Categorized | Shoestring Startup

Buddy Bike: Love Inspires Two Fathers to Build an Innovative Tandem Bicycle

In the early 1990s Robert “Bob” Gardner from Willits, California created what would eventually become the Buddy Bike. Bob, a bicycle enthusiast, was inspired to customize a bike to ride with his young son, Isaac. Bob added a seat and foot pegs to his bicycle so Isaac could ride in front of his seat. While Isaac immensely enjoyed riding in front he wanted his own pedals. To make his son happy, Bob welded two old Schwinn bicycle frames together and called the special tandem bicycle the “Love Bike.” Production began in 1996.

Barry and Jesse

Barry Nelson, an estate planning attorney in North Miami Beach, Florida, enjoyed outdoor activities with his children but had difficulty finding an activity that he could share with his youngest son, Jesse, who has autism. In 2003 Barry began searching for a bicycle to use with Jesse, but all of the cycling options placed Jesse in the back, which was very risky for a child with his condition. Barry eventually found one of Bob’s Love Bikes and purchased the unique bicycle. Barry and Jesse enjoyed their time together on the bike so much that it inspired Barry to share the experience with other families with similar needs. Barry used his legal knowledge and personal funds to create a Trust in Jesse’s name. In 2005 Barry utilized Jesse’s Trust to purchase the patent and remaining inventory of the Love Bike and changed the name of the bicycle to the “Buddy Bike.”

The Buddy Bike is the alternative tandem bicycle that places the smaller rider in front. It is shorter in length than a standard tandem and has a patented handlebar setup that allows the rear rider to control the steering. The Buddy Bike has a weight capacity of 380 pounds and a lower front seat so both riders can safely enjoy the view. The Buddy Bike gives parents peace of mind and is the ultimate family bike that can be enjoyed by riders of most ages and abilities.

Shelly Patterson

The innovative features of the Buddy Bike offer outdoor recreation and therapeutic activity to special needs children who may not otherwise experience the thrill of riding a bicycle. Although the special needs market is a large target audience which immediately recognizes the benefits of the Buddy Bike, selling only one niche product on a shoestring budget provides obvious challenges. I am Shelley Patterson, the “Director of Marketing and Business Development” and sole employee of Buddy Bike, LLC. I like the title “Director of Marketing and Business Development” as I take it to mean “the person who does EVERYTHING,” including meeting those challenges.

I became involved in the Buddy Bike business in 2005 when my boss of ten years, Barry Nelson, came to me and said: “I need a logo. I’m selling a bike.” I almost fainted as I knew that he needed much more than a logo. At that time I didn’t know anything about special needs families, the bicycle industry or running a business. Today I can confidently say that I am building a great reputation for Buddy Bike, LLC as the maker of a quality product and as a company that understands and cares about the needs of its customers and distributors.

Since 2005, I have managed to not only continue the operations of the company but also increase awareness and sales on a shoestring budget while battling a difficult economy. I have achieved these ends by utilizing the following techniques: (1) building quality product that our customers want to talk about; and (2) spending time developing our online presence through search engine optimization (SEO), by building online relationships with social media and by placing online ads which target our audience and drive traffic to our web site.

The Buddy Bike is a quality product that people want to talk about. It provides an opportunity to build customer evangelism – per Wikipedia, “Evangelism marketing is an advanced form of word of mouth marketing (WOMM) in which companies develop customers who believe so strongly in a particular product or service that they freely try to convince others to buy and use it.” The Buddy Bike fulfills a need for many special needs families by offering a safe cycling option with therapeutic benefits, quality family time and social interaction in the community. Many Buddy Bike customers are so happy that they promote the bike to their support groups, counselors, other families as well as through their blogs and online forums. Their promotion is free and has been more effective than any ad, article or web content I could have created. We share their comments and photos with permission on our web site at

In the beginning, we attended several tradeshows per year but found the travel and exhibit costs to be very expensive. Although tradeshows are necessary, we currently participate in fewer shows per year and invest more time in building an online presence to minimize our travel budget. We have also been focusing our marketing efforts on SEO. The majority of our referrals and purchases come from internet searches, so improving our visibility helps more potential customers find us. We have obtained a high rank in most search engines without having to pay for web listings or services to “boost” our ranking by utilizing keywords, relevant web content and by building reciprocal links. It also helps that the Buddy Bike is a unique product with little direct competition.

In addition to SEO, we utilize social media to communicate with current customers, to generate new leads and to network with media, bloggers and bike business contacts. We also communicate topics of interest in cycling and special needs. We stick to those topics, avoid heavy sales pitches and hope that we will be seen as a reliable and useful source of information. Buddy Bike has a Facebook page (, a Twitter account ( and a YouTube Channel (

Robert “Bob” Gardner

We utilize every free tool possible but we are learning – as the old adage says: “you have to spend money to make money.” The question is where and when to spend that money. The decisions are especially tough to make when you know that by placing your funds here, you don’t have funds to place there, so you need to determine which choice will provide the most exposure to the right audience. We began experimenting with Facebook ads and have found it to be the best form of advertising for the money. We control how much we spend and in a 5-day ad we can receive over 1,000,000 impressions. Our Facebook ads generate more leads than most tradeshows with a very small portion of the expense.

If I were to give advice to someone considering a startup business on a shoestring budget, I would recommend doing your homework: (a) learn your product, (b) know your market, (c) prepare a business plan, a marketing plan and a budget, and (d) be prepared…to be flexible. You will learn as you go and at times it will seem overwhelming but by using some of our free and low cost suggestions, you may find success.

Since 2005, over 500 Buddy Bikes have been produced and shipped to special needs families around the world. For more information about the Buddy Bike visit

Shelley L. Patterson
Director of Marketing and Business Development
Buddy Bike, LLC
786.489.BIKE (2453)
Shelley [at]

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One Response to “Buddy Bike: Love Inspires Two Fathers to Build an Innovative Tandem Bicycle”


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shelley Patterson and Shelley Patterson, ShoeStringVenture. ShoeStringVenture said: Read on my blog : Buddy Bike: Love Inspires Two Fathers to Build an Innovative Tandem Bicycle […]

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