In increasingly congested Seattle, it’s not a stretch to imagine more young tech workers turning to bicycles as a way to commute to the companies that are moving in and expanding around the city’s downtown and nearby neighborhoods.
The founders of Rider Oasis hope to be positioned to serve those riders with a new business that will put vending machines around the city offering bike parts, snacks, drinks and more.
Aaron Mass, Dimitar Toromanov and Andrew Rudzitis are University of Washington graduates who all have full-time jobs but are committed to chasing an entrepreneurial dream that they came up with at school a couple years ago.
The first Rider Oasis machine has been up and running at Peddler Brewing Co. in the Ballard neighborhood for more than a month. A new Indiegogo campaign launched this week with a goal of $10,000 to fund the purchase of two more machines for other spots in town. The ultimate aim is to have 30 to 40 machines as well as stations with pumps and repair tools around the Seattle area.
“We’re trying to become the Redbox for bike parts,” said Mass, in referencing the automated kiosks which dispense DVDs and video games. He showed off the machine at Peddler on a recent Sunday as he arrived with his fiancée to restock items inside.
The 49 different items for sale include bike supplies ranging from five types of tubes to rim tape, a pump nozzle adapter, batteries, chain oil, a light, a spoke fixer, C02 tire inflater and a patch kit. The rest of the trays in the machine carry items like sunblock, a first aid kit, Chamois Butt’r, wipes, gum, sparking water, nuts, pretzels, Clif bars, PowerGel, chips and more.
Prices range from around $13 to $1 and the machine can carry anywhere from $500 to $1,000 worth of inventory depending on what’s in there.
The consumables, as Mass calls them, are what’s really moving so far in the early days of the machine’s operation. Positioned in a front corner of the 4-year-old brewpub, pretzels are all sold out, indicating that beer drinkers, whether they biked in or not, want more of that item.
And in sunny Seattle this summer, where it hasn’t rained in the weeks that the machine has been online, sunblock is popular, too.
Mass, 32, works in corporate finance at Microsoft. He’s an avid cyclist who grew up in Seattle and he said he biked every day to high school when he was a kid. He said he’s always wanted to be an entrepreneur and he’s keeping a sharp eye on the changes in Seattle that could impact his business.
“We think that the density of bikers is going to continue to flow around the Fremont-Ballard corridor into downtown Seattle with Amazon expanding,” Mass said. “We’re really trying to ride that wave. We want to position ourselves so that we’re actually there when the biker is leaving home in the morning or when they’re coming back from work in the evening. We want them to think of us as, ‘Hey, that’s where I can go to get my replacement parts, that’s where I can go to get my energy bar.'”
These aren’t run-of-the-mill vending machines. Produced by a company called Bike Fixation out of Minneapolis, the 750-pound machines are meant to be higher tech and higher security than what you’re used to feeding coins into. A single new machine can cost upwards of $5,000 and an inventory management system inside allows the founders to connect to the machine remotely and monitor such data as what’s selling and what’s not.
Rider Oasis is also partnering with a cashless payment processing company called Nayak that allows for payments through Apple Pay and Google Pay, which is great for mobile-minded consumers. They are also about to roll out personalized phone apps for businesses who partner with them and Rider Oasis will have functionality that allows users to load money onto the app and use that to pay at the machine.
The ability to find a machine online, check inventory at the nearest machine, and the ability to connect with someone to get a part picked up and delivered from a machine are also long-range technical goals.
Mass and his partners, Toromanov, who is a business analysis manager at T-Mobile, and Rudzitis, an operations manager for a realty company in Edmonton, Alberta, are eyeing a business partner along Seattle’s popular Burke-Gilman Trail near the University Village shopping center as the next spot to set up a machine. They also might be bringing one to the UW campus.
Mass is confident that they can take control of the Seattle market — a similar service called Bikestock only operates in New York City right now.
Peddler made sense as a jumping-off point because the brewery itself is positioned as an oasis for cyclists who love beer. And the owners are strong advocates for the cycling community. Haley Keller, a co-owner with her husband Dave, said they’re dedicated to building community through bicycling and advocating for safer streets and better bicycling infrastructure.
“We love supporting bicycle organizations and work to help improve the experience of riding a bike in Seattle,” said Keller, who is also on the board of directors at Cascade Bicycle Club and Washington Bikes. “When we were getting ready to our doors, we originally envisioned ourselves selling basic bike necessities like patch kits and spare tubes. While we did not end up going this route, it’s always been in the back of our minds.”
Keller said they were thrilled to hear about the Rider Oasis machine, especially in a neighborhood that has had two local bike shops go out of business. She echoed a point raised by Mass, that access to parts at hours when traditional brick-and-mortar shops are not open is a key part of the appeal.
“We are excited that people riding bikes can now purchase these needed supplies from our vending machine,” Keller said. “Just last week, I was excited to see a lady purchase a rear light, put it on her bike, and be more safe on her bike ride home that night.”