Other D.C. cyclists may be decked out in head-to-toe spandex, and perched on bikes better suited for the Tour de France than the 15th Street cycletrack. “But I’m whizzing by them in a skirt and heels,” Amber Wason brags. And she’s not even breaking a sweat.
That’s because Wason is a co-founder of Riide, an electric bicycle startup company based in the District. With a flick of her wrist, she can activate the throttle and instantly glide along at 20 mph for up to 25 miles. If she decides to pedal, too, she can go even faster.
“It’s only lazy if you want it to be,” adds Wason, who envisions Riide bikes as the ultimate transportation choice for urban professionals. Quite a few of them agree: Just hours after Wason and co-founder Jeff Stefanis launched a Kickstarter campaign for Riide in January, they hit their $50,000 goal.
Although electric bikes aren’t new — they’re everywhere in China, Wason notes — the concept has never really taken off in the U.S. One problem, she says, is that the existing products have been marketed mostly to an older crowd.
To help Riide appeal to a broader audience, Wason and Stefanis spent 18 months developing a “better, sleeker” prototype. They hid the battery inside the frame, so it doesn’t look weird. They gave it regenerative braking, which helps extend the range. They made it single-speed to reduce maintenance headaches.
And now that they’ve pre-sold 120 bikes at $1,799 each, they need to make a whole lot of them.
Production is slated to begin in about a month in Riide’s newly acquired headquarters, just north of U Street. While waiting for parts to roll in from manufacturers around the globe, the company is keeping things moving by offering “test Riides.”
At festivals, farmers markets and random street corners — find exact locations by following @RiideBikes on Twitter — college students in Riide T-shirts have been asking passersby, “Have you ever heard of an electric bike?” Many of them haven’t, says Riide’s Natalie Weil, so it can be a challenge to persuade people to take a spin around the block.
Some people are afraid it’s like getting on a motorcycle. (Full disclosure: I was one of those people.) Others can’t comprehend why you’d use a bike for anything other than exercise. But everyone I saw try it came back smiling, so I put on my helmet and saddled up.
As promised, I found the throttle completely intuitive. With a quick twist of the right handlebar, I got a gentle boost. It helped me speed up instantly after stopping at a light, but didn’t send me flying so fast that I felt out of control. I was really starting to feel comfortable with the sensation when I went to flick the throttle again, and got nothing in return. So I pedaled back on my own steam and learned that the 35-pound bike is perfectly pleasant to use without battery assistance as well. (That’s 13 pounds lighter than a Capital Bikeshare bike.)
The second thing I learned: Prototypes are finicky, which is apparently why the throttle had given out on me. The fix was a simple unplug-then-plug-back-in maneuver. The final product won’t have that problem, Weil assured me. The only plugging in necessary will be to charge the battery.
Even with my difficulties, I have to agree with the assessment that Andrew Stein offered after his test Riide. “Pretty awesome,” declared the 23-year-old after dismounting in front of American Ice Company, where the street team often hangs out on Friday evenings. (Find them there this week 5-7 p.m.)
Stein lives in Chinatown and works in Crystal City, and knows exactly how he’d use an electric bike: “I hate commuting and I want to get to work fast.” And the price, he said, seemed fair considering how much he spends on Metro and Uber.
Before too long, I predict, everyone will know what an electric bike is. It’ll be that thing that just whizzed by them.
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