Inspired by e-bikes, Electra co-founder Baenziger returns to bike biz

 In North America

By Lynette Carpiet

DEL MAR, Calif.| Benno Baenziger is taking preorders for bikes bearing his name, which he plans to begin delivering in July.

Baenziger, co-founder of Electra, is back in the bike business after a few years’ hiatus following the sale of the company he started with business partner Jeano Erforth in 1993 to a private equity group in 2007. Trek acquired Electra in 2014.

This time around, Baenziger is focused on ways to combat the objections people make to riding: “It’s too far. Too hilly. I don’t want to get there sweaty. And I can’t carry enough.” And he sees electric bikes and cargo bikes carry enough:’ And he sees electric bikes and cargo bikes as solving many of these obstacles.

“Without the possibilities of e-bikes, I don’t think I would have come back to the bike business,” Baenziger, 50, said. “Before I couldn’t solve many problems in the bike industry. I could make bikes more comfortable and pretty, but it didn’t make a big enough shift. Now with the cargo element and the electric element, all of a sudden it dawned on me. I could solve four objections out of eight. That’s huge to me.”

During his time away from the industry, Baenziger began using his bike as his primary transportation. And he noticed how many more times he would ride if he could carry a load. But he didn’t like the long cargo bikes he saw in the market. “It looks like a tandem with a missing seat. I wanted to make something that actually resonates with people. Not everybody needs a big box and three kids on their bike. A lot of people have one kid and two grocery bags,” he said.

Instead of making a cargo bike smaller, Baenziger looked at how to make a regular bike slightly longer and stronger. He also focused on making a modular racking system so users can buy and attach different racks and bags depending on their needs. The Carry On has a short wheelbase and rolls on wide 24×2.6-inch tires. It comes in two spec options with Shimano Acera/Alivio 27-speed and Avid mechanical disc brakes and Shimano Deore LX 30-speed and Deore hydraulic disc brakes.

”The idea is you can customize your bike,” Baenziger said. “Depending on what your life is at the moment, you can adjust the base bike, buy different racks and all of a sudden you have a different bike.”

At the same time he was developing the Carry On, Baenziger thought about an electric-assist version, which led to the development of the Boost. “It’s an attempt to make a more hip, fun and younger e-bike,” he said. “The motor is there to help with the load, and make the ride more fun.”

The Boost cargo e-bike comes spec’d with Bosch’s Performance mid-drive system, Shimano Deore LX 10-speed drivetrain and Deore hydraulic disc brakes. The aluminum-framed bike with chromoly fork comes in three colors and rolls on the same 24×2.6-inch tires as the Carry On.

While Baenziger said cargo and electric were his reasons for returning, his line goes beyond the Carry On and Boost with the Ballooner and Upright models. The Ballooner is an urban commuter bike. It comes spec’d with varying brakes and drivetrain options, from hydraulic to mechanical disc brakes to V-brakes, and either 24 or 27 speeds or Shimano Alfine internal 8-speed hubs, but all still roll on fatter 26×2.35-inch tires.

“I believe bigger tires can have less rolling resistance. Especially if roads aren’t totally smooth, you find yourself better off with a bigger tire,” Baenziger said. The Upright is a comfort town bike offered in men’s and women’s models with three-speed internal gear hubs and eight-speed derailleur drivetrains and coaster and V-brake options. Both lines are offered to be a one-stop shop for dealers, but Baenziger said that utility is where he started the new venture and where his passion lies now. His bikes retail from $560 for the Upright to $4,000 for the Boost e-cargo bike.

Baenziger’s office is in Del Mar, California, but his warehouse is in Phoenix. He has hired independent reps in California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Florida, and is looking to fill in other states. Baenziger is selling through specialty bike shops, and is not planning to sell online or direct to consumers.

Retailers can go to bennobikes.com, call (800) 556-0232 or email info@bennobikesusa.com.

Published in BICYCLE RETAILER AND INDUSTRY NEWS (BRAIN),  ©2016 BICYCLE RETAILER

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