You know Gregory Allen — maybe not by name but any Boise State student can recognize him when he cruises through campus on one of his homemade tricycles. His hat made of leather and old ladies’ overcoats, round glasses, beard and unique transportation make him a character distinctive enough to beg recognition from any passerby. The tricycle that sets him apart provides an example of his many solutions for “the better way,” in this case, he means a better way to travel other than by automobile.
When the weather or time permits, he can often be spotted riding one to the grocery store, thrift stores, work or Dawson Taylor Coffee downtown. For the last 11 years he has built the trikes and put thousands of miles on them as an environmentally friendly and low consumption alternative to automobiles. Though he owns a Toyota pickup himself, he does his best to use it only as necessary. The tricycles have grown in popularity and businesses have approached him about obtaining one.
“I have sort of become the resident expert on that type of thing, by default,” Allen said.
Allen works as a welder and a subcontractor for various jobs around Boise. The skills he utilizes to build his trikes and other projects are the same ones that get him by today, and have supported him since he graduated from Idaho State University’s vocational technical school years ago with a 4.0 GPA. They help him remain self-employed, a chief desire for a man who prefers not to depend on someone’s permission to earn a living. Allen possesses an aversion to busy work for the sake of keeping busy — he’d rather spend time gainfully employed, building his tricycles.
“I use these things to fill in when I’m not busy doing something else,” Allen said. “I like to build things. It’s what I do.”
His workshop testifies to his love for building and learning. Allen built the shed in which his works of transportation glory are created from a frame and panels that can be taken down in an afternoon. He considers the design an excellent alternative to low-cost or post-disaster housing. The workbench and shelves on the inside, crafted with neat precision, display his talent for woodwork and steel work. The room remains cozy with help from a homemade heater on the workbench, and Allen even built many of the tools he uses to build his tricycles.
Not only has he fashioned an alternative method of getting around and produced ideas about temporary housing, but Allen also described a system of rails for vehicles to use electricity to travel in a downtown setting efficiently. He tested the theory by constructing a miniature electric train and tracks that people could ride in, which could easily be transported or used for events. As for hats, Allen makes his own. He assembled his latest tricycle in a large room, but left space to exhibit hats, and has kept it reserved for someone who would want to be self-employed as a hat vendor. One of these hats, worn by a friend, ended up on CNN in an image displaying fashion in Boise.
In these ways and many more, Allen’s productivity, positive impact, and distinct character are not difficult to see. His unique character reflects the Boise’s culture in many ways. His individuality and reputation make him significant part of that culture.
The builder’s trikes
Gregory Allen asserts that automobiles use an excessive and unnecessary amount of weight and moving parts to achieve the simple goal of traveling from point A to point B.
His solution: build a new mode of transportation that leaves only a miniscule footprint on the environment and allows more endurance even than a traditional bicycle. He said that conventional bikes are upside down and backwards. With this thought a new idea was born. The efficiency of his designs come from several places, the most important being a front wheel drive setup.
“Once you’ve got front wheel drive the rest of it is just a trailer,” Allen said. “It’s just a lot more efficient and convenient if it pulls you around instead of pushes you around — like putting the cart before the horse.”
The tricycles generally run on some type of battery which helps the bike accelerate quickly, and supplemented with pedals in front and basic cable brakes. The framework consists of thin, lightweight steel welded together. The various models parked throughout his workshop and garage include their own individual components, such as hidden second seats, doors, storage space, roofs and more. In the end he’s left with a rugged, dependable, lightweight and unique way to get around.
In 11 years, Allen has built 25 tricycles and 10 other sidecars or trailers. In that same amount of time 1,000 people, he said, have stopped him on the street showing interest in them, many of them wanting to purchase one. However, he’s never sold one for cash. Instead, they have been given to friends or traded for something else. Selling his bikes or owning a tricycle factory are not ideal prospects for Allen. At most, he may sell his plans, make videos to show the building process, or find other ways to expose his alternative to high consumption transportation to the world. This way, others can utilize an efficient transportation alternative, create their own self employment situation or simply take a step to do the right thing for the environment.
Allen works to build at least one tricycle or similar project per year, modifying them each time to determine what makes the most efficient product. He’s put more than 35,000 miles on them, pushing them to their limits to determine what breaks, what improvements the next model may need, and what it takes to make repairs.
“What I’ve been doing is designing these things from the ground up. It’s a process more than an event,” Allen said. “The design is an exercise in finding how much is barely enough. It has to be strong enough that it always gets you home but is lightweight as you can possibly make it. The only way to find out what that is, is to make it not strong enough repeatedly.”
The difference Allen’s tricycles make is simple. It is the functional equivalent of 375 miles to the gallon, and he can charge one all month for the price of a gallon of gas. Only a few drops of oil are needed in a year and no exhaust goes into the atmosphere. For Allen, it is simply a way to get around while leaving a smaller impact on the environment.