In 2009, he suffered 10 days of attacks, which led to him being diagnosed with terminal heart disease. A Royal Navy Reserves veteran, fitness has however remained very important to James throughout his life. Looking for an activity that would be easy on his heart, James tried an electric bike. Allowing the bike to handle the hard work, he found he was able to enjoy the fresh air and stunning Inverclyde scenery, thereby improving his mental and physical health.
“I had put on weight after the heart attacks and a stroke. I was 280 pounds and knew I had to do something. I bought a second-hand electric bike and cleaned it up. Getting active again through cycling saved my life. I knew then that e-bikes would be revolutionary, as they are accessible to everyone, and I wanted others like me to feel the benefits.”
James set about planning a not-for-profit retail business, to sell electric transport solutions with the purpose to improve his local community and support fellow Armed Forces veterans. He knew he wanted as much information and guidance as could gather about starting a business and contacted X-Forces Enterprise (XFE). In December 2019, James attended XFE’s 2-day Start-Up Skills workshop, which covers business planning and provides essential tools to help launch a business. When writing his business plan, it was clear that James needed finance to buy stock. XFE facilitated a Start Up Loan for £15,000 and provided mentoring for a 12-month period in a unique programme supported by the Royal British Legion.
“X-Forces Enterprise’s training events were very informative. Roger was brilliant. The workshops opened my eyes to how much I didn’t know. I made a lot of friends on that course and have kept in touch since. I regularly attend the XFE Military In Business® online networking sessions too, which are safe spaces to share experiences, good and bad.
“I don’t think I could have done it without the support from XFE. Some days, I can’t get out of bed when things get bad. The stroke left me with memory loss and Tourette’s. That can be difficult when you’re dealing with suppliers and customers, but thankfully I now have volunteers that help me.”
Thistle E-Bikes operates from James’ home in Greenock, providing sales, hire, leasing, plus parts and servicing of electric bikes and associated low-carbon transportation. The business model aims to make enough money to cover costs, and any surplus goes to small grass-roots charities that assist people in the local community. His intention had been to rent a shop but when lockdown hit, he used his spare room to store stock.
“I launched the business in June 2020, when the pandemic was in full swing. I didn’t want to stop. I commit myself one hundred percent to anything I do, that’s the military way. Adopt and adapt, that’s another methodology I apply daily, and every spare foot in my home is used to store stock.
“It’s important to me that I use my time to help people, my life has never been about personal gain. The proceeds of every sale go towards feeding a child through the foodbank or buying a mobile phone for a veteran with PTSD, which might mean he will call someone when in need. These actions could save lives, plus the customer gains a decent quality bike for a decent price.”
Thistle E-Bikes has sold over 100 bikes since its launch. James scrutinises the market and only buys brands he deems quality and ethical. His supplier is UK-based and is very supportive of James’ not-for-profit mission. James is working to expand into bike hire, realising his ideal location in Greenock to rent electric bikes to cruise travellers.
“52 cruise liners are due to dock in Greenock this year and I know first-hand that the best way to see this beautiful area is by bike. I hope to offer a fleet of rental bikes and, as a result, be able to support those in need.
“I have recently setup a new charity, Inverclyde Furniture Forum, that assists those with PTSD, addiction and mental illness, that has the full financial backing of Thistle E-bikes. We believe it is the only charity in the UK that works with military and civilians and are now actively seeking a residential unit to allow our clients somewhere to stay to work through their issues.”
It was James’ father that inspired him to join the Royal Navy Reserves, and whom he credits for instilling in him a strong sense of service. Fabian Rodrigues was born in Guyana, South America, and became a merchant seaman at age 14. He had told James of his experiences during the war, taking the Arctic convoys and being sunk three times. Sadly, his father passed away the same day that James joined his training establishment, HMS Graham, in 1982 and didn’t get to see his subsequent service on Minesweepers.
“In the same way that the military serves the nation, we can all serve our communities, carry on that ethos of supporting one another, whether we are military people or not. Throughout my life, I ask myself what Dad would do. Its thanks to his influence that I am committed to helping people.”
Since launching Thistle E-Bikes, James has traded through the most volatile economic landscape in recent history. Both Brexit and Covid posed challenges, though far from unsurmountable for James, who remained focused on building a future-ready organisation.
“Demand during the pandemic caused prices to go up by 30% and supply dried up. Brexit hampered the importation of our bikes from Europe. I was pleased that I anticipated some of this, and managed to obtain stock early, but it was definitely a challenging time to get started. Things are settling down now and I’m looking towards moving into a 600 square-feet unit and expanding the team. I am lucky that I have reasonable health right now, but I’m looking for others to take Thistle forward and expand into either e-bike manufacturing or electric car conversions.”
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For more information about James’s business, visit: