The dreams of childhood usually die hard and horrible deaths, victims of the biting reality of adulthood. But sometimes, the inner child resists, waiting for that moment when the adult learns the necessary skills to bring those dreams to life. Robert Egger is good at waiting. For 45 years, he filed his burning desire for a mini-bike into a “secret dreams” drawer, biding his time until his skills matched with his vision. Now, that dream is realized — albeit in a mashed-up, more electric kind of way.
The latest passion project from Specialized’s biggest big kid, Robert Egger, has one wheel in his youthful past and another firmly in the future. Past or future, big kid or small, the Road Toad mini-e-bike will make you squeal.
“If you were cool, you had a mini-bike. I didn’t have a minibike.”
– Adult Robert Egger, talking about child Robert Egger.
Background & Inspiration
Being cool. It was as important to a kid back then as it is now, and for a young Egger in the ’70s, there was nothing cooler than being the proud owner of a mini-bike. He wanted one, desperately.
“A mini-bike was basically a very cheap motorcycle. [It had] two cheap pneumatic wheels, a very simple, tubular chassis, and a Briggs & Stratton lawn mower motor in it,” says Robert. “It was something parents could buy pretty cost effectively for their kids, and if you had one of these you were automatically a cool kid. Well, I never had one, so I said ‘Hey, when I get older I’m going to make my own mini bike.’”
Fast forward to 2016, and finally, he’s gone and done it. Sort of. It wouldn’t be a genuine Robert Egger project without Robert putting some kind of Egger spin on it, so while the Road Toad looks very much like the mini-bike of his youth, it’s evolved. Instead of a lawn mower or Go-Kart motor, this one’s gone electric to give it all the looks, minus the fumes. It was always the look Robert lusted after, anyway.
“If you look at the silhouette of this chassis,” says Robert, giving us a tour of the bike in his workshop, “it’s very similar to those old mini-bikes of the ’60s and ‘70s.”
One look at its small and stocky build and you’re instantly smiling, imagining how much of a blast it must be to ride. You can see yourself on it, tearing up the neighborhood and turning heads. And that’s the secret power of the mini-bike — it has the innate ability to bubble up those fun-loving vibes of childhood and launch you right back into those years of short pants and big dreams.
“There’s just something about it,” says Robert, describing how people respond to the bike at car and bike shows (most recently, the Concours D’Elegance in Carmel). “Maybe it’s the color, maybe it’s the shape, or maybe it’s the size. Kids love this. Even big kids, because big kids like me can remember their joyous youth in the ’70s, when everything was pretty pure and clean. It was something pretty cool.”
The ’60s and ’70s could be considered the golden age of the mini-bike. With its distinct look and style — and ease of creation — this small, super-fun bike was the ultimate tinkerer’s dream. The scene grew quickly and brands got involved, but it was still possible for young hobbyist’s to get in on the act. The June 1967 issue of Popular Mechanics Magazine even had an article and plans to help you get kick off your own DIY minibike project. Got a welder and a lawnmower engine? Well, get cracking on your mini-bike.
Everything about mini-bike culture was cool, from the way they looked to the way they sounded, and especially the way they made you feel. They were Great Escape vehicles for pint-sized Steve McQueens. The gateway drug for aspiring Easy Riders, everywhere.
Enter the Toad
While the bike has its foundation in the cult of the mini-bike, the name itself is lovingly appropriated from another motorcycle brand from the ’60s and ‘70s — Hodaka. Robert was, and still is, a big fan of the names they gave to many of their trail bikes. Along with the Road Toad, you could get your trail-bike lovin’ hands on the Combat Wombat, the Super Rat, and The Dirt Squirt. These were inexpensive bikes with a nose for fun, and once again, a dream bike for boys like Robert.
“I thought that using the green color and using a cute little toad would be kind of fun. Hodaka also had this kind of ’70s type, so Rodney Hines [Senior Designer at Specialized] helped me duplicate some of that stuff, and because he’s an old motocross guy from the ’70s, he got it right away.”
“The conception took 45 years. As soon as I saw this as a kid, my brain was thinking how can I make my own? But I didn’t have an opportunity, or a motor, or welding abilities until now. I had to be very patient.”
– Robert Egger, when asked how long he’s been thinking about a mini-bike?
Behind the Build
Finally, the moment arrived. It’s perfect — Robert’s all grown up (in age). He’s spent years building bikes and has the skills. He has access to a workshop, he can weld, he can fabricate, and he can sew. He has the means to make the magic. But he also has something else, now. He’s not just taller and wiser, technology has also grown, and with it the opportunity to make his dream mini-bike a funky blend of young and old Egger.
“I want to see a more playful side of e-bikes,” he says. “Right now it’s serious and, of course, there’s been lots of controversy. So, it’s like ‘how do we bring the fun into e-bikes?’”
Mini-bikes are fun, and all controversy aside, so are e-bikes. The marriage between the two seemed like a perfect and logical marriage. For Robert, it seemed a no-brainer that the Turbo Levo chassis could become the backbone of the Road Toad.
“The Levo chassis — and I mean basically the down tube and the motor configuration — is, or could be, a module for a lot of different styles of bikes. In this instance, I took that module out of an old crushed Levo and resurrected it into the Road Toad to give it a whole new personality.”
With the addition of a number plate, it’s the personality of a scrappy little racer.
“I wanted it to have a race feel, because as a kid, when you rode this, you were imagining you were Steve McQueen or you were a famous motorcycle daredevil,” he says.
“You’ve got to use your imagination. This life is about imagination and cycling is definitely about imagination. When you’re out there doing those multi-hour rides, what do you think about? If you’re thinking about the agony of riding a bike for hours, then you need to shake your mind up a little bit.”
Wherever Robert Egger has taken the Road Toad, people have responded positively to it. Kids swarm all over it, while adults start conversations about their own childhood memories of their own mini-bike. For its ability to bring joy to people, Egger rates this very highly on his success scale.
“You know, as a kid this was all about imagination. It still is today. It’s like our bikes, whether it’s the Road Toad, or a Sirrus, or a Tarmac, should inspire us to be something great, right? When I ride my road bike, I want to climb like Contador or I want to sprint like Sagan, even though I can’t. But in either case, I can imagine I can.
“I think the biggest thing about [why I make stuff like] this is having fun and not being so damn serious all the time. […] We should make products that make people happy, not just products that are technical or lightweight or cost effective. We should make things that are beautiful and inspire us to get off our chairs and ride our bikes.”
Special Thing Rap Sheet
NAME: “Road Toad”
Specialized Creative Director, Robert Egger
WHAT IS IT?
Electric mini-bike mash-up
Fabricated by Robert Egger
Rodney Hines, inspired by Hodaka
Turbo Levo Motor, exclusive, custom tuned for Specialized, Trail Tune, 250W
TIME TO COMPLETE:
“Once I got the old crushed Levo, I cut that [module] out, I found some aluminum tubes and started bending stuff, I vacuum formed some parts I got it heat-treated — it all took about a month of spare time.”
Story originally appeared on specialized.com [Archived]