An idea born in Brazil and built in Buellton could become the center of a Chinese theme park next year.
Construction on the Trikke Sports Park could begin in May outside Guangzhou if the project wins government approval, said Gildo Beleski, inventor of the Trikke and chairman of research and development for Trikke Tech Inc.
If the idea gains traction there, up to 10 more parks could be built throughout China, and others could spring up in Europe and the United States, Beleski said.
The park is expected to not only draw Trikke fans but also create new ones, expanding demand for the three-wheeled machines among the country’s 1 billion citizens.
“This is important for us because China is, by far, the leader in personal mobility,” Beleski said, noting the country accounts for 85 percent of all electric bikes sold worldwide.
“At (the) same time, we will share technology and product development,” he said. “Trikke China becomes our own supplier. It is key to have our own operation there.”
Technically a “three-point cambering vehicle,” the Trikke is more commonly referred to as a “carving vehicle,” because the motion that propels the nonmotorized versions is similar to a skier carving down the face of a slope.
In fact, Beleski has developed a Trikke for the slopes called a Skki that will be among the attractions at the planned theme park, where visitors can experience a Skki ride down a slope of artificial snow Beleski described as “similar to wet carpet.”
Michael Peng, chief executive officer of Trikke China, recognized the vehicle’s potential as a sports technology brand and hit upon a theme park as a way to market it in China.
“The park is designed to be a fun, family, sports and recreation attraction, featuring Trikke riding, Trikke skiing, multiple tracks for downhill racing, off-road-style Trikke riding, drifting, e-racing, a Jet Ski-style Trikke water park, a Monster Trikke arena, a Trikke skate park and a children’s fun park,” Peng said.
Also envisioned are an outdoor swimming pool, bars, restaurants, music and other entertainment.
“It’s a park with a Trikke theme,” Beleski said. “A place for family and friends to spend the day and have a great experience, shopping, music shows, performances. A theme park that can be replicated in many large cities through the franchising model.”
If it takes off the way Peng expects, it could provide a big boost to the Buellton-based company’s sales.
Birth of a fun machine
Beleski, 52, known to most people simply as “G,” began developing the three-wheeler around 1990 in his hometown of Curitiba, Brazil, where a popular pastime was to climb to the top of a hill and ride down on whatever a person had.
“It was just something to go downhill,” he said of his first design. “Skateboards and in-line skates were a little scary when you started going downhill.”
He ultimately developed a frame that would allow the rider, who stands up, to lean into the turns while keeping all three wheels in contact with the ground — the cambering effect.
Then he discovered that by leaning from side to side, that cambering effect could power the vehicle forward on level ground and even up hills.
Beleski was unable to develop and market his invention in Brazil — “it wasn’t the right time or place” — but as an automotive technician and engineer attending trade shows in the United States, he realized he could do it in America.
“I already had the product in my garage,” he said. “I knew this was a better market for products, and it’s easier to do business with the world in the U.S. than in Brazil.”
Beleski moved to the United States, started Trikke Tech in 2000, obtained a patent on his frame design in 2001 and launched his first model — for children — in 2002.
But as it turned out, the Trikke appealed more to adults, who saw its health benefits from exercise, its value as a fun recreation and its ease of storage and hauling by folding it up.
“So it had become from a downhill fun machine to a fitness machine,” Beleski said.
Time magazine named it one of the 10 best inventions of the year and put a Trikke and rider on its cover.
“People from 50 to 80 are our core demographic,” Beleski said. “Why? First, because it’s easy to use. You’re using your whole body. And second, it makes you feel like a kid again. You start having fun. Then the benefit of fitness becomes awesome.”
He noted former President Jimmy Carter and his wife are still riding their Trikkes in their 90s.
A friend had convinced Beleski to move to Southern California, but he fell in love with the Valley when he joined his business partner on trips to visit his mother in Santa Ynez.
So Beleski and his wife, Ana, escaped to Buellton.
“We love it here,” he said. “We’re part of the community. We have 11 years here now.”
Expanding the line
In 2005, Beleski created the Skki, a modified version of the Trikke that replaced the wheels with short snow skis.
But despite its success technologically, it wasn’t accepted by the ski resorts, which wouldn’t allow it on the lifts.
“The rule says it has to be connected to the foot,” Beleski said. “Otherwise, you’re foot traffic.”
In this area, only Mountain High at Wrightwood will allow Skkis. So Beleski stopped marketing them in the United States, although they’re still sold in Europe, especially Poland, where they are better received.
Although the Trikke can be ridden uphill, some buyers complained they couldn’t do it.
So Beleski developed an aftermarket electric motor kit, then in 2009 launched the electric line of Trikkes that, depending on the model, can reach speeds of 16 mph with a range of 24 miles and a battery that can recharge in five hours from being fully depleted.
“It’s really green transportation,” Beleski said. “It’s an electric vehicle you ship in a box.”
Seeing its potential for security guards and police patrolling city streets, industrial complexes, universities and medical campuses, he developed the Trikke Patroller+ with integrated headlights, front and side flashing emergency lights, a siren and a 1,700-cubic-inch gear bag.
“Santa Barbara Police Department has two of them,” he said.
From that an even more robust version was born — the Defender, with a heavy-duty frame, a full suspension allowing it to go off road, more power for a higher top speed and a 35-mile range.
Now he’s working on a water version that will be powered by a jet of water.
“This is a platform that will evolve into many products,” Beleski said. “It’s parallel with the bicycle, which can be many sizes and shapes. It can be like a motorcycle. Maybe someday it will even be enclosed.
“We’re not a scooter company with a product we’re trying to sell,” he added. “We are a technology company.”