For each of his 44 years, Kelowna resident Stephen Hawtree has lived with the reality that he could lose his eyesight. Born with Retinitis Pigmentosis (RP), a genetic degenerative eye disease that blinded both his Great Grandfather and Uncle, Stephen had experienced relatively few impacts on his day-to-day life. That is, until a recent doctor’s appointment, where he was told deep cataracts (a complication of the RP) meant he would have to give up his driver’s license with immediate effect.
“I was pretty devastated,” admits Hawtree, an IT consultant for the federal government. “I drive to and from work, I drive to remote locations for my job, and I drive to enjoy the outdoors. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to perform my work related duties. I was also concerned my wife would have to take me everywhere.”
In addition to threatening both his career and his personal independence, Stephen was also rather worried about how this change in circumstances would affect his ability to enjoy Kelowna’s spectacular surroundings. “I really enjoy going out into the woods to camp, hike, fish, and snowshoe; and I was concerned that my recreational life would be negatively impacted if I was unable to drive,” he reveals.
Hawtree and his wife Genevieve began researching possible solutions, and an electric fat tire bike—specifically the Surface 604 Boar—checked all of the boxes of a vehicle that could restore—and perhaps even improve—Stephen’s personal mobility. But the price tag was a little outside of their means, so the Hawtrees set up a GoFundMe page requesting financial assistance from their friends and family.
They had raised about $1,300 of their $4,200 goal when Sam Atakhanov, Vice President of Business Development at Surface 604 stumbled across the page. Atakhanov decided to partner with local dealer Darren Mohl of Kelowna E Ride, and generously offer the Boar to Stephen for the amount they had already collected.
Mohl, who has been selling electric bikes, scooters, cargo bikes, and conversion kits for a few years, is a firm believer in their quality, convenience and environmental benefits. “My experience so far has been very rewarding, because we offer enhanced mobility for so many people for so many different purposes,” Mohl claims. “The majority of our customers are baby boomers, for whom there is usually something that keeps them from fully enjoying cycling, so the e-bike is the great equalizer.”
Like many North Americans, Hawtree cycled to and from school as a child, but never regularly as an adult. But he is now fully embracing life on two wheels. “An e-bike is the ultimate in transportation for me,” he suggests. “The Boar is like the SUV of bicycles. With electric pedal assist, fat tires, racks and fenders, I can make my way to and from work in almost any weather and hit the hardware store on the way home!”
It’s fair to say the Boar hasn’t just restored Stephen’s mobility, but—in many ways— provides a newfound freedom that his pickup truck never afforded him. He has discovered the incredible sense of freedom that comes with making the vast majority of trips on his own two feet (and a little added boost from the electric motor): “Riding gives me independence. I can come and go as I please,” Hawtree declares proudly. “My schedule is only dictated by work or meeting appointment times. I can take whatever route I choose, balancing time constraints with a need to see different scenery, and occasionally enjoy some off-road adventures en route.”
For anyone who has discovered the joy of bike commuting, Stephen’s personal revelations sound very familiar. “My daily commute has changed from a necessary evil to a pleasurable adventure!” he claims. “I spend less time waiting for red lights, and more time enjoying the fresh air. My route includes travel through a linear park complete with a creek and pond, and I’m able to avoid the traffic congestion and exhaust fumes. I get to work just as quickly and feel much better. I’ve also been able to save a lot of money, as there’s no more filling up the truck every week!”
Outside of the nine to five, the biggest relief for Stephen—a strong, independent and active outdoorsman—has been that he hasn’t had to abandon his passion for the outdoors. “Without being able to drive, I was worried I might have to give up some of my outdoor recreational pursuits,” Hawtree reveals. “With my gear attached to electric fat tire bike, I’m able to ride up into the mountains, enjoy a day of hiking or snowshoeing, and then return home, without having to rely on a ride from my wife.”
A hopeful Hawtree awaits cataract surgery that will replace his eye lenses, and may (or may not) bring back his eyesight to a reasonable level. Regardless of whether he gets his driver’s license back, the Boar has become a permanent part of his daily routine. “Regardless of the outcome of my cataract surgery, I will continue to ride to work,” Stephen submits. “I enjoy the fresh air and the exercise. I arrive at work full of energy with a positive outlook. I am more productive. When I arrive home, I have released the stress of the day. Whenever I ride, regardless of my destination or origin, and the challenges of the commute, I always arrive with a smile on my face!”
“A co-founder of Modacity, a multi-service communications and marketing firm focused on inspiring healthier, happier, simpler forms of urban mobility through words, photography and film”