Sitting in traffic these days, there’s a good chance you’ve been passed by a rider on an electric bicycle. With seemingly little effort, e-bike users are commuting to work, hauling groceries, whisking kids off to school and leaving us in their dust — all without creating a cloud of exhaust.
Chances are also good that that rider is sitting atop an e-bike from Seattle-based Rad Power Bikes, a 4-year-old company that is looking to revolutionize how we think about bicycles and what they’re used for.
Mike Radenbaugh, 28, and Ty Collins, 29, met as students at Humboldt State University in Northern California and the idea for Rad Power Bikes was born in 2007 when they built their first e-bike. After years of doing custom conversions of traditional bikes to electric, they launched their company as a direct-to-consumer brand in 2015.
The bootstrapped company did $1 million in sales in the first year, $7.5 million in year two and $20 million last year. This year they’re on track for $50 million, and their line of four unique e-bikes — RadRover, RadWagon, RadMini and RadCity — has welcomed a fifth product in the form of a three-wheeled beast called the RadBurro. The trike is designed to catch the attention of commercial and logistics entities looking for the next answer to getting goods where they need to go, especially in urban settings.
“The RadBurro originated from our brand’s belief that electric bikes are really meant to be more for utility than for leisure,” said Radenbaugh, the company’s president and CEO.
Whether it’s kids or pizzas, Rad Power Bikes was already keenly aware that people were using their bikes for more than just working up a sweat. Delivery at some scale was happening on all of the existing models. Now it was time to target larger scale delivery. With a 700-pound payload, a range of 40-80 miles on a single charge, a top speed of 20 mph and a price of $5,499, the RadBurro has the capability to replace the box truck or van in urban deliveries and last-mile logistics.
“The RadBurro is like a blend between a Toyota pickup truck and a bicycle,” Radenbaugh said. “It has all the benefits of being compact and lightweight and energy efficient, and it doesn’t require a license or registration.”
Electric cargo bikes are not a new thing. You might see modified pedal trikes hauling fans to Seahawks, Mariners or Sounders games or along the waterfront in Seattle.
“They’re usually not very powerful, they’re not very durable, and they don’t have very good range,” Radenbaugh said. “And then there’s $18,000 European-manufactured electric cargo trikes that are built much more similarly to the RadBurro with massive battery, great range, great durability. So we’re basically bridging that gap and building a really high quality, durable, industrial machine with something that’s low cost, approachable to the masses.”
Rad Power’s focus on the utility aspect of cycling goes all the way back to the first bike Radenbaugh built, which he used to commute to high school so he could avoid driving what he called a crappy car that was expensive to maintain.
They’ve held onto their appreciation for small, personal-sized electric vehicles, with no intention of branching into larger stuff — like the cars that are already stuck on roads in Seattle and other big cities. They truly believe that society will eventually be forced from cars back to scooters and bikes because of density and cost.
Sharing a home base with the world’s largest e-commerce company has also led these guys to think a lot about package delivery.
“There’s three big things that are killing urban logistics,” Radenbaugh said. “One is the traffic obviously. Two is parking, because parking’s non-existent for these big trucks. And three is missed deliveries. So you go and try to deliver a package and the person’s not there so you have to do a re-delivery attempt, that’s what’s a killer. The hub-and-spoke model, that’s really the future and that’s what Amazon is focusing really heavily on now because they know that the UPS system is broken, it’s not working running these huge vans around the city, even if you only take right turns, it’s still just not working in urban environments.”
Rad Power’s first pre-order was on Indiegogo back in 2015, and sales were strictly e-commerce for the first year. The bulk of sales still happen online, but a retail shop has been open just about two years, on Market Street in Ballard across from a space the company uses as its offices. All of the bikes are manufactured and assembled overseas, but the design is completely proprietary and its done in-house.
With 50 employees, the company is growing. A Canadian office and a second retail space — more like a Tesla showroom than a traditional bike shop — are set to open soon in Vancouver, B.C.
Early interest in the RadBurro is also coming out of Canada, as two companies — online grocer SPUD, and last-mile delivery co-op Shift — are each using a bike right now. Kiwi Campus, a company which makes deliveries using small autonomous robots in Berkeley, Calif., is also an early RadBurro adopter.
“Whether it’s large scale logistics or small scale food delivery, to everything in between, for a long time people have known that there needed to be some sort of change,” said Collins, who is Rad Power Bikes’ chief marketing officer. “They needed some sort of alternative, but no one’s really been able to put their finger on what that was. When we released this and announced it and got in front of people, so many people went, ‘That’s it. I didn’t know what it was but now that I see it I know that that’s the thing.'”
Radenbaugh and Collins are definitely confident about what they think they can achieve. Their biggest challenge right now is keeping bikes in stock. And they have their sights set on becoming a billion-dollar company — not being scooped up by a big-name bike manufacturer, but doing the scooping.
Their approach — especially in bypassing traditional bike shops to sell their product — is maybe what it feels like when a fancy e-bike passes you going up a hill.
“At first we were seen as really shaking things up, and we definitely still get a lot of negative comments from these shops who think we’re stealing sales from them,” Radenbaugh said. “But we’re introducing people who would never touch an electric bike — or biking in general — to cycling. Two years ago I would say 50 percent of the shops out there hated our guts. Now, 20 percent of the shops hate our guts, and that number will just keep dwindling down each year.”
Rapid innovation in technology — batteries, motors, controls, production capabilities for electric bikes — has created a perfect storm for Rad Power, according to Radenbaugh, who equates it to going from iPhone 1 to 7 in a year. The ubiquity of the technology is helping, too. Even folks who are jumping on an electric LimeBike ride-share in Seattle are catching a fever that ultimately leads them to investigate owning their own.
After taking a spin around Ballard on a RadBurro, feeling the heft and speed of the machine and learning to steer the thing, I rode into the retail store’s parking lot with the two co-founders.
Steve Norris, a 64-year-old grandfather from Seattle, was leaving the store and heading for his truck. A regular cyclist, Norris had just test ridden one of the Rad e-bikes and he was smiling from ear to ear.
“I just had a freakin’ blast,” Norris said. “I’ve never been on one. That’s why I’m totally jazzed.”
He said he couldn’t wait to go home and tell his wife — and not just because he was going to spend $1,500 on himself. “She’s gonna want one!”
Never missing the opportunity to sell the idea or the product in a transportation revolution that Rad Power Bikes is helping to stoke, Collins chimed in.
“Save $200 when you get two!”