Outrider: Offroading Even for Quadriplegics - TribPapers

Outrider: Offroading Even for Quadriplegics

Outrider makes all-terrain vehicles that even quadriplegics can drive. Photo courtesy Outrider.

Asheville – Tommy Ausherman is the owner of Outrider USA, the manufacturer of the Coyote, a four-wheel, all-terrain, motorized vehicle designed for able-bodied and disabled riders alike. He said the concept started when he was commuting to Appalachian State University on his bicycle. He was grazed by trucks a couple times, and he thought it would be much safer if he could go 45 mph uphill and keep up with traffic. So, he built his first high-speed electric bike, and it soon evolved into a reverse three-wheeled design.

Before long, Ausherman was selling the trikes as he and his business partner struggled to make ends meet. In the early years, they enjoyed their engineering achievements. “We did all the performance things,” he said, even winning the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on an Outrider that could go 85 mph.

A few years into the business, Ausherman felt he should be doing something more meaningful and purposeful. So, one night after work, he went to an Asheville coffee shop to try to figure out a better business model. After four or five hours, he came up dry, so he returned to his car and said a simple prayer. He told the Lord he needed help figuring out how to use the gifts He had given him for making things. He said he would go wherever He wanted him to in order to make a difference.

A week later, he received a call from Chris Wenner in Tucson. Wenner had broken his neck diving off a cliff on the Pacific Coast when he was 17. He told the guys at Outrider that he had had a recurring dream in the 24 years since about a bike shop that gets all the parts for a bike that he never gets to ride.

Wenner had, actually, ordered a specialized battery from Outrider three years earlier. Nobody asked why; they just filled the order. Wenner said he had sunken $30,000–$40,000 into a rough prototype for an off-road, three-wheel cycle that could be operated by persons with disabilities, but he didn’t yet have the connections to bring it to production so other riders could enjoy the machine. He asked if the guys at Outrider might like to have the honors.

They decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to gauge consumer interest, and they raised $126,000. They needed $1.2 million, but they received additional support from friends and family, as well as a local bank.

Having specialized in custom builds, Outrider started producing only one model, the four-wheel Coyote. It can be rear-wheel or four-wheel drive and be equipped with one to four batteries. It can travel up to 17 mph, and with four batteries, it has a range of 120 miles. Models come with standard grip steering but can be fitted with Wenner’s proprietary Tri-Pin device for riders with little or no hand function. 

Now, Ausherman is working on scaling up. He said he currently has 100 machines on a waitlist, and he’s working with a 12-month turnaround time. He knew that a wait time over 12 months was “a big turnoff” for prospective buyers, so he’s looking at all forms of increasing output that won’t sacrifice quality. He’s currently doubling the number of builders on the floor, expanding the Mars Hill facility in partnerships with Spark Robotic, and setting up a more advanced inventory management system.

The most important thing, though, is the people. “Character is first and foremost in our hiring process,” said Ausherman, “and we have a bright future because we have an exceptional team.”

Currently, about 60% of sales are for riders with disabilities. Ausherman said the fact that that number isn’t higher tells him the team did a good job on the design. Most things built for the disabled have an institutional look that people will avoid if they have a choice. Ausherman said he needed a mix of disabled and able-bodied customers in order for his business plan to work.

Ausherman says the most fulfilling part of the work is getting riders back out to the areas that they thought they’d never access again since their accident. “It is a wonderful thing to see a muddy rider roll into a shop after their first test ride, all lit up, and the whole family beaming. That’s something that our team just can’t get enough of. We’re thankful to get to do this kind of beautiful, restorative work.” 

For more information about the endeavor, visit outridercoyote.com.