I know many of you are eager to know when the Free Electric bike will be available, and I appreciate your patience thus far. I’m pleased to say that we received some very useful feedback from the pilot study in India, and we are making a number of modifications to the bike, which I outline later in this letter.
As for manufacturing and distributing in India, our original plan of having that up and running this summer has been delayed by several months.
In one of my prior letters, I explained that we knew it would take significant time to get the production facilities up and running in India and, thus, planned to build a Singapore plant to supply India in the meantime. That Singapore facility was built quite quickly and smoothly, and several hundred bikes came off the line within a few weeks.
Unfortunately, we’ve hit a wall of red tape in attempting to ship those bikes to India. An astounding amount of customs paperwork and high tariffs make it infeasible to do any imports to India at all. It’s simply easier to wait for the Indian production sites to be finished. We estimate that with the changes we’re making to the bike along with the lengthy process of building manufacturing facilities, we’re looking at early 2017 before scaled distribution in India will be possible.
Meantime, the Singapore facility is available to supply other parts of Southeast Asia that are open to importing Free Electric. In fact, we’re looking for serious distributors in Southeast Asia that would be willing to travel to Singapore to meet with our production guys. Please use the contact form on our website if you or anyone you know is interested.
As for the changes we’re making to the bike, we learned quite a bit from the pilot study. Our key insights related to the fact that women, not men, by and large, will be the main users of the bike. The men are out working, and the women and older children are the ones tasked with work around the house. Regardless of whether it should be this way, this is how it is. So here are the changes we made and why:
First, we’re creating a smaller, less expensive, lower output, easier-to-pedal version of the bike that will be meant for households. We’ll refer to it as the consumer version. It will have one flywheel instead of two and will have a slightly smaller battery and will be capable of less output. (Specifications are still being worked out.) The two-flywheel version will be geared toward commercial uses, like small businesses and schools, which may need to draw more energy than a typical household in India. That decision was made because some people found the bike a bit too difficult to pedal for an extended period of time at high-amp outputs, with a fully discharged (100%) battery. Further, most households didn’t need as much electricity as the original bike was providing. They mostly wanted lighting after dark, which doesn’t require much power. And who can blame them? It’s amazing what having even one light bulb can do for a family’s productivity and well-being. You can see for yourself in this short video of some stories from pilot participants in rural India.
Second, we made some minor changes to the design. Some women had problems with their saris getting caught in the bike chain, so we built a case around the chain to keep it from getting in the way. We also adjusted the seat so that it could fit people of smaller stature.
Next, we originally included a low-voltage disconnect that would shut off the battery at 10.5 volts (100% Discharge). We assumed that users would seldom take it that low before recharging, but actually found that most users were, in fact, discharging the battery completely. That increased the pedaling required in both time and effort to get the battery back to 12 volts. Because this was too difficult for most users, we adjusted the low-voltage disconnect to shut off the battery at 11.5 volts, which made the pedaling much easier and involved less time to recharge.
The Free Electric pilot study also showed that users would like to have a portable storage battery to use in other locations (without the bike attached). We have engineered a portable battery box that will be standard on all units. This box will contain all of the USB plug charging points, battery management systems, battery charge indicator, low voltage plug, and a light source.
Finally, we gave the bike a name and created a logo to distinguish it from copycats. It will be called Hans Free Electric, and here is the logo.
We’ll be posting photos of the new consumer version of the bike to social media once the design is finalized.
Thank you, as always, for your continued support and encouragement.