Meet The CEO Of The E-bike Company That’s BOLTing Forward.
Getting around the city can be time consuming, and exhausting even. Cars are expensive to own and difficult park. Buses can be slow and unreliable. Motorcycles are heavy and require a special license, and you pretty much need to be a super-hero to ride a bicycle in San Francisco. If Tesla and Apple had a lovechild with Honda, it would be a Bolt. With a Bolt, you are a super-hero everywhere you go and the envy of your friends.
Bolt’s mission is to create smart, fully electric motorbikes that are simple to operate, fun to ride, and desirable to own. Their first product, the M-1, provides the thrill of a motorcycle and the practicality of a bicycle. It has all the features one would come to expect out of an internet-ready motorbike, and you can burn rubber and ride wicked stoppies!
It was so hard to come up with the name. We aren’t branding people, and we are not designers, so we looked for inspiration online. After a few months, we came up with a placeholder name, “My Way Motorbikes”, but it still wasn’t quite fitting for us. But we needed something. We were riding these bikes everywhere, and it started out with people asking us, “Hey, that’s cool. “Did you make that?” And now when we ride the M-1 (codename: Raven), people say, “Where did you get that?” So we knew that we were onto something. As time passed, we kept going back and forth with names, and then we finally came up with Bolt. Then one day it became so obvious, and it just clicked. “How did we take so long to get to that?” The name just made total sense. There is this duality of bolt for electronic and lightning, and electricity side of things. Bolt is also a piece of hardware, and we are a very mechanical team. We have a diverse group of contributors, Zach and I are the two co-founders, and we have about 20 contributors throughout the country. We have engineers in Washington DC, I just said goodbye to our intern from France who was here this summer. We have software engineers from Google, Microsoft, and Dropbox, we have a team from San Diego State University working on a project for us, and designers over at Stanford. Because we are self funded it is very important that we use our resources wisely, so having these contributors has been very helpful to get us where we are, and lay the foundation for moving forward. What we really want to do is to raise money, so that we can build our team, and get our bikes out there, and also develop the next generation motorbike.
This is kind of like our Tesla roadster. It is a limited run of a sporty stylish electric vehicle. It might be out of the price range for some people, but for the people that it is right for, it is brilliant. All the meanwhile, we are establishing our brand, we are getting good user feedback, and validating our technology so we can design our Model S. And that is design for high volume manufacturing.
TD: Is Bolt Motorbikes a self-funded startup?
Absolutely, totally bootstrapped. We are self-funded. I had a day job before this, and this was my project during my nights and weekends. Someone once told me, you either have a day job and all the money in the world, but no time to work on your projects. Or you have no job, and all kind of time, but no money to develop. I worked hard for a number of years, and saved up enough so that Zach and I could quit our jobs, and develop these bikes full time. Now we are ready to scale, and that is why we are raising money. We want to take this to the next level. These funds will go to build, sell, and deliver our first 100 motorbikes, build the team infrastructure to deliver, and to develop our own “Model S.”
TD: Are you taking pre-orders right now?
We debuted the blue bike in September of this past year. We have been taking cash deposits, pay pal, and credit card deposits on our website to secure your spot in line in our upcoming production run. Just the other day we got our 62nd deposit. Our goal is to build, sell, and deliver these first 100 motorbikes in one year. We are building this first run of motorbikes to take care of some of our local customers. This allows us to dial in the manufacturing process, to gain more user feedback and further validate our technology. Once these motorbikes leave Bolt, we launch our Indiegogo campaign, which will probably in the first or second week of September.TD: How long do the batteries last, and how do you dispose of the battery?
We use lithium batteries. Lithium is an umbrella term for a lot of different types of chemistries and geometries of the batteries. We chose lithium iron phosphate, and it comes in cylindrical cells. We start at the cellular level, and they look a lot like C sized batteries. We configure them into an array, we stack those arrays, we add our electronics, and then we package them. And we do this own in our own shop, and we developed the tooling to make them so we can make 100 batteries and they will all be within a fraction of a milliliter from each other. This process is very reliable and very repeatable. We chose this cell chemistry for a couple of reasons. First, because of its ability to deliver that energy very quickly, and high powered. Second, these things are really rugged, and you can be very hard on these batteries and they can take it. Whereas other chemistries you might start a fire if you are not careful. Third, these are the most environmentally friendly out of all the chemistries out there. For instance, Lithium Cobalt Manganese has a lot of energy in it, but Cobalt is a nasty element, and it is bad for the environment. Our batteries are the most environmentally friendly and they are 100% recyclable, every part of these cells can be recycled. The electronics and the packaging that we provide is also all recyclable. Our batteries are 100% serviceable, and 100% recyclable batteries.
I started a non-profit back in 2009, and it is now a 501c3 organization. It has kind of taken a little of a backseat to Bolt, but it is called A Day Without Driving.Org. The idea is that we want to raise environmental awareness, and focusing on our carbon footprint. A Day Without Driving as you might imagine is, one day in a year, we try to get people out of their cars. Maybe take public transit if you have to, walk, ride a bicycle. The idea is that if we can just keep people out of their cars one day out of the year, it has a huge the impact on our carbon footprint. So, that was something I was working on before I was doing Bolt Motorbikes.
I think now we are making a little more noise now with our electric motorbikes. We can show you that you can have fun on a motorbike, and electric doesn’t have to be kind of dorky, which is sort of has been for a while now. It can be high performance, it can be approachable and easy to ride, and also fun to ride.
TD: What problem are you trying to solve?
The problems we are solving are those associated with urban transport. In particular, getting around the city sucks. Cars are expensive to own, and difficult to park. Buses are slow and unreliable, and kind of dirty. For instance, the 38 Geary averages about 8.3 miles per hour, so it takes you almost an hour to get downtown. I personally love motorcycles, and adore them, but they are not for everybody. They are heavy, they need a special license for to ride, and although they are thrilling and fun to ride, they are not for everybody. And if you are a cyclist, you kind of need to be a superhero to ride a bicycle in San Francisco. You are either going up over the hills which you really have to be a superhero, or you are taking the long route, like “the wiggle” in San Francisco. I like to ride bicycles as well, but if I want to get across the city, the fastest way across the city is on a Bolt.
I want to challenge someone with a Tesla to a race from Ocean Beach to the Ferry Building, and I bet that we will beat them, and we will use 1/10 the amount of energy. I think it’s going to be hard for any vehicle to beat a Bolt. We can get to the front of the line every time, at a stop sign, or at a stoplight. And if it’s getting tight, you can get into the bicycle line, and get to the front of the line. Unless some car is really stepping on the gas, we are through an intersection before they step on the gas. It’s sporty, its fun, it’s easy, it’s quick, and it’s also pretty smart.
TD: How can you prevent this bike from being stolen? Any special features?
The way I see it, a thief is going to steal your stuff no matter what you do. We can slow them down. We developed the smarts in our electronics, so that it is a little harder to take things off. These are not bikes that you would just leave on the street; you are still going to lock them up, like you lock up a bicycle. Even though we recommend these heavy-duty u-locks, a thief is going to steal your stuff no matter what. We can definitely make it harder for them. Part of what is important to us is the security of the bikes. Because the M-1 is Bluetooth enabled, the motorbike communicates with a smartphone to provide GPS and tracking. It will also be configured to send an alarm signal on unauthorized movement. Low jack is GPS tracking for your car, and that is in the future for us, so we know where these bikes are all day, and everyday. So if your bike goes missing, we can help you find it.
TD: Is it really that easy of a transition to go from a bicycle rider to Bolt motorbike rider?
Absolutely. A lot of people have never twisted a throttle, they have never been on a scooter or on a motorcycle, and they pick this up very easily. The seat is at a level that where even if you are 5 foot nothing, you can still get your feet on the ground pretty easily. One thing that the M-1 has over bicycles, that makes it even easier sometimes easier to ride than a bicycle, is that with a bicycle there is a period where you are not moving at all, and your feet are off the ground. You have one foot on the pedal, and you have to get your other foot on. With the M-1, you can have your feet on the ground and twist the throttle, and you are ready to go. I think it’s even easier to ride. There definitely is some getting used to it, but usually that goes away by the time you hit the end of your first block. If you can ride a bicycle, you can ride a Bolt. It’s fun and easy to ride.
Because with this you don’t need a license, you don’t need registration, and you don’t need insurance. And because it’s electric, the cost of ownership is practically nothing. You can ride all day, from 20-35 miles, depending on how hard you ride. You go home and charge it, and it’ll cost you about 21 cents. It’s more cost effective per mile than any gas vehicle out there, and you don’t have to maintain your clutch, or transmission, and you don’t have to put in any of your fluids or anything like that. The cost of ownership is low, but also the barrier to entry is so low. To ride any gas scooter, you need a license, and you need registration, and you need insurance. So, it’s low barrier to entry, and just so much fun to ride.
As a motorcycle rider, I wanted to make a bike that felt like it was riding like a small motorcycle. So we decided chose to put the battery sort of up high, kind of where the gas tank is. And that’s so when you are riding, you can grab the tank and connect to the bike. Whereas the stability and safety of a scooter is much lower. With 17″ wheels, the M-1 can handle the tough requirements of city riding including nasty potholes. The larger wheels also provide an effect called “counter steering”, which is very much a motorcycle sensation. Remember, we wanted the M-1 to feel like riding a small motorcycle.
TD: Do you service the bikes here? Where would customers go to fix their bikes? Ex: Tire change, battery change, or if something malfunctions, or breaks down?
Certainly for our local customers, when you are a member of the Bolt family, that is exactly what you are, family. We want to take care of our family, and make sure they are happy. We can actually change a tire in five minutes. Part of our vision is kind of like what BMW does. If you bring in your car, and it’s going to take longer than a day, or afternoon, we will give you a loner bike while we fix your stuff. That certainly works for our local customers, but one of the challenges we have is that how do then we scale that to nationwide. Fortunately for us, our motorbikes are pretty low maintenance. Things like a popped tire, most bicycle shops can fix, and any motorcycle shops can do. If your brakes wear out, that is a bit more specialized. We can certainly get those parts, and certainly service them ourselves. One cool thing is that these bikes have regenerated braking. Every time you slow down you are putting energy back into the batteries. This is the same sort of technology that is found in Tesla, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius, and other electric cars. Most electric bicycles do not have that, so that when you slow down you are using the brakes, and the brake pads wear out. If you anticipate your stops on these, you don’t have to use any friction brakes. You can do all of your breaking just with regen, so what that means is that you might never have to change your brake pads. So that is one less thing to wear out. Our electronics are pretty robust. We have performed accelerated life testing and already learned a lot that we can pass on to our customers. We have been really hard on these bikes, we leave them in the sun to see if they heat up, we unintentionally crash them, crashed them, flipped them, and threw them, and in all these cases the riders have been okay. Even when this early prototype got run over by a car, by that afternoon it was up and running. These bikes are super rugged, and just awesome to ride.
We had been debating for a while between Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Those are the two major players in crowd funding. We chose to go with Indiegogo for a number of reasons. First, because they are local. They can also help us develop our campaign. Before we made the decision to go with Indiegogo we actually drafted up a rough draft of a Kickstarter campaign, but that’s still private right now. We still plan to launch our campaign in September. I told you that we are building this first round of bikes, and that is happening right now, and once these bikes are all out the door, we will be ready to launch our campaign. And all of the people who put down their cash deposits will get first crack at these bikes. They will also get an early bird discount, because they made the contributions early on. We are keeping all this stuff close to home right now.