Why I Left My Job at IDEO to Design the Ultimate Electric Bike
Not long after I led a team of designers in creating an award-winning electric bicycle that we called The Faraday, an interviewer asked me if I was an electric bike evangelist. I answered, honestly, NO. I was a cyclist—a commuter, a builder, a racer, and an advocate, who’d been inspired to build a unique electric bicycle less out of a belief in the virtues of the e-bike, and more as a protest against an industry that seemed ambivalent to the wants and preferences of actual cyclists like myself.
It’s odd to think I could have had that attitude towards electric bikes considering the amount of effort I had just invested in building one, but it was the honest truth—as happy as I was with our award-winning new bike, my trusty old single-speed was good enough for me.
That was a year and a half ago, back when the name “Faraday” still referred to a single bike, and there was never any intention of building another one. Fast forward to the spring of 2013 when Faraday Bicycles is on the verge of shipping our first production run of bikes and ask me the same question, and my answer couldn’t be more different. I’d like to go on record; I am now the ULTIMATE electric bike evangelist.
What’s changed? Some of it is technical—it comes from a year spent refining a design that was sketchy at best, solving some hard problems, and turning a rough prototype into a reliable consumer product. I have a lot more confidence in what we’re building now, and that goes a long way.
The biggest change, though, is perspective. I have spent a LOT of time riding electric bikes in the past year and a half. I am the living, breathing, pedaling embodiment of my own pitch—that a little bit of electric assist opens up a big new world of possibilities on what’s possible with your bike. A year and a half ago, would I have considered myself a potential Faraday customer? Debatable. Now? Yes, in a heartbeat. My trusty single speed still feels just as good, but the bar for what I can expect out of a bike is now a whole lot higher.
It’s not just my perspective that’s changed, either. Electric bikes are still a novelty in the United States. Many people haven’t even heard of them—even fewer have ridden one. As a result, nearly every time I give someone a test-ride, I have the pleasure of giving them their first spin on an electric bike. The results are consistently predictable, and always gratifying. Smiles, giggles, laughter, test-rides that last 20 minutes because the rider didn’t want to come back. You can see in the eyes of anyone who’s just tried a bike for the first time that the possibilities are unfolding in their imagination—how much further they could ride, what hills they could tackle, how many days they could leave their car at home and bike to work.
After my own personal electric bike transformation, it’s clear to me that the possibilities for electric bikes are enormous. In Europe, a part of the world always a few steps ahead of the United States when it comes to cycling, electric bikes have exploded in popularity. It will happen here in the U.S., and it will be driven by more and more people buying, borrowing, or renting an e-bike, riding it to work for a day, and deciding they never want to go back to gridlock, gas-prices, and the sedentary isolation of a car culture. As for me, I look forward to shipping Faraday’s first run of bikes by the end of the year, and putting another 200 evangelists on the road—with many more to follow.