Full Interview – Benno Baenziger & Electric Bikes

Full Interview – Benno Baenziger & Electric Bikes


– [Karen] I am having a wonderful
moment of sitting-downness here at Interbike 2016 with Benno of Benno Bikes.
Benno innovated the enjoyment of cycling with Electra, and is now starting a new
company called Benno which is, I think, going to create a new category of
e-bikes. And so here we are, ready to talk about it, ready to imagine a
future with a Benno bike in our lives. What is it, and what’s exciting and new
about this platform? – [Benno] You know, after I sold my
business, I had a lot of time to ride around on a bicycle, which I didn’t have
before, and I realized how much more you can do when you can load stuff, and when
you can bring things to different places, and I got to see how it is when you start
living on a bike a little bit more. And what I realized is that if you can
make a bike more utility, if you can make it do more things, then
you can use it more often. And what I found in the market, you find
e-bikes that are bicycles that have systems attached to them, conventional
bicycles that have e-bike systems attached to them, and you have find cargo bikes
that are very, very extreme: they’re long, or they got big boxes, they’re just a
really big commitments. So what I was thinking, they don’t have to be so long to
carry a lot. I was thinking if I could make a shorter bike, if I could make a
smaller bike that looks more like a regular bike, it would probably appeal to
more people. It certainly would appeal more to me. And with the e-bike it was
always like, I never liked e-bikes. I didn’t like them, but I did like the
sensation of how they rode. So instead of pooh-poohing e-bikes,
I was going, no, Benno, if you really like the way they ride, why don’t
you make one that you would like to ride? So I set out on that journey, and I
started designing this bike, and I was thinking we’ll do a 24-inch
wheel with a bigger tire, with a shorter wheel base, but we want to
put some big racks on it and make it look really cool. I never design for other
people. People say, who’s your target audience, and I’m like I don’t know. And
if I know, I don’t know anything about them. I don’t know what you like to eat,
how high your pillow is, I don’t know. So how could I know…these
designers always go, Oh, I’m so smart, I can design
for a target audience. No. I can only design for myself. – And if it doesn’t ride well
in cowboy boots, hell no. – And if I like cowboy boots,
it doesn’t work. – Yeah! – But the meaning is, you need to
be honest to yourself, and you could be designing anything for
somebody else, but as long as you don’t want to use it, you don’t want to ride it,
then that’s not the truth. And you got to be really honest, you
either ride it or you don’t ride it. It’s not like, Oh, I could be riding it, I
would like to ride it, or I should be riding it. You ride it, or
you don’t ride it. If you don’t ride it, you did something wrong. If you don’t like
it.you made a mistake. And so, in my case I always seek for that.
And I was trying to do something that’s kind of cool-looking, very functional,
compact, and as I was working on the frame and the geometry of that bike, I wanted
something really simple, really utilitarian. Very
architecturally…not like in my past, not swoopy, no curvy, no fancy, just pure
function, and it led me to that frame shape. It’s very simple, it took me… I
cut all the dimensions that I wanted, wheel base, tires, everything. The lines
of that bike took me five minutes. Dim, dim, dim, dim, dim, done. And then we
spent three years filling in those blanks. Make it work. But the lines never changed.
And instead of feeling guilty about my five-minute bike, I felt really good about
it, because I felt like it was really honest and deep from the heart. When we started adding the e-system, what
happened is that we realized that the pairing of the system with that frame that
was made to hold more weight seemed utterly perfect. I think a lot of e-bikes
are more like what I call a Cabernet with a white halibut: they’re just overpowering
for the frame, for the wheels, for the bike. And I don’t want to say I
did that purposely, but when we put the system in that frame, it became very
rigid, it became very firm, it became very stable, very safe. And
everything rode so in great harmony that it would feel like it was the perfect
pairing of motor, frame, components, bigger tires, better brakes.
And that led me to believe that e-bikes, there’s a new segment out there that’s
waiting: more like a two wheeled electrical vehicle, not really like a
bicycle with a motor, it’s a little bit of a different thing. And so, at the end,
when you look at the booth, it’s kind of like, is it a cargo bike, is
it an e-bike, it’s neither one, it’s both. I think everybody that’s been
coming here, they’ve been struggling, they’re kind of intrigued. The cargo bike
people talk about the cargo bike side, the e-bike people talk about the e-bike
side, but I really believe that there’s a new customer for that bike that we haven’t
been talking to. – Thinking about this as a
new form of transportation, instead of an e-bike or a bike, It’s a new
category, right? Who’s going where? Where are you going? – What I like to do on this bike is
very simple, simple little rides and runs. For instance, I like to take it to the
beach, because when I get to the beach- I live on a hill, it’s a 70% grade.
And, not very far, three or four, five blocks from the beach. But when I go
to the beach, I can’t find parking. So I can walk, but I don’t want to carry
everything- my surfboard, my beach chair, it’s too much down the
hill, so I want to drive, but I can’t find parking. So this is the
difference. Sometimes people say, “Hey, why don’t you buy a golf cart?”
I’m like, well, I still need parking. I like golf carts, but when I come down to
the beach, I still need to park my golf cart. So, on this bike, I can roll down, I
can lock it up right where I want to lock it up, I get back on, I go home. I like it for grocery runs. I live in Del
Mar, we have races all the time, or the Del Mar Fair. The road to Whole
Foods is always busy with an event. It’s not very far, it’s two miles, it’s
three miles, but there’s always traffic there. No problem on the bike. I like to
take it to the gym. I ride it down my hill, and it’s interesting because I only
have that little hill, 70% grade. And I could ride my regular bike more
often, but a lot of times, the truth is, I don’t want because I don’t
want to come home and then do that last little climb. And the truth is, everybody
is routing out their trips in their head. Before you leave the house, and you go on
a trip, you map it out. So people go, if they think about taking
their bike, they go, I got to go this flat, this long stretch, up the hill, wait
on that traffic light, go down, go up. And then they decide,
“Am I going to take my car or my bike?” And if that looks like too
much of a chore, at that moment, you’re going to take your car. But what
I’ve found with the e-bike, the threshold of finding it a chore is
much lower. So you end up going, it’s much easier to grab the bike lock
than the car keys. You do that just much more often. The other thing I see a lot of
people say, “Oh, e-bikes, if I ride a bike I want to get exercise.” So, that’s fine, why don’t you ride a
bike and get exercise? I’m not trying to convince you to not go
ride your bike, I’m just trying to replace some of your car rides with
a bicycle and if you do that, even on an e-bike you still get more
exercise than sitting in your car. So it’s very normal stuff. I do nothing
outstanding, nothing crazy, it’s just every day coming down to the
garage, jumping on it, and using it for simple, simple, simple errands. – You were talking a little bit about the
wheel base and the wheel size, and these certain key decisions.
If you could walk through just the basic features of the bike,
that make it what it is. – What we have right now, we offer the
rear rack, which is already on the bike. We have an aftermarket front tray that is
frame-mounted, so doesn’t swivel, and we offer that in silver, red and
black. And then we have pannier bags that will fit this rack, they’re a little bit
longer. They’re simple drop-in, pull-out bags, or grocery bags or other
items, and you strap them tight. Then we have a front-tray bag that rolls
and turns, so you can roll it down and you have a little bit of a basket type of
thing. We also make a baby seat adapter that screws on the rack at
the right place, very secure, and you just click in your baby seat. So
those are the items that we do today, and we’re looking forward to more
accessories and giving people the choices that they want to make it their own bike. – You were talking a little bit
yesterday about developing the frame and the strength
through the wheels, and the parameters around this new,
smaller wheel size. Can you talk a little bit about that process, and the way that
you’ve made changes in the frame? – Well, what happened is I was
looking at what is the right wheel size for this bike and so, I think, you want
to keep the center of gravity low, for the load. And I’m thinking 20 inches,
too small, 26 inches, too big, and I felt like 24 inch would
just look right, and would also give the bike a very nice proportion. And it’s a
very strong wheel, and we chose to use a bigger tire that we custom made, because
using a bigger tire on a dimensional bike with a derailleur shifter system creates a
lot of clearance problems, so we had to do a lot of engineering to
solve some of these issues. And it was kind of complicated but it was
kind of fun to solve it, and it just became a very technical
product. The tire that we developed is not really round in profile. When you cut it,
it’s an oval tire, so it’s higher than wide, which is very unusual, and it just
kind of made everything work. So we have the suspension of the tire but
we don’t have the strong resistance when you roll on it. When I started to think
about this bike, I did a simple test. at home. I took my car keys and my bike
lock and I put them next to each other. And every time I left my house and I took
my car keys, I had to answer myself, Why am I not taking my bike? And this
exercise, and it was very honest, because I had to answer, brought me to a
simple list of objections or excuses why people don’t ride their bikes more often.
And I can come up with eight, eight objections that have commonly come
up, and then maybe a couple more that everybody has personally,
but it was eight major ones. – What are they? – This bike can solve four of
the eight. And that was a very, very important realization for me because
in the past, I would make bikes cute, and I would make them comfortable. And I
got to bring a lot of people to ride bikes by cute and comfortable, but when I was
thinking about it, if I have a bike that can solve four out of eight major
objections, 50%, I was thinking I could actually probably get a lot more people on
a bike with solving four major objections than I making it cute and comfortable. So,
this bike solves: too far, too hilly, I don’t want to get that
sweaty, and I can’t bring enough. Those are the four major – I hear them all
the time. It leaves you with: safety, theft, storage, weather, and like I said,
everybody has two more personal reasons. But when I realized that, that you could
solve that many objections, and those are big ones. Especially for the
US. Because things are far, far, too far and too hilly, I don’t want
to get that sweaty, and I can’t bring enough. To me, that was the big reason why
I started this brand and I came back in the bike business. – Well, it’s really exciting
and inspiring to have more people in the e-bike industry that
have experience in the bicycle industry and have experience getting people on
bikes, but really understand the potential and the spirit of the e-bike and so, from
the perspective of someone who’s just been doing this for a little while, it’s
really, really exciting to have you join us over on the e-bike side of things, so
thank you for that. – Well, thank you very much. Thanks. ♪ [music] ♪