Retired Osakis brothers travel thousands of miles on homemade e-bikes – Alexandria Echo Press

OSAKIS — The cool 3 a.m. air filled his nostrils as he put his feet on the pedals and pressed the accelerator. A current from the lithium iron phosphate battery under the bike’s saddle to the direct-drive motor where the front wheel hub would be, propelled 75-year-old Denny Miller down the dark country road. As he began to sail, his farmhouse in Osakis, where his brother, Raleigh Miller, 70, was still sleeping, shrank behind him in the distance.

Not far up the road, he spotted a flickering red light barely visible through the low morning mist emitted from the dew-covered grass. He timed his departure perfectly, he thought.

The light was the tail of Bruce’s two-wheeled device. Bruce is a friend who lives up the road a short distance from the Millers’ farm – located at a four-corner intersection just north of Lake Osakis.

Bruce rode a standard manual pedal bike, and although Denny’s bike was electric, he still had to push a little harder to catch up. According to the Millers, Bruce is a natural on anything with wheels.

Together they hiked 100 miles to Long Lake Park and Campground, just north of Itasca State Park — Denny’s longest one-way trip. That was still just a fraction of the 4,000-plus miles he and his brother would each rack up in 2021.

Normally Raleigh would accompany Denny on bike rides as it is a shared hobby. But, on long journeys, one of them likes to stay home if something happens – a flat tire, dead battery or bad weather can mean one has to take the other in his blue Ford sedan, equipped with Denny’s homemade bike rack. which can carry up to three at a time. Two hanging from the trunk and a third parallel along the roof.

Denny Miller sits on one of his homemade electric recumbent bikes on his farmland in Osakis on May 20, 2022.

Thalen Zimmerman/Alexandria Echo Press

All five of their bikes were electrified by Denny with kits purchased from

. Kits include brakes, throttles, and a controller to regulate electrical currents, display amp-hours, track miles, and display bike speed.

Kits cost between $1,000 and $1,500, depending on quality. Batteries are sold separately and cost around $200 to $300 or $700 for lithium iron phosphate batteries.

Denny and Raleigh lived together most of their lives, except when Denny spent nearly three and a half years in the Navy as an inland communications electrician during the final years of the Vietnam War.

“My Navy background helped me a bit with the bike work, and my high school agriculture class helped me with the welding,” Denny said.

Denny tried to demonstrate how one of their bikes worked, but was unsuccessful.

“Murphy’s Law,” says Raleigh. “I break them, and he fixes them.”

On a second bike demonstration, Denny was successful.

After the Navy stint, Denny attended M-State in Fergus Falls, and a year later Raleigh enrolled.

After first year at Raleigh, he and Denny transferred to Bemidji State University. Dennis majored in biology and minored in chemistry, while Raleigh majored in chemistry and minored in biology.

After graduating, the two moved to Osakis to work on the family farm.

Electric bikes 6849.jpg
Raleigh Miller cruises around her yard on their “tadpole” electric trike on Friday, May 20.

Thalen Zimmerman/Alexandria Echo Press

Cycling became a hobby for Denny and Raleigh after they retired in 2009.

“When we were farming, we were too busy to cycle. We had never even ridden the trail. Even though the trail was there and waiting to be used, we never had time,” Raleigh said.

The previous bike experience was a “knock down” farm bike to check traps and see if the hay was ready for harvest.

“Well, Raleigh started cycling after we retired. I really wasn’t going to, but I guess he thought the trails were so cool. So I started rolling,” Denny said.

Raleigh bought a 10-speed mountain bike to ride the Central Lakes Bike Trail, but Denny couldn’t keep up.

“I’m so old,” Denny chuckled. “So I put the electricity on and rode it the whole time. Raleigh got mad, so I electrified his.

Electric bikes 6866.jpg
Dennis Miller hooks a battery to their tadpole trike—the name is due to the bike being wider in the front with both wheels and narrower in the rear—while Raleigh watches.

Thalen Zimmerman/Alexandria Echo Press

Denny says they’ve been running electric for 10 years and racked up thousands of miles. According to the odometer reading on the bike’s battery monitor, they’ve each done 4,000 miles in 2021.

They cruise at speeds of around 13 miles per hour. Although a fair amount of pedaling is still required, Raleigh says he can go nearly 60 miles without pedaling if the conditions are right — slow speeds and no wind.

“I went 100 miles on a single battery charge,” Raleigh said. “Pedaling doesn’t charge the battery, but that’s where you use the least battery.”

“When he was in his 60s, Raleigh could drive to St. Joseph and back with a regular bike without a battery. I guess I kind of spoiled it when we went electric,” Denny said. “You still get the same amount of exercise. You just go further. Maybe a little faster. With electric we usually go about 13 mph and about 10 using a manual. Any man good on bicycles can always circle around us.We are old and we are not so much for athletics.

“Even with our electrics, we are still overwhelmed by hotshots. People are just pedaling,” Raleigh said. “I always make sure I’m tired after a race.”

Raleigh’s longest one-day trip was 126 miles. From their home in Fergus Falls and back.

“You meet the most interesting people on the trail,” Raleigh said.

One of the most memorable experiences was attending a fun family outing on the Paul Bunyan Trail. They came across two three-wheeled riding devices – one wheel in front and two in back. A mother and father were on the front of two tricycles towing a two-wheeled cart carrying their disabled son.

“They did all of this without any power,” Denny said. “They had a little whistle that looked like a train engine.”

With the help of the homemade bike rack, the Millers can take their bikes anywhere, especially up north in the Duluth area, a favorite spot, and into Wisconsin to ride the Elroy Sparta State Trail. One place that keeps them coming back is a trail that crosses the Mississippi, where water cascades beautifully along a dam.

“We try to go at least once a year,” says Denny.

Electric bikes 6881.jpg
Raleigh Miller, left, and Denny Miller assemble Denny’s homemade rack that can carry up to three bikes.

Thalen Zimmerman/Alexandria Echo Press

But, with the spring sluggish, Denny says they started the bike season slow and only racked up about 300 miles this year.

Wind and rain often keep them from shutting off as humidity can damage the battery, and the wind will drain its energy, one of the downsides of e-bikes, which is why they keep them wrapped in plastic. But the biggest problem is flat tires, which are difficult to change with in-wheel hub motors.

“We’ve had nothing but outages this year,” Denny said.

Outside of their trips across the country, they keep busy all summer long with organized bike rides like the Dam to Dam ride in Little Falls and the Ice Cream Ride from Alexandria to Tip Top Dairy in Osakis. They also ride occasionally with the Big Ole Bike Club and a group called the Top of the Hill Club.

The Millers said horseback riding allows them to be part of a community while keeping them fit.

“If it wasn’t for the socializing,” Denny said, “I didn’t know we’d be riding so much.”

Comments are closed.