Darnestown woman turns heads in her Side-Kick'
Laurie DeWitt/The Gazette
Welmoed Sisson has a new ride for quick errands: Cruise control, hand break, bell, front and rear lights, trunk space, even a cup holder — just don't ask her to go over 25 mph.
For short trips Sisson fires up her custom electric car built by her husband Bob, a former electrical engineer. It was constructed using PVC pipes and spare bicycle parts over the course of about six weekends.
The lightweight vehicle, which has a canvas roof and pedals, is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery and resembles a dune buggy, or a more modern version of the Flintstone family car.
"There are weeks I use it every day — Whole Foods, post office, groceries, the library," said Sisson, 48, who runs a custom window treatment business out of her Darnestown home. "It's so handy. It's intuitive and doesn't require a license."
Bob Sisson, a house inspector who also works from home, began building the vehicle last fall after ordering "The Side-Kick" kit from www.americanspeedster.com. He tinkered with the design in his spare time, adding a hub motor and swapping the 76-pound battery out for a 22-pounder.
"It was just something that fired his imagination. He's an engineer and a geek at heart, so it really interested him," his wife joked. "He's always been a tinkerer."
The vehicles have gained popularity in retirement communities, and many American Speedster customers have sent in pictures of themselves driving their cars at Burning Man, an annual multi-day music festival held in Nevada's deserts. The Sissons' car only has room for one (Bob Sisson built the vehicle backwards and ran out of space for the second bucket seat), so "The Side-Kick II" is in the works — a sleek metal three-wheeler with room for one that can carry up to 300 pounds.
"It's basically like putting a giant model together," Bob Sisson, 50, said while surveying his work on a recent Sunday afternoon. "…I've had a lot of people say, Oh, would you make me one?'"
So many people ask Welmoed Sisson about the car when she's cruising around town that she started printing out information cards to hand out. She can drive wherever bicycles are legal, but said her time in the Side-Kick, which she drives in bike lanes and chains to bike racks when she parks, has shown her the difficulties faced by two-wheeled travelers.
"One of the things I've noticed since I've started riding this is there's no bike parking anywhere, and bike paths are not well-maintained," she said, adding that her unique vehicle tends to get more notice from other drivers than a bicycle. "It's more visible, and other cars see it as another car instead of a bike they can run over."
There are other drawbacks to the vehicle, which cost about $2,500 to build. It can't go out in the rain, it's a little shaky around potholes and the battery loses power each time it is charged. But the advantages of the eco-friendly ride far outweigh the negatives, said the Sissons, who used to ride motorcycles together before their two teenaged children were born. These days, they buy half as much gas as they used to.
"Has it saved us $2,500 worth of gas? I don't know," Welmoed Sisson said. "But it is fun."