Meet the disabled combat veteran bringing e-bikes to Long Beach

When Chris Nolte was 18 years old, he saved money and began buying bikes from police auctions. One by one, he racked up some 55 bikes, fully restored them and re-sold them at a higher price, all in the name of helping pay for his college education.

That plan didn’t work as efficiently as he hoped, so he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves as a way to both earn money and put a dent in his college debt. The reality of being part of the reserves hit him quickly, post-9/11. Sent to Iraq as a fuel transporter, Nolte faced a dire international situation that, ultimately, had him return home as a disabled combat veteran following a serious back injury in 2003.

“Riding a bike, it was something I could not imagine not doing,” Nolte said. “And it was suddenly out of reach for me. After I received a medical retirement from the military in 2005, I was pretty inactive for several years.”

Like many veterans, Nolte found dwelling on one’s circumstances anything but fruitful and he sought to find an alternative which would both provide him the freedom of riding a bike as well as reconnecting bikes with the thousands of people who faced the same “out-of-reach-ness” that Nolte himself experienced.

It was at this time he bought his first pedal-assist electric bike and realized its potential.

“After my experience in Iraq, I just felt that we had to lessen our dependence on foreign oil,” Nolte said. “That’s what my first ship was born out of: my disability and my experience in Iraq.”

In 2011, Nolte founded Long Island Electric Bikes, a small collection of six e-bikes that he sold individually and built in collaboration with major bike engineers. The sales of those bikes allowed him to expand into a warehouse in Brooklyn in 2015, where Propel was born.

“I used a $20,000 Patriot Express Loan, designed for veterans, with a six-year term and 8% interest rate, to buy a small inventory of bikes,” Nolte said. “Once I proved that I could sell bikes, manufacturers were willing to let me buy on credit.”

The interior of the new Propel Bikes shop in Downtown Long Beach.

His collaborators are among the bicycling world’s most respected brands: Benno, Bulls, Cannondale, Gazelle, Haibike, Raleigh, Riese & Muller, Specialized, Stromer, Tern, Urban Arrow…

Now, he has formally opened up his second shop right here in Long Beach, at the 100 W. Broadway building between Pacific and Pine Avenues.

“The decision to expand into California was a very natural move,” Nolte said. “Its active outdoor culture, combined with its alternative transportation leadership, were big factors. Long Beach, in particular, has separated itself as a model city for cycling and mobility infrastructure. It is amazing what is happening here.”

Propel specializes in a specific type of e-bike known as pedal-assist bikes. You pedal it like any other bike but it amplifies your efforts by anywhere between 50% to 300% so that concerns about terrain and distance, for those with disabilities, are alleviated. Prices start at about $1,500, though most are anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000.

Perhaps most respectable is that, long before the e-scooter, Nolte truly believed that e-bikes could alter the way we view transportation by expanding accessibility, lessening our impact on the environment, and providing an easier and healthier way to get around.

“Chris’ vision, dedication and focus are completely in line with how we see the future of e-bikes and mobility in our modern world,” said Claudia Wasko, Vice President of Bosch eBike Systems America. “He and the Propel staff offer so much more than the best selection of e-bikes in the US; they offer insight and a path forward for this rapidly developing form of transportation and recreation. They do it exactly right.”

Propel Bikes is located at 100 W. Broadway in Suite 110 between Pacific and Pine Avenues.

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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