Last week we were fortunate enough to have Zach Krapfl and Megan Duehring of Felt Electric Bikes visit to demonstrate Felt's new lineup of Bosch powered electric bikes. While they were here we found ourselves learning a lot more about how the bikes came to be, and some of the design philosophy behind the bikes. We decided to share our conversation here.
PC: Zach and Megan, first of all welcome and thank you for coming all this way. What do you think of Ashland and the Rogue Valley so far?
MD: I would say Ashland and the Rogue Valley in general seem to be very eco-friendly, and I can see how our electric bikes fit in well around here for that reason alone, as kind of a car replacement or just an alternative way to get around town.
ZK: Yes, plus the whole geography of this valley, with the town near the valley floor and so many of the homes up on the surrounding hills, lends itself much more to an electric bike than a regular bike for any kinds of errands, grocery shopping, even transporting kids on cargo bikes. These bikes are range-extenders for people who like to ride bikes, who still want exercise, even have a workout, and who want to be able to bring more with them but want to leave their car behind. It seems like a lot of people who live in this area share these goals.
PC: I understand that Felt started out making performance bikes for triathletes. Why electric bikes now?
ZK: That’s a good question, and a lot of people don’t see the connection there, but the focus at Felt is really all about encouraging more people to get on bikes - to get a more diverse group of people riding bikes.
MD: Even Rinnie (Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae, Kona triathlon world champion), who won Kona the last two years in a row, has two Lebowskes - she loves ‘em!
ZK: And that’s not going to be the most common thing, of course, pro athletes making the jump over to electric, but from Felt’s standpoint that just shows how broad the range is of people who could benefit from, and enjoy, an electric bike.
MD: There are a lot of people who, maybe because they’ve been injured, or haven’t ridden a bike in a long time, or maybe have never ridden a bike, are now able to start out with an electric bike. Then, whether because the bike helps them get back in shape, or just because they discover how much they love riding, they find they can also ride a regular bike for fun and fitness as well.
PC: What are Felt’s design goals for electric bikes?
ZK: Felt’s focus is always on a high-quality bike, whether it’s a triathlon rig, a racing bike, a racing mountain bike or a high-end electric bike. It’s always about staying at the top end. One of the ways we do that is making sure we have a dedicated engineering effort on each bicycle in our lineup. Right now we offer bikes in several segments, including flat-bar road bikes, hardtail 29ers, dual suspension mountain bikes, fatbikes, and cargo bikes. We are basically looking at different areas of bicycling today and trying to meet the needs of people who are looking to substitute a bicycle in place of their car. What we do is we try to highlight those areas of interest where people have a need, and we try to build a bike around that need, so each one of the bikes we are working on is targeting a group of people. We’re always doing that, keeping these particular groups of riders in our view. Right now we’re working on our cargo bikes, preparing to roll out two different cargo bikes. In particular, I’m personally very passionate about using to bikes to haul stuff - cargo is a big one for me.
PC: We’ve noticed how easy and how fun your electric bikes are to ride even when the motor is turned off completely. They behave the way a bike should. How do you achieve this?
ZK: It’s pretty hard to justify just throwing (an electric drive system) on a bike and not designing the rest of the bike around that system. Felt wants to bring a bike out that’s exceptional. We do that by optimizing the bike as a whole, whether that’s through decisions about frame geometry, weight distribution, tube butting, component selection, or any number of essential details. It’s tricky, and it takes a fair amount of engineering work, but it’s a lot of fun when you get it well balanced and dialed from a ride standpoint - when you get it right.
PC: A lot of people are surprised to see that there is no throttle on your bikes. Why is this?
ZK: A bicycle is something you get to pedal. That’s the essence of a bike. A throttle takes away from the ride experience. From a regulatory standpoint, it is far more friendly for the whole industry if people are pedaling their bikes, getting exercise, getting healthier and stronger. To me a throttle isn’t really an option.
PC: How did the partnership develop between Bosch and Felt?
ZK: Bosch started the electric bike project in 2009, and I was involved in that between 2009-2011. They started shipping systems in late 2010. In the beginning they were looking for different bike companies to partner with, some high-volume and others small and focused enough that they would help increase the perception of the bosch-equipped bike as a high quality transportation device. And so, Felt came along with the project in 2011. I was connected with Felt through a long-standing history between myself, Forrest Yelverton, Bill Duehring, and of course Jim Felt. We brought Felt to Bosch, they were looking for a high-end bicycle company that had a lot of engineering history, and it worked out that Felt was able to further Bosch’s goals in Europe and then provide a transition into the US market.
PC: What does the future look like for Felt Electric?
MD: We can’t say a lot right now, but I can tell you that we are designing a bike we can bring in at a lower price point, and we are looking to offer a wider range of models.
ZK: We’re targeting dropping the retail price point by about $800, we’re targeting some different niche areas, so bringing out more bikes, we’re targeting all of the top-tier cycling infrastructure cities around the US, and just from a calculations standpoint, I would like to be able to displace 175 million road miles of cars in the next two to three years, which I think could be done if we stay on the same path. That would save 6 million gallons of fuel. Of course, that’s a totally different target than bike design or pricing, but to me the real question is always “What are we doing?”