It was my first encounter with the Neon Cowboy – that’s what I instinctively called him, as I saw a man riding his bike along Elm Street, fully lit with neon LED lights, stopping for photo ops and waving to everyone he encountered along the way.
I tried to take his photo but my phone camera was not cooperating, so I dashed to my car and made my way north on Elm Street and hung a right on Lowell, hoping to find him.
It was my lucky night.
I spotted Kendall Cote, aka Lights Rider, loading his bike onto the back of his car. It was easy, guided by the hundreds of colorful Light-Emitting Diodes on his person. I pulled up in the parking spot next to him and asked him if he’d indulge me for a few minutes.
He was more than gracious. He pulled his bike off the back of his car, which features a Trump 2020 bumper sticker, and posed, right hand to the brim of his cowboy hat, in a solemn salute.
But I wanted more than a photo.
Kendall, who lives in Pittsfield, is a familiar sight around the city. Turns out he grew up right here in Manchester, not far from St. Joseph Cathedral, which was the backdrop to our encounter. I found him in the parking lot across from the Cathedral, off Chestnut Street. His old stomping ground.
“I’ve had people say I’m the coolest thing in the world. Yes, I have a little bit of an ego, but God gave me a gift and I bring it to the whole world. That really did something to me. The opportunity to meet so many people I’d never otherwise meet – from the very wealthy, to the poor,” says Cote.
In the past few years he’s developed his persona, Lights Rider, to spread a bit of joy to the masses. His “gift” is his way with intricate wiring, coupled with his artistry.
I’d throw in his gift of gab.
He takes his bike out wherever there is an opportunity to be seen. Kendall’s tooled around Manchester after dark maybe 15 times on his tricked-out bike, because it’s the city where he grew up. But he’s also a familiar sight in Hampton and even Boston – he loves a crowd, and they love him back.
He’s an electronic technician by trade, and he’s gone to great lengths to fabricate a neon bicycle with a custom LED light sytem that extends to his own gear – from his cowboy hat to his blue jeans, and even down to his shoes. He’s been doing it about three years now.
He’s semi-retired, but not by choice.
“I’d like to work. I saw the guys from Texas Instruments getting out of work tonight. I hollered to them, but they didn’t come over. I’d like to see them come up with this kind of thing on their own,” he says.
Most recently he spent eight years in research and development of energy at Brayton Energy in Hampton.
“When they laid me off, once you’re 55 you become dead meat. No one wants to talk about it, but I really do like Mr. Trump and there’s plenty of jobs, but these companies that are getting the tax breaks. They’re hiring lots of people, but not in my age group. They discriminate. Nobody cares. That’s why I don’t know why they didn’t stop me on the spot, those engineers from Texas Instruments. I’m available. I’m an electronic technician, but of course, they should’ve figured that out, if they’re so smart,” says Kendall, with a smile.
He says he regrets not finishing his bachelor’s degree, and figures maybe that’s held him back.
“I got my associate’s from Hesser, then went to UNH, then New Hampshire College – I was working on my bachelor’s degree, I would’ve been secure for the long haul. I did consulting work, which was lucrative, especially when the kids were young, and then I worked at Brayton, in research and development, and I really improved myself there, but they let me go. They didn’t ditch their top engineers, though,” he says.
He mentions he lived in Nashua for a time, before he was drafted into the service. I figure there’s a lot more to his story, but it’s getting to be close to 9 p.m. now, and Pittsfield is a 45-minute drive.
Kendall’s been out of work since just before Thanksgiving 2016.
“They essentially threw me under the bus. Even though I saved them tens of thousands of dollars on one of their solar car projects, It was designed to make one-quarter megawatt. This thing actually worked. But it didn’t get picked up by these real rich people, these green people. We actually proved something that worked, and when you got the production build, they could’ve gotten the price from $5 million, but we could’ve probably gotten the price down to about $3 million,” he says with an air of pride. “We did that, right here in New Hampshire.”
He says his bike design is part art, part engineering. Some people think it’s just out-of-the-box lights, but he’s designed everything, from scratch. His bike and his Lights Rider outfit are powered by more than two dozen batteries. He says his outfit is inspired by the Electric Horsemen, but he’s also made it his own.
I ask if he’d take a spin for me so I can capture some video, for posterity. My phone camera is still acting up, and it stuttered a bit (see the video above), but it was still a glorious ride. Kendall cranked up the sound on his built-in boom box, and “Shame on Me,” by George Strait is streaming from the back of his bike, also enhanced with a throbbing LED light. He says YouTube won’t let him post videos with music due to copyright issues, which is a big part of the show.
Now that the New Hampshire winter is waning, he’s able to get out and about. He’s planning to do some traveling to showcase his light bike, including an upcoming trip to New York City.
“I have my eyes on doing Rhode Island, and New York. When it’s nice weather people are out along the water and I showcase my eye candy and they appreciate it,” he says. “People offer me money sometimes, but I don’t take it.”
Winters are tough. But Kendall tries to get out for regular jaunts around Pittsfield just to get his exercise.
“I’ve been to Manchester so many times, maybe 15 times, because I’m born and raised here, so I’m a homeboy. This right here was my parish when I was young,” he says, the Cathedral looming in the background as he takes his bike for a spin in the parking lot.
“I grew up at 365 Bridge. I went to Central. That’s why I favor Manchester for a lot of reasons, not just that I”m from here, but people have given me an acknowledgment I can’t quite fathom, and I can’t understand,” says Kendall. “To the depth of people, they’ve responded. Everywhere I go they want to have pictures with me. I’m mesmerized.”
Carol Robidoux is publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com.