The traditional bicycle sports a pretty smart design, one that has stood the test of time. But this might be the moment for smart bikes to take over. That’s the thinking behind the Flash ebike, a technology-heavy bike with an electric motor that helps you get over tough hills and travel longer distances.
Market researcher Navigant Research estimates global sales of ebikes will grow from $15.7 billion in 2016 to $24.3 billion by 2025. These are bikes that you can ride on streets or sidewalks, and they don’t require a driver’s license because they don’t move fast enough to qualify as moving vehicles.
“The whole concept is about how to get more people biking, to get all the people to come back who haven’t done it,” said Flash chairman Kai Huang, in an interview with VentureBeat. Huang was the cofounder of Red Octane, the company that made Guitar Hero.
I rode around on a Flash ebike for a brief time, and I was amazed at the smooth transition between peddling and motoring. You can switch a dial on your handlebar to turn on the electric motor, which has four levels of speed. This lets you go from struggling to turn the pedals to flying through the air when you turn on assistance from the electric motor.
Sure, you don’t get as much exercise that way. But it motivates you to go further, and that’s part of the point.
Huang raised $700,000 in an Indiegogo campaign last June, and the bike sold out within minutes. Now the company is delivering its first units.
“Once we finish delivering the preorders, we’ll announce the official start of shipments sometime in the spring,” Huang said.
Other ebikes have sold phenomenally well in China, and they’re also doing well in Europe. But the U.S. has a pitifully small number of ebikes on the roads. One reason is that they’ve been too expensive, but the Flash ebike only costs about $2,000, well below the $3,000 to $7,000 price tag of other electric bikes. (The Indiegogo preorder price was $1,000).
“We’re trying to get the electric bike to a mass market and bring back the 100 million people in the U.S. who know how to ride a bike but don’t do it as much for various reasons,” Huang said. “In China, 30 million electric bikes sell a year. In Europe, it’s 2 million. The U.S. is only 250,000. We are addressing the reasons why we are so far behind.”
Huang said biking yields all kinds of health benefits, including increased cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength and flexibility, as well as stress and disease management, improved joint mobility and reduced body fat/weight loss.
The 500-watt electric motor is rechargeable, and it’s cheaper than spending $3 a gallon on gas for short trips around town. Plus, it doesn’t pollute the environment. The bike has a range of up to 50 miles and a top speed of 28 miles per hour, which means it can take you up big hills.
“The electric throttle lets you eliminate distance or hills as a limitation on your biking,” Huang said. “And it eliminates time as a barrier. It also has safety features with smart, intelligent lighting.”
A lot of people worry that their bikes will be stolen, and this bike doesn’t have a built-in lock.
But Flash sends an alert to your smartphone if someone tries to steal it, and the lights flash if someone tries to move your bike. Those lights are also bright enough to keep drivers aware of you, as the beam distance is 430 feet.
The bike has motion-based security tracking, which sounds a local audible alarm with the 85-decibel horn, and it sends an alert to your smartphone too. The last layer of theft detection is via GPS location tracking, which allows you to find out where a stolen bike is.
The bike has a high-resolution touchscreen and turn-by-turn navigation. It doesn’t charge while you pedal, and takes about four hours to fully charge.
Zach Fountain started the company in 2015 and Huang joined as board chair. Michael Pan came aboard as CEO, and the company has raised an undisclosed amount of money beyond the Indiegogo funds. Most rivals are built as bikes with motors, but Flash is designed to make more use of technology.
Electric scooters are also rivals, but they are designated as moving vehicles. You can only stay in certain lanes and you can’t take an electric scooter on a sidewalk. You also need a license plate and a driver’s license.
“We want to create a lot more awareness about the electric bike,” Huang said. “We’ll start shipping in the U.S. this year, and we may move into Europe by the end of this year.”
Over time, Flash could get a boost as cities build more electric chargers where people can park their bikes.
“That could happen as ebikes become more popular,” Huang said.