Originally published on CleanTechnica
Rad Power Bikes makes a lineup of funky looking, yet surprisingly capable electric bikes. After spending a few weeks ripping around town on its RadMini Step-Thru, we wanted to look behind the curtain to see where the company came from and what makes it tick, so I sat down with Rad Power Bikes co-founder and CMO Ty Collins for a chat.
The Early Days
Right off the bat, Ty opened up about what he first learned about ebikes from co-founder, CEO, and president Mike Radenbaugh as Mike started electrifying traditional bikes with custom-built retrofit kits back in 2007. The technology was exciting, he loved the results and his customers were thrilled, but, “it was a lot more time consuming, it wasn’t very repeatable and it wasn’t scalable,” Ty said.
An early ebike retrofit circa 2007. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
Mike retrofitting bikes for customers one at a time was fun and showed promise, but the path forward was not clear at the time. A few years later, the underpinning technology had progressed significantly and in 2014, Mike and Ty, who had been friends since preschool, found that they were both eager and ready to explore the possibilities of ebikes full time with Mike spearheading design and Ty leading marketing. Ty recalled Mike saying that, “If we’re ever going to do this for real, now is the time,” and they started working out the details to allow them to truly spin up the company they had been dreaming about for years. They combined forces and ultimately relaunched as Rad Power Bikes in 2015 with a direct to consumer sales model.
An eBike Company
Taking a look at the company’s lineup of ebikes, you will quickly notice they do not look like traditional bicycles. From the start, Rad Power Bikes had it sights set on being an ebike company and came to grips very early on with the realization that ebikes should be their own creation. They should be more than a traditional bike design with a battery and motor bolted on. By doing this, and putting ebikes as the sole focus of the company, they would be able to build bikes truly optimized for their destiny as electrified, battery powered workhorses.
The RadMini Step-Thru folded. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
On this foundational belief, the team has built a lineup of vehicles that deliver unique value to Rad Power Bikes owners. The RadMini Step-Thru we tested weighs in at 68 pounds and surprisingly folds up for more compact stowage. The unique folding capability, uncommon on such a large bike, allowed us to fold it up and put it in the trunk of a car on more than one occasion. The robust frame of the bike allowed me to trip around town on it without worrying if it was capable of hauling my 205lb | 93kg frame along with all my gear.
Looking across the Rad Power Bikes lineup, the same core functionality can be found on all of its vehicles. The RadWagon is built with hauling capacity at the top of the list, and as such, it is not hard to imagine using it to replace a vehicle. Doing so may seem like a distant, obtainable future, but after spending time on the website and looking around at the variety of customer images featuring the wagon loaded with kids, groceries, and even lumber, it becomes a few steps closer to reality.
The Rad Wagon as a family hauler. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
When shaping up the bones of the brand, Ty said that, “we knew it couldn’t be just another bike…We wanted to do something that was very unique and eye catching.” Its bikes are “designed with function in mind,” with the functionality of the bike defining the overarching reason for a bike to come into existence.
“We truly are an ebike company,” Ty said. That’s clear from the start and it is an exciting example of how the electrification of vehicles of all shapes and sizes is enabling people all around the world to live healthier, lower impact lives, while getting to know their communities even better at the same time.
Direct Consumer Relationships
From the early days of Mike working with customers one at a time to design and build a system for their specific needs, he was focused on building solutions for his customers. That’s easier to do in person, where you can see and interact with your customers directly, but Mike wanted to scale this same customer-centric model as they moved from local sales to an e-commerce model with most sales coming in over the internet.
The 2019 Rad Power Bikes lineup. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
Rad Power Bikes’ strong focus on the customer has resulted in a core group of extremely passionate customers. “We’re really lucky where we feel that we are really selling to the super consumer,” Ty said. This passionate core group of customers not only continues to buy the company’s products, but they also bring more people to the Rad Power Bikes brand. “We are very fortunate that we are almost creating a mobile sales force of people that are on our bikes.”
From the looks of things, its customer-centric design process isn’t just talk. Ty said that if you look at the changes that went into its 2019 model year bikes, a “pretty large percentage of the changes actually came from feedback from our customers.” That’s really cool to be able to do and one huge benefit of leveraging a direct-to-consumer business model not only to cut out the middle man and bring savings to their customers, but more importantly to build real relationships with customers that allow them to get some skin in the game and contribute their ideas to the next generation product.
A Different Take On Service
Maybe it’s just me, but the prospect of dropping $1,500 USD or more on an electric bike is a HUGE purchase and as such, I was eager to hear about the ebike service process. What happens when I snap a pedal off? What happens when I need to replace the chain? And most importantly, what about that battery?
The Flagship 2019 RadRover. Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
I dug right into the heart of the matter and to my surprise, Ty was excited to talk about the service model. It turns out, they had been thinking about and planning for a remote service model from the start. Because it was a foundational belief, “the bikes were designed to make [remote service] very, very conducive,” Ty said. All of the unique components on the bike, like the electrical system, were designed to be modular. Each have a single unique connector that makes it easier for an owner to simply unbolt the part, unplug it and replace it with a new one if something goes wrong.
“We knew from the very very beginning that service and support would have to be a huge part of this,” he said. Ty continued that service is such a core focus for the company that they really do put their money where their mouth is. The largest contingent of the Rad Power Bikes team is focused on customers and service. Rad Power Bikes also developed a robust repository of online resources to guide owners through the most common scenarios they could encounter. That is not revolutionary or game-changing, but represents a solid step towards a robust, well-rounded service program for Rad Power Bikes customers.
Beyond the core electrical system, the majority of the parts on the bikes are standard: derailleurs, chains, gears, and cables. As crazy looking as some of its bikes are, they are still bikes at the core. That lets most owners do the normal tuning and maintenance that they would on their traditional ‘human-powered’ bike on their new boosted Rad Power Bikes. Similarly, the manual components of the bike can be serviced by a traditional bike shop.
If needed, replacement parts are shipped directly to the customer. If the customer doesn’t want to service their bike or doesn’t feel comfortable taking things apart for fear of having to put them back together afterwards, Rad Power Bikes has you covered there as well. “We are partnered with a ton of mobile service providers across the US,” Ty said. They can also work directly with a local bike shop near the customer to coordinate the repair and will even work with the mechanic directly if there are any questions. That feels above and beyond to me.
Rad Power Bikes founders Ty Collins (left) and Mike Radenbaugh (right). Image courtesy: Rad Power Bikes
Next, I worked him for details about the batteries. How long will these things last? Ty didn’t shy away and dove right in. “The battery is very much so a consumable product meaning that at a certain point, it will have to be replaced.” They are rated for 800 cycles, which means that the amount of life any given customer gets from their battery will depend on how much they use it. If they’re pounding the pavement (or dirt) with their bikes everyday and recharging every night, that translates to just over 2 years, but that’s far from normal.
Digging into customer data, Ty said the average customer is not riding them that heavily and batteries should last 4-7 years before needing to be replaced. Much like electric vehicle batteries, the actual life expectancy depends on a number of factors, such as how often it is used, how far it is discharged, if it is left on the charger for days at a time or left unplugged for months at a time. They try to promote good charging habits with new customers to maximize battery life, but it’s ultimately up to the customer to treat their battery nicely for the longest life.
Why talk about founders and their beginnings? Each of us has our own story of how we cleaned up our lives, how we started biking to work or realized that the new electric train our city just installed could replace our car. We have charged our phones with portable solar panels and started buying second-hand organic cotton clothing.
Many of us have even taken larger leaps to start new businesses and it is our hope that by reading of the journey others have taken, others will be encouraged to throw caution to the wind and to take a leap into the unknown, into a new venture. We have one shot to fix the damage humanity has done and to even start winding back the clock on climate change, but thankfully, businesses can iterate and learn from their failures as they take two steps forward and one step back along the road to a success.
If you are in the market for a Tesla, find someone locally that you know (like in real life) and use their referral code. If you don’t know anyone with a Tesla, go find someone at your local Supercharger and try not to be a creep and ask them for their referral code (they won’t mind). If that doesn’t work, ask a co-worker or a distant relative, post on Facebook or Twitter or just hit up Google. If all that fails and it’s an odd numbered day and not too sunny out, you can use my Tesla referral link to get 1,000 miles of free Supercharging, I guess.