Local E-Bike Startup Thinking Big, Preparing for Launch
A local startup is hoping to make a big splash in the “micromobility” world, bringing a new kind of electric bike and lots of new ideas to an industry that has so far been dominated by just a handful of Silicon Valley-backed companies.
If all goes according to plan, the first fat tire e-bikes from the company – which recently changed its name from Roam to Trip – will be available to rent in Columbus starting next spring. The company is currently offering guided tours on the bikes to raise their profile and give locals a taste of what is coming.
The goal is to offer an alternative to the rentable electric scooters that have been omnipresent in Columbus since the summer of 2018, when the California-based company Bird deposited dozens of the devices Downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods (without first getting approval to do so from the City of Columbus). Since then, other scooter companies have come and gone, but people have kept riding, taking over 2,000 trips per day on average in 2019.
Kelly James, Founder and President of Trip, says his company’s approach is different in a couple of key ways from that of the scooter companies. For one, he is local and has worked to establish an “ongoing, great relationship” with the city, initially reaching out to the Department of Public Service in 2019 when Roam was first hoping to launch.
The other difference maker, according to James, is the bike itself, which has evolved quite a bit in the last two years.
After a series of delays led to the launch date being pushed back, James brought in Paul Ruminski to serve as CEO, and Ruminski in turn brought in engineers and developers to take a fresh look at the bike’s design.
“I came on board and said, ‘this is not gonna work, we need to stop looking at what everyone else is doing,'” said Ruminski, whose background includes extensive stints at both JP Morgan Chase and PNC Bank. “So we started building a bike from the ground up…building out our own IoT (Internet of Things) and motor controller, to really get to the intersection of safety, security and coolness.”
The new bike, which will be manufactured in Taiwan, has some features that set it apart from those offered by CoGo or by bike share systems in other cities:
- A seat that can accommodate shorter and taller riders without needing to be adjusted.
- Large, foam-filled tires, which mimic the feel of air but are much less likely to be damaged by city riding.
- Front and back suspension and a steel frame that acts as a “shock absorber,” according to Ruminski. “This vehicle is going to glide…the ride will feel very secure and very smooth.”
- A 52-volt battery that can be replaced without taking the bike off the road for charging.
- A phone docking station, where the Trip app can be displayed while riding and phones can be recharged wirelessly.
The batteries will provide a power boost while pedaling (known as peddle assist), but the bikes also have a thumb throttle that can help with getting the bike moving from a stop. Much like scooters, users will be able to locate and unlock the bikes with their cell phones, but rides will cost a little more to start – two dollars instead of one – and riders will be incentivized to return them to a designated parking area.
“If you park where we want you to park, which is clearly identified on the system, you’ll get a dollar credit toward your next ride,” said Ruminski. “Say you’re going to German Village, though, and you don’t want to park in one of the designated spots, you can park right outside your friend’s house, you just have to pay a little additional money.”
The bikes will have a top speed of 25 miles per hour, but technology will allow the speeds to be controlled in very precise ways. If the city wanted to make sure bikers slowed down along the Scioto Mile, for instance, that can be programmed in by the company.
“On the back end, we can control the speeds…we can govern those bike trails,” Ruminski said. “So if the city says, ‘take it down to ten [miles per hour],’ it shows up on the map, then when you hit trail, it’s a speed-governed area; it’s amazing tech.”
The plan is for the bikes to have three speed modes – first-time riders won’t be able to go faster than 15 miles per hour, but with more rides they can work their way up, “graduating” to the faster modes.
James and Ruminski have also re-thought the distribution process for the bikes, designing a three-wheeled, peddle-powered vehicle that can transport up to four bikes (and 24 batteries) at a time.
In addition to his ongoing discussions with Columbus, James said he has been in touch with Dublin and Ohio State University about future plans. The goal for next year is to launch with 500 bikes, which is currently the maximum allowed by the city, but James hopes to see that eventually increase to as many as 1,500 bikes.
“The city scores all micromobility companies,” he said, “If we hit the right scores, [that type of expansion] is a possibility.”
A recent meeting with the City of Cleveland went well, according to Ruminski, and could lead to that city being the first the company expands to.
“Out focus is to be community-centric,” he said, noting that any expansion to other cities would involve hiring local employees and bringing on new local investors. “We’re building from the inside out.”
OSU Geography Professor Harvey Miller, who follows national bike and scooter trends and has also met with the Trip team for a briefing on their plans, expressed cautious optimism about the company’s prospects.
“Trip is trying to enter a very crowded micromobility market, but they appear to be doing this in a different way,” he said. “Their bikes are not scooters, but they are also not like other bike shares I’ve seen – docked or dockless. They have rethought the bikes almost from scratch to make them user-friendly. They also have some intriguing ideas that leverage the Internet of Things and local businesses.”
“I hope they make it: micromobility could use some fresh thinking,” Miller added, although he cautioned that it can be hard for new companies to gain a foothold in the industry. “I also hope that Columbus and other cities will support micromobility by making room for bikes and scooters, with protected lanes and designated parking. Otherwise, Trip and other micromobility providers are facing an uphill battle.”
For more information, see www.ridetrip.com.