Kickstarter and Indiegogo are the best-known “crowd-funding” sites. If you need money to start a business, and a bank won’t give you a loan…sometimes you can raise a surprising amount of money from crowd-funding. This last year, a lot of people who believe they could make it as an electric bike retailer have tried crowd-funding, so there’s a wide variety of ebike selections that you can buy from these start-ups. There is risk involved, but…if you are an early adopter and pay up front…you might get a good deal on an ebike that arrives several months later.
If you see a product on a crowd-funding site, and you like it…the price is usually much cheaper during the start-up campaign, compared to the retail production price later.
The Sondors E-bike (originally called “Storm”) has permanently changed the E-bike landscape in North America. You can read our story on the Sondors E-bike here. I’m starting this list with the Sondors campaign because they raised over …six…MILLION…dollars!
That number came as a shock a LOT of people. The bike itself is not very special. Walmart is retailing a single-speed fatbike for roughly $200, and since Sondors advertised that early-adopter would be able to get one of their electric fatbikes for a little over $600 (plus shipping), that meant the electric power system would retail for roughly $400. For that price, it has low power and short range, but…it really works, it really is an electric fatbike, and…they really have started delivering them to customers who had paid the price a few months before.
One of the features of the Sondors bike that the public has really responded to is the triangle case in the center of the frame, and how it hides the wiring. It seems like a small thing, but customers really like this a LOT.
The final product that has been delivered to customers and has been tested, and it is not impressive, but…that entire funding campaign was a wake-up call to ebike manufacturers and retailers, and if they are smart, this new development might make them a little nervous. Two commonly mentioned E-bikes (due to advertising and PR) are the $6000 Specialized Turbo, and the $6900 Stromer ST2. They are both wonderful high-quality products with great performance, but their high prices make them very slow sellers.
Don’t write me an angry letter because those two upscale bikes should not be compared to a very basic and entry-level performing start-up like the Sondors…that would be missing the point. If you are an E-bike business that didn’t catch the fact that…over 10,000 customers sent their money into Sondors, without knowing if they would ever receive any product at all…the developments in the new E-bike economy will not be kind to you.
Isn’t there a middle ground? Let’s take a look at some of the other crowdfunding efforts, to see what kind of an E-bike you could get for your money.
Their Kickstarter is over, and they had their listed goal met in less than a week. As of September 2015, they are still accepting pre-orders for this E-bike, with $1500 being the least expensive model (which will be around $1800 retail once they are in full production). When I checked today, they were at $259,000.
It uses the popular Bafang BBS02 mid drive, which allows the motor to use the bikes gears. The base model weighs 36 lbs, and there is also a carbon fiber frame option that costs more. With both the motor and battery in the center of the bike, this model should handle quite well.
This Indiegogo campaign only needed $40,000 as a goal to get mass-production pricing on an electric fatbike built to their spec. The reason they only needed that fairly small amount is because the guy who is starting this electric fatbike campaign (Mike Radenbaugh) already owns a long-standing and successful bicycle shop in Seattle, Washington.
As of the writing of this article, they had raised $320,000, which far exceeded their $40,000 goal. The rear-mounted geared hubmotor uses 48V, and the system is rated for the US-legal 750W lower limit. Now that the campaign is over, the retail price of the base-model Rad Rover is $1500, which is still not bad. I rode the prototype at the 2015 Interbike convention, and I was very impressed with its performance on mild hills and flat land.
This crowd-funding campaign is using both Kickstarter and Indigogo, which I didn’t know was possible. If you pay for one now, the price is $999, but that will be $1800 after they finish, which ends September 21st (so there is still time). As of September 5th, they have raised $16,000 of their $35,000 goal.
The battery is hidden inside the fatter than normal seat-tube. Even so, it still is pretty stealthy, and few people would give it a second look if you were pedaling down a bike path on this E-bike.
I was skeptical about this start-up. I assumed the Kickstarter campaign was to raise enough money to simply be able to get bulk-purchase pricing breaks on a fairly generic fatbike frame, and the Bafang BBS02 mid-drives. You get a much better unit price if you pay up front for 100 frames, instead of ten. Companies like this come and go, but after I met them at the 2015 Interbike, I have to admit I am very impressed. If they were selling stock, I would invest with them (and I don’t say that often).
They are on solid financial ground, and they are even developing new models, including a proprietary feet-forward comfort cruiser. When I rode their prototypes, the first question out of my (smiling) mouth was “did you get an early prototype BBT02?” (with a torque-sensor, instead of the standard speed sensor). I have found out that the delay of power application on the stock BBS02 is considered a safety feature, so power is not applied until you have started to pedal (or applied a throttle).
Biktrix has made a custom adjustment to the firmware of the BBS02 controllers that they bought, and the power comes on almost instantly, and with a smooth ramp-up. I saw one other company at Interbike that had done the same thing (Lectric Cycles from Arizona).
Their project was successfully funded on December 23, 2014, with nearly $69,000, well above their modest $50,000 goal.
Back in July of 2012, the Faraday Porteur had won several prestigious design awards, and then launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to fund full production. They eventually raised $177,000
The Faraday Porteur was widely considered to be one of the early successes for Kickstarter campaigns. This very attractive and light E-bike mounted the battery cells inside frame tubing, which helped hide the fact that it was an E-bike. It may not seem to different than many other similar bicycle frames, but…there are very subtle styling choices that make this E-bike one of the most beautiful we have seen, and the company is committed to making sure every part on every bike is made to the highest level of quality that is possible.
What does all this mean?
I don’t think that anyone who gambles on a new company is expecting great customer service, and often…new products made by a start-up will have some bugs to work out. That being said, it is clear that this year has been a turning point for electric bikes in North America.
If the large established businesses that are selling electric bikes are going to focus on the high-end E-bikes (with higher profit per unit), then…small businesses like these crowd-sourced examples will step in to fill the $1,000-$2,000 model demand in the market.
There is definitely a market for high-performance and high-quality E-bikes, to customers who will pay a little more to get good customer service. That means the prices for that segment of the market will always be higher, but there are millions of potential customers who don’t need a “Mercedes” E-bike.
Someone is going to step-up to the plate and at least try to serve the potential customers in this market segment. The next time gasoline prices in the US spike-up, there will be a flood of small E-bike retailers entering the market.