Change Your World
2014 12 31
Walk and Bike â€‹Company featured in local newspaper
Guelph councillorâ€™s business goal for 2015: â€˜I want to change the worldâ€™ Bob Bell
Troy Bridgeman, Special to the Mercury
Bob Bell owner of Wike - The Walk & Bike Company of Guelph has some modest plans for 2015. He wants to change the world.
GUELPHâ€”When asked if he has a New Year’s resolution for 2015 local entrepreneur, inventor and City Councillor Bob Bell wasted no time putting the pedal to the metal.“I want to change the world,” said Bell. “And it is working.”
Since 1993, Bell has been making bicycle trailers and a variety of related products through his Guelph-based business Wike. “The business is doing very well,” he said. “We’re growing. We’re making money. Our export markets are expanding and we are on the cusp of launching a new product.” Bell said Wike is leading the active transportation revolution by creating products that make people healthier, wealthier and safer while reducing their impact on the environment. “One of the keys of our business is that we are the leading edge in the industry and we have to constantly develop new products,” said Bell. He is confident their latest design will maintain their market edge in North America, Europe and other parts of the world. “We want to be the company that brings a convertible bicycle to the marketplace,” he said. “It is still top secret but we are getting real close. We have it all drawn up.” Making things is a passion of Bell’s and he holds several patents on his inventions.
He was born in Galt the youngest of three brothers and moved to Guelph when he was one year old. He studied at Queen’s University, in Kingston, where he earned a degree in nuclear engineering. “After graduating I worked for a big transnational engineering company in South America for five years,” said Bell. “I worked in Tierra Del Fuego which is way down at the tip. We were looking for oil offshore in the world’s worst seas off Cape Horn.”
A lot of Bell’s interest in eco-friendly transportation came from his experience working in the energy sector. “I didn’t feel comfortable with a career in nuclear engineering because there is so much potential for error,” he said. “I was making a ton of money but I got the same thought when I was in the oil industry. There is something wrong here. This isn’t right.” He returned to Guelph in 1993 and took a job with the WC Wood Company. During his spare time he built the first Wike bicycle trailers in his basement. “The initial product was just for cargo and then after a couple years I started making them to carry children,” he said. “In 1997, I moved out of the basement and into a house with a garage where I produced the fast-folding aerodynamic model.”
That same year he got together with his wife and Wike’s vice-president of sales, Anna Shaftoe. “Anna doesn’t drive and has never had a license out of choice,” said Bell. “So, she is also the product tester.” Wike was one of the first bicycle companies to market their products online. “We were selling online from the house and couldn’t keep up,” Bell said. “So, we moved out of the garage and into our shop on Regal Road in 1998.” Bell worked as a consultant for WC Wood and then Stack a Shelf in Waterloo until 2001 when he started full-time with Wike. The product line has since grown to include bicycles and trailers for children, cargo, boats and even golf clubs. “A big portion of our business is providing products for children with special needs,” said Bell. “People asked for a wheelchair they can pull behind their bicycles. The product iterated very quickly and now it is a very popular.”
Bell was first elected to Guelph city council in 2006 and was re-elected to his seat in Ward 1 twice. He is an outspoken advocate for progressive environmental and infrastructure policies and is the chair of the Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise Committee. “Some people view that as a conflict of interest and question whether or not I can advocate for cycling infrastructure because I am in the cycling business.,” said Bell “But, the vast majority of our products are exported out of the country and over 80 per cent of our sales are done in US dollars.” He is not averse to mixing a little business with politics. “Right after the election my wife and I left for Copenhagen and Amsterdam.” said Bell. “Denmark is the world leader in urban transportation with Amsterdam being a close second.” They visited Aalborg University in Copenhagen to consult with infrastructure and urban transport experts about the types of products Wike should be manufacturing to meet a market where 50 per cent of the population uses bicycles for transportation. “They’re just as interested in what I am trying to do here in products as I am on how they are doing over there in infrastructure,” he said. Bell sees Copenhagen as a model for future infrastructure planning in Guelph.
“These are the products that are going to change the world,” said Bell. “This is the way you need to build your city infrastructure to enable the change. I can’t change the cycling infrastructure in Chicago or New York City but I could sure as hell try to change it here.”