Appalachian alumnus finds niche in sustainable transportation

Ryan Gillespie ’17 has always been passionate about what he calls “responsible transportation.” During his time as a student in the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment at Appalachian State University, he discovered a niche that blends his love of biking with his knowledge of sustainability initiatives – the electric bike.

Now the owner of Sol Mobil, an electric bike sales and service shop in Winston-Salem, Gillespie spends his days building, customizing and selling e-bikes.

“After graduation, I worked for a solar energy component retailer and Organic Transit in Durham,” he shared. “But it became clear that I had the skill set to fulfill a unique need.”

That need is centered on a relatively new concept – the electric bike. Gillespie can repair almost any type of e-bike on the market, whether he built it or not. He developed many of these skills while working toward his degree in appropriate technology at Appalachian, but fine-tuned his approach as a participant in the 2017 Sun Trip Tour, a 550-mile solar e-bike trip through the Alps designed to increase awareness of sustainable transportation. 

According to Gillespie, he learned about the trip while completing an independent study focused on e-bikes during his senior year. He was immediately drawn to participate because the European e-bike market is more mature than the e-bike market in the States.

“The trip is really a technological adventure and experiment,” he said. “Most participants build their own bikes, which are an expression of their personalities. A regional tourism office in France subsidizes the trip, so there are minimal regulations on bike design.”

While the participants’ bikes varied widely, they all have one thing in common – the solar panels affixed to various bike surfaces. Gillespie’s bike was designed to tow a trailer topped with solar panels held in place by Nordic skis.

“After my first solar bike failed and I couldn’t get the products I needed locally to make the fix, myself, along with some really helpful Sun Trip folks, were able to build an entirely new solar bike in about 4 hours,” he recalled. “After we built this bike, I had zero breakdowns or issues the rest of the trip – it was the ultimate 'field repair’.”

Gillespie enjoyed the trip so much that he’s planning to participate in the Sun Trip Tour 2019, a two-week, 800-mile trip through France, Switzerland and Italy. He’s even convinced his girlfriend, political science alumna Rain Thoresen ’17, to participate as well.

In the meantime, he’ll stay busy with Sol Mobil and his newest project, building custom e-bike frames using bamboo. He hopes to bring the product to market in 2020.

"I’m just glad I found my niche.  People love riding e-bikes, but too often, don’t know how to repair them. I’m taking knowledge from the Sun Trip Tour and my time at App and sharing my passion through sales, maintenance and custom builds.”

About the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment

One of seven departments housed in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environmentat Appalachian State University features an integrated array of programs spanning the fields of sustainable design and technology.  Its mission is to foster a strong and vibrant culture of inquiry, discovery and innovation that integrates theory with application, problem seeking with problem-solving, local issues with global perspectives and technological progress with environmental stewardship. It offers bachelor’s degrees in sustainable technology and building science, and a master’s degree in technology.

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.

Published: Jan 18, 2019 9:09am