Brand strives to balance utility with a fun ride experience.
By Toby Hill, Cycle Volta
November 13, 2019
Do you see cargo bikes as horsey, awkward, impractical contraptions? Benno Baenziger hopes to change that perception.
“I saw what people now call cargo bikes, and they were all big and cumbersome and long. It was just too much. You didn’t need that much to transport a kid or a couple grocery bags,” he recalled. “So I started basically designing a bike for myself. I’d like to have a bike that could carry more, that’s electric, I can put a kid on it. And that’s when I started working on the Boost.”
The Boost E “etility” bike, as Baenziger likes to call his midtail electric cargo designs, is the best-selling model at Benno Bikes, which launched in 2015. The Benno line currently includes three electric models: the Boost E, rolling on Benno’s own 24 x 2.6-inch custom balloon tires; the eJoy step-through city bike; and the roadie-inspired eScout commuter. They all use Bosch mid-drive pedal-assist motors and can accept numerous modular racks, trays, and cargo-carrying accessories made by Benno.
Benno Bikes also has one non-electrified cargo model in the Carry On and two lifestyle bikes with the Ballooner and the Upright, but electrics constitute 80 percent of the company’s dollar sales.
The “etility” bikes have shorter wheelbases and more compact racks than found on many cargo bikes. Racks are bolted on to the frame instead of welded, so the bikes can change with their owners’ transportation and cargo-hauling needs. The racks are also compatible with bags, baskets, and carriers from German brand Racktime.
“The execution of cargo bikes is very big, heavy, and bulky. It sounds like a big commitment to ride a cargo bike. And a regular bike with a motor, that may be a bike for lazy people. I wanted to make a bike that’s in the middle,” Baenziger said. “It should look like a regular bike and ride like a regular bike, but it should be able to carry more. And not a refrigerator, but maybe one kid or two small kids, a couple grocery bags or a cooler—things that you normally need to carry. And while you carry these items, it shouldn’t sacrifice your riding quality.”
How Benno Bikes Was Born
Baenziger had a storied history in the bicycle industry before moving into ebikes with his eponymous brand.
A graphic design student in his native Berlin during the late ’80s, Baenziger came to the US to pursue work in the action sports industry. The avid skater and snowboarder worked for Southern California-based Surfer Publications, designing the first issues of Snowboarder magazine, and did freelance work for brands including Adidas, K2, Billabong, OP, and Haro Bikes. Then he started creating bike graphics.
“That was my gateway into the bike world. I was doing the entire Giant (Bicycles) account. I designed every graphic for them and took over their parts packaging program, their catalog, and some of their ads. I did some smaller brands as well,” he said.
But Baenziger grew restless farming out his creativity to clients. He wanted to build his own brand as an outlet for his design work.
“I was always fascinated by brands, even since I was a little kid. I always had this fascination with the power of brands and logos and what they stand for. I always wanted to own my own brand, because as a designer it seems like such a cool platform. If you have a successful brand you can layer on different products and things,” he said.
Seeing a gap in the market for stylish cruisers, Baenziger and partner Jeano Erforth founded lifestyle brand Electra Bicycle Co. in 1993. The company developed a new type of geometry it called Flat Foot Technology—placing the cranks forward on the bike so the rider could comfortably rest their feet on the ground even while seated in the saddle. The affordable but fashionable Electra Townie, featuring the Flat Foot design, sold like wildfire starting in the early 2000s.
Those strong sales soon had a private equity firm knocking on Electra’s door, The partners sold Electra in 2008, and Baenziger remained with the company until 2010 and kept an ownership stake until 2014, when Trek Bicycle Corp. acquired the brand.
After leaving Electra, Baenziger had time on his hands to ride bikes the way he likes: for transportation.
“Then I got a little bit into the cargo bike thing and realized when you can carry more, you can use your bike more often. It’s more practical. But that could be hard to ride. That’s when I got my hands on an early ebike that could carry a lot, I realized what a game changer that was,” he said. “From day one of Electra to today, my ambition was always to get more people out of cars and on bikes. At Electra the only tools we had were comfort and style. But I couldn’t take the hills away. I couldn’t make riders get to their destination non-sweaty. I couldn’t get them to carry more stuff.”
When Baenziger saw his first Bosch mid-drive electric motor a little more than five years ago, he knew he had his solution.
“It was the first motor where I thought, ‘I’d really want one on my bike.’ It rode so well and was so compelling. I thought, ‘Now ebikes have arrived at a place where I want to participate.’ There was a level of sophistication there I really liked,” he said.
Today, Baezinger rides his bikes daily, but he doesn’t consider himself a cyclist.
“If you invited me on a road bike ride, I’d politely decline because I don’t go ride my bike in that capacity, yet I ride my bikes every day. But I ride them just like how I want my customers to ride them,” he said.
“We say on my website that we are just as enthusiastic about running errands as other companies are about winning races. That’s why we spend a tremendous amount of time designing our bags and our trays, while other companies are trying to figure out how to shave 20 grams off their bike.”
Content retrieved from: https://www.cyclevolta.com/story/cargo-ebikes/benno-bikes-brings-etility-to-electric-cargo-market/.