Out & About

Five questions with… Hugh Kern of Peregrine Bicycle Works

I’ve been referring to him as “folding bike guy,” but there’s a lot more to Hugh Kern, an inventor and entrepreneur who recently expanded his Chico business to PBW Enterprises (www.pbwe.com) to include other creative ventures and computer consulting. Kern is originally from St. Louis and graduated from Washington University having studied computer science and engineering. (He designed his first bike using a CAD program.) He and his wife have two children, ages 2 and 3.

1. What’s up with the folding bikes? “They’re made-to-measure. They have the ride of a full-sized bike. It can be folded in 45 seconds. A lot of [my customers] are pilots, people with boats and planes and people who wanted nice bikes. They start at around $1,700. I also sell ‘trikes’ [three-wheeled recumbent bicycles] because there are a lot of people who want to get out there on bikes that [are disabled] or don’t have the balance.”

2. What else are you working on? “I got a patent for a CV joint boot that you can put on any car. It replaces the [molded rubber boot over] the front-wheel drive axle. Everyone tears these things because it sucks. [Mine is] made of Neoprene. The Neoprene compresses, and as it compresses it seals. It should retail for 15 bucks instead of 150 and it can be put on in about five minutes. I had thought that people would [put the Neoprene boot on] when they change their oil, but people aren’t changing their own oil anymore.”

3. Did you invent stuff when you were a kid? “No. I had the [CV joint boot] problem and I had to fix it. [The first thing I invented] was software. I wrote a lot of software. The bike was the first thing mechanically. I wanted one. It’s just a problem trying to get a bicycle around in this world. It seemed like a reasonable thing to want.”

4. Why Chico? “We lived in Athens, Ga., before this and you really couldn’t ride around without feeling like you were going to get killed.”

5. I guess there’s a limited market for folding bikes. What about your other ventures? "[Because I have] a milling machine, lathe, drill press, sandblaster and powder coating machine, I could make prototypes for people. I could help people get patents. My [computer specialty] is integration—you take the inventory, the books, the purchasing, the Web sales and the customer management, and you put it all together."