The sun broke through the cloudy Wednesday sky, reflecting off the bright cherry red glow of Nick Palumbo’s bike as he cruised into the Scarborough Sports Complex. Palumbo, a small business owner, and Savannah City Councilman has recently pivoted to creating hand-crafted electric bikes in his backyard. He brought one for me to test along the walking trail near the Truman Parkway.
“Be careful,” he cautioned as I mounted the bike. “This thing has some speed on it.”
I got on and pushed off, flicking the thumb throttle up to a manageable pace. The bike instantly responded, accelerating to a speed of five miles per hour according to the mini-dashboard Paulmbo installed on the handlebars.
I opened the throttle wide, raising the speed on the custom-built M-500 to its maximum of 20 miles per hour (which Palumbo assures me is street-legal). As the wind rushed through my hair, the clouds seemed to vanish and the noise of cars speeding along the Truman seemed to slip away as I began laughing with a feeling of pure joy.
I kept my ride short (mostly out of fear that I would somehow break Palumbo’s bike) but I’ve found myself daydreaming back to the experience on multiple occasions. It was an opportunity to forget about all of my other commitments for the day and enjoy the moment.
Palumbo began his journey of building custom-made electric bikes the way many innovators begin their creative process: like a dream with no definitive path. He had no prior experience with bike mechanics or the engineering that would be required to produce what would eventually become the M-500. He was inspired to undertake the journey after picking up a vintage 1967 Raleigh Sports Bike from Bike Walk Savannah.
“I didn’t know anything about bikes,” he said. “So I’m gonna disassemble this thing, I want it to be like new, I’m just going to learn everything I can about bikes.”
He wanted to create a bike that incorporated the comfort of the vintage Raleigh and the design of the 1920’s era of Italian sportbikes. The front of the bike is emblazoned with his last name. This pays homage to this time period of Italian bikes when inventors would show their belief in the mission of their business by placing their name on the product.
“I put my name there,” he proudly says. “Not out of ego, but to show, ‘hey, I’m making these things, they’re hand-built and I’m invested from soup to nuts totally.’”
He was insistent on making it an electric-powered bicycle, saying, “I truly believe that when the barriers of actual effort and the leg power that you have to put into it are removed and you get people on this thing, you see the possibility of not having to use a car again.
The assembly process was a true labor of love for Palumbo. He began building the prototype bike near the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine in 2020. He invested his first stimulus check in purchasing the materials needed to make the bike. The prototype took him six months to complete but involved a lot of personal education along the way, including learning how to hand stitch the leather battery cover.
The M-500 covers a 50-mile distance per charge thanks to the 20 AMPower battery powering a 500-watt electric motor. High-quality Brooks’ leather covers the seat and handlebars, providing a comfortable, luxurious touch for the rider.
Palumbo built the bike specifically to his tastes, but says, “There was always the dream of building it for someone else.”
He’s sold a handful of bikes since beginning his endeavor in April of 2020. He’s since cut down on the turnaround time and makes it a point to involve each customer in the building process. Customers can expect frequent updates from Nick along the way, and he provides opportunities for those interested in making a custom ride, such as choosing specific colors for their rides.
I asked Palumbo what role he thinks his company will play in Savannah.
“Savannah was founded on this utopian idea,” he says. He explains, saying “When you have that as your origin story, that innovative DNA is still in the city. When you’re out there creating new stuff, especially in the business environment, it is a judgment-free zone. You find a community of people that come out and support you. It’s another part of what makes this place special, innovative, and unique. You can come here as a visitor and be anything you want to be.”
Palumbo’s creativity and ingenuity shine through the cherry-red body of the M-500, serving as a genuine reflection of his personality and interest. He challenges me with one final thought as we part ways, something I have mulled over since our meeting.
“If you could build your own ride, what would it look like?”
To learn more about Palumbo Electric Bikes and purchase, visit www.palumboelectricbikes.com.