PORTLAND, Ore. (BRAIN) — The potential of e-bikes didn’t initially resonate with Kyle Ranson.
“I’m embarrassed to say I was one of those cyclists who said about e-bikes, ‘That’s cheating,'” said Ranson, a longtime cyclist.
In the years since, Ranson, owner of apparel company Showers Pass, has had a change of heart. So much so that he founded Vvolt, a direct-to-consumer e-bike company specializing in e-mobility. “This is all about accessibility,” Ranson said. “It gives everybody a chance to enjoy what I’ve frankly been enjoying all of my life.”
Vvolt is taking advance orders with delivery expected in August. It has four pedal-assist models, featuring Gates Carbon Drive belts and hydraulic brakes. Two models — the Alpha and Alpha S — have singlespeed drivetrains with Acer hub motors. The other two — the Proxima and Sirius — have MPF mid-drive motors, internal gearing and Enviolo hubs. All will emphasize “urban utility” with rack, fender, and cargo mounts and come with a three-year warranty. Electrical components will be spec’d by Acer, with the bikes manufactured in Taiwan.
Ranson believes e-bikes can be done better, and more importantly, less expensively, but still featuring quality components. He watched the e-bike industry closely in Europe and then in the U.S.
“I was very frustrated, especially in the U.S., with what was going on,” Ranson said. “You either had cheap and cheerful, which I actually don’t knock because cheap and cheerful will get it into the hands of people who otherwise might not be able to get it. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the traditional players releasing $5,000 and $6,000 bikes that are totally unobtainable to the average person.”
Prices for Vvolt’s first models will range from $1,399-$2,699. Because he wanted to think outside the box with his e-bike line, Ranson’s first hire was a design engineer (Sawyer Alcazar-Hagen) who didn’t have a cycling background.
“In the industry, the big players are still slapping derailleurs on e-bikes,” Ranson said. “Guys, get out of your own way. They’re still stuck in this is the way it has to be. And that’s one of the things I wanted to do. I wanted to shake it up, so none of our e-bikes will have derailleurs. None of our e-bikes will have chains.”
Ranson said a significant deposit was placed in November to secure thousands of bikes this year.
“It was a roll of the dice,” he said. “Given the environment, we were asking a lot from the factory. Most are at full capacity, and here we were asking a factory, ‘Can you work with us in this development?’ What we didn’t do is grab some product and stick our name on it. We designed the frame from the ground up. We made it very clear to our factory partner that we were serious with the size of the deposit we gave them. And we worked real closely with Gates and Enviolo last year. Both have been fantastic securing supply with us. We feel very fortunate.”
Because it’s a consumer-direct company, Vvolt also put some thought into packaging. Bikes will be shipped in an oversized box designed to slide out the bike, which comes 97% assembled with only the front wheel and pedals requiring assembly with the included multitool.
Vvolt also is limiting packing foam and zip ties to reduce single-use plastics.
Ranson said the company is planning a cargo-bike-inspired model. The three-wheeled Beluga Compact Electric Utility Vehicle concept is a multipurpose pedal-assist trike built for one rider and up to three passengers, or a “car-trunk’s worth” of party supplies and/or groceries in the front utility compartment.
“You don’t have to be a master of balance to take your groceries home or carry your kids,” Ranson said. “It’s kind of a cargo bike, but we’re trying to make it more accessible, not a giant big thing you actually need a garage for. That’s the vision.”