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New Scooter Companies, Local E-Bike Startup Set to Enter Columbus Market

Brent Warren Brent Warren New Scooter Companies, Local E-Bike Startup Set to Enter Columbus MarketPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Three new “micro-mobility” companies have received approval from the City of Columbus to enter the market and are planning summer launches.

Jump, which was acquired by Uber last April for $200 million, will deploy both its rentable e-bikes and scooters, while Spin, which was acquired by Ford Motor Company in November, will soon be rolling out its bright orange scooters.

Roam Bikes, a startup founded by local entrepreneur Kelly James, plans to deploy 200 e-bikes on the streets of Columbus this June, with a total fleet of about 500 in place by the fall.

The three newcomers enter a market that already has Bird and Lime — which both launched here last summer — and CoGo, the docked bike share system that was established in 2013 (and that was acquired by Lyft last fall).

James said he’s confident that his company can compete with the Silicon Valley-backed giants.

Roam recently took on additional investors and is committed to making a good first impression, he said. That includes working closely with the City of Columbus to think through issues like storage and safety before the bikes are on the street. The company will launch first in Columbus, but Cincinnati and Cleveland could be next, followed by Charleston and Austin.

Company founder Kelly James on a Roam Bike.

The biggest competitive advantage Roam has, according to James, is the bikes themselves.

“Our product truly stands out,” he said, explaining that the fat-tired bikes with long, cushioned seats (which are manufactured by a company in Singapore) provide a more comfortable ride than traditional bikes. “They’re all-terrain, all-weather, and feel more secure…they’re retro bikes with modern tech.”

That modern tech includes a digital display mounted on the handle bar, rider modes ranging from beginner to advanced, and a 52-volt battery that not only provides a power boost while pedaling (known as peddle assist) but also can be activated via a thumb throttle, an option not available on most e-bikes.

“We recognize that the most difficult part (of riding a bike) is getting going from standing start,” James said, adding that the throttle will help with that.

The process for renting a Roam Bike will be similar to that of its competitors — they can be located and unlocked via a cell phone app, and will cost one dollar to start plus an additional 20 cents for each minute of use. The bikes can be returned anywhere, although riders will be incentivized to return them to one of over 500 designated parking areas, which will be marked by decals on the sidewalk.

Roam will employ a team of service technicians for repairs and for charging up the batteries, which last 40 to 50 miles per charge.

This is not James’ first foray into the world of shared mobility devices. About 12 years ago, he started a company called Kelly’s Green Cycling, which aimed to rent bikes made out of bamboo. Although that venture didn’t last, in 2015 he decided to “un-shelf” the idea, this time focusing on e-bikes, which he had enjoyed riding on trips to California.

James watched with interest, and some trepidation, as Lime and Bird launched in Columbus last summer. He had just officially launched his company in March (it was then called Electric Ave), with a small fleet of e-bikes, scooters, skateboards, and one wheels, and was worried that the big companies would “help write legislation to push everyone else out.”

That didn’t happen, thanks in part to what he described as “strong partnerships” that he developed with both the city and Smart Columbus.

Roam narrowed its focus to e-bikes and struck deals with several local businesses to provide bikes for their employees. The company also began to focus its energies on a larger launch this summer, applying some lessons learned from a close observation of the first year of scooters and dockless bikes in Columbus.

“We want to be the golden standard on bike share nationwide, that’s our goal…not be a nuisance, or (to be) littering up the sidewalk,” said James, adding that he hopes that a positive launch here can lead to success in other markets. “We’re proud to be a local company…no one knows your city better than you do.”

For more information, visit roambikes.com.

Note: This article was originally published on May 13, 2019.

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