LEWISTON — Don Bouthot’s machines struggle to look mean, reaching out with their front tires to resemble choppers or wearing Harley-Davidson stickers in pursuit of street cred.

The meanness evaporates when Bouthot pedals into the street, pops the clutch on a motorized bicycle and the two-stroke engine chugs to life.

“People give me looks,” Bouthot said. Drivers sometimes crowd him on the shoulder. Harley-riding buddies laugh at the 48cc engine, which sounds like an outboard motor.

Bouthot offers no apologies.

“This is how I do errands,” said the machinist, who makes a living working on energy-producing turbines. “You get around 100 miles to the gallon.”

Bouthot started by buying one for himself. It worked well, taking him from his shop on Warren Avenue in Lewiston to Sabattus Lake and Durham. Quickly, he realized that other folks might want them, too.

His knowledge of motorcycles and engines made the work easy. He started combing yard sales and pawn shops for bikes with frames big enough to carry his modifications. And he bought nine engines.

He opened his shop about four weeks ago. Since then, he sold the first nine and most of the second nine. And he is preparing to submit another order.

So far, his customers have included a couple who want to take the bikes along as they travel in a motor home. Another was the guy who sold Bouthot his bike.

When complete, the bikes offer a simple, low-tech alternative to pedal-only power. Each sells for a different price, depending on the customization.

A chopper-style bike sold for $650. Another on a Schwinn body was selling for about $500.

Each still operates like a bicycle. However, once the wheels get moving, the engine may start with a little work. The effect is similar to starting a car with a manual transmission by rolling it on a hill. Release the clutch and it sputters to life.

The engine’s power is all one needs in the city, Bouthot said. An average-sized man can climb most any hill with the motor. On a flat surface, it’ll go about 25 mph, he said.

And it doesn’t require a license.

Modified bicycles are treated like regular bicycles under Maine law, said Garry Hinkley, the director of vehicle services for the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

As long as they are pedal-powered and don’t surpass 1.5 horsepower, they fall within the laws governing bicycles, Hinkley said. 

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Don Bouthot fills the gas tank of a motorized bicycle that a customer brought in for repair at Don’s Motorized Bikes in Lewiston. Mike Burch, left, is a friend of Bouthot’s who is a handyman when it comes to motors and wiring.

“He is the Marine Corps mascot and he is our mascot too,” said Don Bouthot of his English Bulldog, Jabroni.

Andrew Bouthot, 8, helps his grandfather put motorized bikes away before the rain comes down in Lewiston on Tuesday. Bouthot’s grandfather, Don, is the owner of Don’s Motorized Bikes.

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