A few years ago, 2011 UW graduate Ben Tarassoli was looking for an electrically-assisted bicycle (e-bike). Although there were plenty of makes and models to choose from, he couldn’t find one that measured up to his expectations for range, weight, and design. So, he decided to build one himself.
While still working his day job as a civil engineer, Tarassoli enlisted the help of two friends — a mechanical engineer with experience as a bike technician and a business guy—and together they formed the startup Propella.
After three years of development, Propella launched its flagship model on Indiegogo on Tuesday: A single-speed e-bike that can propel you up to 20 miles per hour, has a 15-28 mile range, weighs less than 36 pounds, and costs just $799 (or $599 for the first 15 backers). For comparison, my current electric bicycle (an eZee Cadence) has similar range and speed, but weighs 65 pounds and costs $1,900.
“Our focus is on affordability, reliability, and lightweight. We’re aiming for that sweet spot between electrically-assisted range and making the bicycle as light as possible,” said Tarassoli. “We’re not into bigger, stronger motors—that’s a motorcycle. If you’re calling it a bicycle, it should be minimal.”
Throughout development, Propella maintained a strong focus on design. Like many modern product designers, Tarassoli takes inspiration from Apple. When asked about what he aims to accomplish with Propella, he gets a little philosophical. “We want to take the proven, time-tested concept of a bicycle and just add some modern value,” he explained. “We want to be part of the ‘bicycle’ industry, not just the ‘electric bicycle’ industry—bridging the gap between bikes and e-bikes.”
Even greater electric-assist range would be ideal, but Propella is limited by current battery technology. “We are using the same type of lithium-ion cells as Tesla,” said Tarassoli, addressing Propella’s range. “However, there’s only so much energy you can store in a six pound e-bike battery pack.”
Tarassoli needs to raise $40,000 to get to full production of Propella. If he can sell at least 60 bikes during the 46-day Indiegogo campaign, he’ll hit that mark.
If you want to check out Propella in person, they’ll be at the Seattle Bike Show next month.