Meet the start-up who think they've cracked electric bikes

Electric bikes, or e-bikes, have been around for some time. Yet despite their phenomenal popularity in some parts of the world, the American and European markets are yet to really take to them. One start-up looking to change all this is Riide. We went for a spin with co-founder, Amber Wason, to find out how they’re going about it…

When someone mentions electric bikes the first thing that springs to mind is my morning walk to school. At around 8am I would slowly make my way up a seemingly never-ending hill, upon reaching the halfway point I would often hear a high-pitched humming noise coming up behind me. This would eventually be followed by the presence of an overweight, middle-aged man wheezing past on a bulky electric bike. It wasn’t an aspirational sight. It wasn’t how I wanted to picture myself at the age of 29.

Yet fast-forward 15 years, as I zip up one of Washington D.C.’s steep inclines with the rest of the traffic on a sunny Monday morning, and it certainly feels like an altogether more enjoyable experience than the aforementioned gentleman seemed to be having. The Riide e-bikes look and feel great, emit zero sound and offer the user the opportunity to cycle unassisted or solely rely on battery power. But are they going to be able to make a mainstream crossover where others have failed?

"Our goal at Riide is to replace car ownership with electric bikes for short commutes," explains Wason.

"In 2012, when I met my co-founder, there were 200 million e-bikes on the roads in China – with more being sold than cars. We found this out and were taken aback, it was an emerging technology trend in the US but not one that was being talked about – there was a gap in the market.

"We went to an electric bike store and tested some out, they were great fun but were either too expensive, really clunky, didn’t look good or you couldn’t ride them in the rain. We realised there needed to be a sleek, lightweight, affordable e-bike on the market so set about making one."

Five tactics to bring e-bikes to the masses

Riide realised that if they were going to make e-bikes more accessible, as well as appealing, they would need to change the public’s perception of them. Here are five key tactics that they have adopted in order to try and crack the mass market.

1. Direct to consumer sales

The success experienced by trailblazing brands such as Warby Parker and Casper has resulted in a new wave of start-ups who are ditching the middle man. While some companies, like Tesla, may have struggled with industry regulations surrounding this business model the fact that consumers are willing to buy everything from cars to eyewear direct from manufacturers shows a new found faith in the practice. By selling to their consumers directly Riide have been able to cut down on costs and efficiently collect feedback from those using the bikes.

2. A subscription based model

Whether it’s razorblades, craft ale, snacks or films - subscription based services are well and truly in vogue. One initial problem Riide faced was that the $1,999 price tag was still a little high for some and the use of monthly finance schemes for products of this value isn’t something that US consumers were used to. Their decision to change the terminology around paying in monthly instalments to a 'subscription service' model meant that a barrier was broken down in the mind of the purchaser.

3. Aim to replace cars, not bicycles

The growing popularity of cycling is a gift and a curse for e-bike manufacturers, with many cyclists reluctant to give up their regular bikes for e-bikes at an added cost. Riide realised that by targeting car drivers, and in particular their daily commutes to the office, they could offer a cheaper, healthier and more appealing alternative. As a result, 92 per cent of Riide customers use their bikes for daily commutes, rather than recreational rides.

4. Pricing

Like most purchases, the main consideration for an e-bike will ultimately be down to the price. Historically e-bikes have not been a cost-effective purchase, being seen as more of a luxury item. Riide identified the fact that distribution was the reason that most e-bikes were not affordable, with the distribution network marking up the price two or three times before they reached a store. Cutting out the middle-man resulted in significant savings.

5. Aesthetics

As much as the clothes you wear or the cut of your hair, a bike is often a statement about who you are – or who you aspire to be. Aesthetically pleasing e-bikes are few and far between, so by creating a slick, lightweight frame Riide have created a product which people want to own.

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