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Retired brothers put thousands of miles on homemade e-bikes

Denny, 75, and Raleigh Miller, 70, of Osakis took up the hobby of bike riding after retiring from farming in 2009.

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Raleigh Miller, 70, left, and his brother, Dennis Miller, 75, rode over 4,000 miles in 2021 on homemade electric bicycles assembled by Dennis.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press
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OSAKIS, Minn. — Cool 3 a.m. air filled his nostrils as he placed his feet on the pedals and squeezed the throttle. A current from the lithium iron phosphate battery under the bike seat to the direct-drive motor where the front wheel hub would be, propelled Denny Miller, 75, down the dark country road. As he began to cruise, his Osakis farm home, where his brother, Raleigh Miller, 70, still slept, shrank behind him in the distance.

Not far up the road, he spotted a blinking red light just visible through the low-hanging morning fog emitting off the dewy grass. He timed his departure perfectly.

The light was the tail end of Bruce's two-wheeled apparatus. Bruce is a friend who lives up the road a short way from the Miller farmhouse — located at a four-corner intersection just north of Lake Osakis, just east of Alexandria.

Bruce rode a standard manual pedal bike, and although Denny's bike was electric, he still had to push a little harder to catch up. According to the Millers, Bruce is a natural on anything with wheels.

Together they rode 100 miles to Long Lake Park and Campground just north of Itasca State Park — Denny's longest one-way trip. It was still just a fraction of the 4,000plus miles he and his brother would each accumulate in 2021.

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Normally, Raleigh would accompany Denny on the biking outings as it is a shared pastime. But, on the longer rides, one of them likes to stay home if something happens — a flat tire, a dead battery or severe weather could result in one having to pick up the other in their blue Ford sedan, equipped with Denny's homemade bike rack that can carry up to three at a time. Two hanging off the trunk and a third parallel along the roof.

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Denny Miller sits back on one of his homemade recumbent electric bikes on his Osakis farmland on May 20, 2022.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

All five of their bikes were electrified by Denny with kits purchased from ebikekit.com . The kits include brakes, throttles and a controller to regulate the electric currents, display amp hours, track miles and display the bike's speed.

The kits cost anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500, depending on the quality. Batteries are sold separately and cost around $200 to $300 or $700 for the lithium iron phosphate batteries.

Denny and Raleigh have lived together nearly their whole lives, except when Denny spent close to three and a half years in the Navy as an interior communications electrician during the latter years of the Vietnam War.

"My Navy experience helped a little with the work on the bikes, and my ag class in high school helped with the welding," said Denny.

Denny tried to demonstrate how one of their bikes worked but was unsuccessful.

"Murphy's law," Raleigh says. "I break them, and he fixes them."

On a second bike demonstration, Denny was successful.

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After the Navy stint, Denny attended M-State in Fergus Falls, and a year later, Raleigh enrolled.

After Raleigh's first year, he and Denny transferred to Bemidji State University. Dennis majored in biology and minored in chemistry, while Raleigh majored in chemistry and minored in biology.

After graduating, the two moved home to Osakis to work on the family farm.

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Raleigh Miller cruises through his yard on their "tadpole" electric tricycle on Friday, May 20.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Biking became a pastime for Denny and Raleigh after they retired in 2009.

“When when we were farming, we were too busy to ride. We had never even ridden at all on the trail. Even though the trail was there and waiting to be used but we never had time,” said Raleigh.

Prior biking experience consisted of a “knock-around” farm bike to check traps and see if the hay was ready for harvest.

“Well, Raleigh started riding bike after we retired. I really wasn't going to, but I guess he thought the trails are so cool. So I started riding,” said Denny.

Raleigh bought a 10-speed mountain bike to cruise the Central Lakes bike trail, but Denny could not keep up.

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“I’m so old,” Denny chuckled. “So I put electric on and rode that all the time. Raleigh got mad, so I electrified his.”

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Dennis Miller hooks up a battery to their tadpole tricycle — the name is due to the bike being wider in the front with the two wheels and narrower in the back —while Raleigh watches.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

Denny says they have been riding electric for the last 10 years and have accumulated thousands of miles. According to the odometer reading on the bike's battery controller, they each rode 4,000 miles in 2021.

They cruise at speeds around 13 mph While a fair amount of pedaling is still required, Raleigh says he can make it almost 60 miles with no pedaling if conditions are right — slow speeds and no wind.

“I have gone 100 miles on one battery charge,” said Raleigh. “Pedaling doesn’t charge the battery, but it makes it where you use less from the battery.”

“When he was in his 60s, Raleigh could make it to St. Joseph and back with a regular bike without a battery. I guess I kind of spoiled him when we went electric,” said Denny. “You still get the same amount of exercise. You just go farther. Maybe a little bit faster. With electric, we usually go about 13 mph and about 10 using a manual. Any good man on a bicycle can still ride circles around us. We are old, and we are not that much for athletics.”

“Even with our electrics, we are still passed by hotshots. People just pedaling,” said Raleigh. “I always make sure I am tired after a ride."

Raleigh's longest trip in a day was 126 miles. From their home outside to Fergus Falls and back.

“You meet the most interesting people on the trail,” said Raleigh.

One of the most memorable experiences was witnessing a fun family outing on the Paul Bunyan Trail. They came across two three-wheeled riding apparatuses — one wheel in the front and two in the back. A mother and father were in the front two trikes and were towing a two-wheeled wagon that carried their disabled son.

“They did all this without any electrical power,” said Denny. “They had a little whistle that sounded just like a train engine.”

With the help of the homemade bike rack, the Millers are able to bring their bikes anywhere, especially up north to the Duluth area, a favorite spot, and into Wisconsin to ride the Elroy Sparta State Trail. One spot that keeps them coming back is a trail that bridges across the Mississippi, where water cascades beautifully down a dam.

“We try to get there at least once a year,” Denny says.

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Raleigh Miller, left, and Denny Miller assemble Denny's homemade rack that carries up to three bikes.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

But, with the slow spring, Denny says they have had a slow start to the biking season and have only accumulated about 300 miles this year.

Wind and rain often prevent them from going out as moisture can damage the battery, and wind will drain its power, one of the downfalls of the electric bike, which is why they keep them wrapped in plastic. But, the biggest issue is flat tires, which are difficult to change with the motors built into the wheel hub.

"We have had nothing but breakdowns this year," said Denny.

Outside of their cross-country trips, they keep busy throughout the summer with organized bike rides like the Dam to Dam ride in Little Falls and the Ice Cream Ride from Alexandria to Tip Top Dairy in Osakis. They also ride on occasion with the Big Ole Bike Club and a group called the Top of the Hill Club.

The Millers said riding allows them to be a part of a community while keeping them in shape.

“If it wasn't for the socializing," said Denny, "I didn't know that we’d ride that much.”

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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