank the Welder started by designing and building frames for high-end, road-based bicycles. The current plant employs three full-time and two part-time staff, and operates out of a 1,500-square-foot workshop in a 1900s-era mill.
The new location, just across a small parking lot, will give Wadelton and his workers 4,000 square feet of workshop space. Crews are currently working to renovate the building - the site of a former print shop - and Wadelton expects it to open in the next 60 to 90 days.
“About a year ago, we started getting orders for quantities of bikes, rather than individual bikes,” Wadelton said.
An adventure in the making
Whereas in the past, the company built a few dozen custom frames per year, this year they are building several hundred. Thus, Frank the Welder ran out of room.
“I had an idea,” Wadelton said. “Buy the building next-door, do some research and development, and move the manufacturing there."
Also, build an electric-assist bicycle adventure center there.
According to his proposal, which Wadelton submitted to public and private funding entities, the “growing demand for electric-assist bicycles and other personal craft combined with our unique and rugged landscape suggests an e-bike retail, online, and adventure center."
Electric-assist bikes, or e-bikes, “are the future of transportation,” Wadelton told The Commons.
“They give you transportation independence you don't have with other vehicles,” he said. “You don't need a gas station, and if you have solar panels at your home, you don't need to buy any fuel.”
Wadelton believes Bellows Falls is perfectly situated as a home for an e-bike adventure center. With the area's system of trails and unmaintained, class 4 roads, he said “you can ride all over the place,” from Rockingham to Grafton and beyond.
“The state is supporting what we're doing, and our plan is to develop bicycle transportation corridors to network towns in Vermont,” Wadelton said.
For non-athletes worried about climbing big hills, the e-bike comes in handy, he said, because with the push of a button, the small motor kicks in and helps propel the rider while they keep pedaling.
And, unlike a moped or ATV, “it's slower, quieter, and you can enjoy nature,” Wadelton added.
“We can build a system,” said Wadelton, and “we can rent bikes with GPS on them” to assure the bicycles come back.
So far, Wadelton has secured a silent partner who acts as a contributor and advisor for the trail network project.
Wadelton also brought in a chief operating officer to manage the project, “so I can work on making things,” he said. “I'm really into manufacturing. I love making things and teaching people to make things,” he noted.
Wadelton and a small group of local investors purchased the building, and they are financing the required improvements to bring the building up to code.
“Because of the condition of the building, we were rejected for conventional financing,” he said.
“Frank the Welder is going to immediately occupy about one-quarter to one-third of the building, and we are looking for a complementary [or] suitable business to join us as tenants or partners,” he said.
“It's our goal to fill the building with manufacturing jobs to meet our growing demand,” Wadelton said. “The building is very large and this arrangement will allow us to focus on bringing attention to the area and our products while maintaining space for future growth.”
“It's saving an old building that's been empty for a couple of years,” said Wadelton.