Climate News (WFAE): As sales of e-bikes and e-cycles surge, a Cornelius startup rides the wave

Climate News (WFAE): As sales of e-bikes and e-cycles surge, a Cornelius startup rides the wave

As sales of e-bikes and e-cycles surge, a Cornelius startup rides the wave 

By David Boraks | dboraks@wfae.org
February 10, 2022 
 

Sales of two-wheeled vehicles have surged during the pandemic as more of us take to the roads and greenways for recreation. And the market's fastest growing segment is electric bikes and e-cycles.

"E-bikes, in particular, are just absolutely taking off. So something that was a niche 10 years ago is now utterly mainstream," said Ashley Lovell of the bicycle industry group People for Bikes. "We're seeing them proliferate across all different bicycle categories, whether it's commuters or gravel bikes, or road bikes, or mountain bikes. All of those have e-versions of them."

E-bikes range from electric-assisted pedal bikes to more powerful models that more closely resemble motorcycles. Sales of e-bikes grew 240% over the 12 months ending in July 2021, according to research firm NPD

For some riders, an e-bike or e-cycle replaces a traditional bike or motorcycle. For others, a two-wheeled electric vehicle (EV) may even be a climate friendly replacement for a gas-powered car or truck. 

Brett McCoy founded Huck Cycles in Cornelius in 2019 after he built his own electric cycle. He's here with one of the original models in his showroom. The company has sold more than 700 since then. (David Boraks/WFAE)


Huck Cycles rides the trend 

That's what Brett McCoy had in mind when he founded Huck Cycles in Cornelius in 2019. (He named the company after Huck Finn, a character from the Mark Twain novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”) 

"I wanted something that was better for the environment, that was more efficient, quieter, didn't have the ongoing costs or the smell of gas and oil," said McCoy, who at the time was working as a bank executive in Charlotte. 

At first, he bought a couple of e-bikes. "Everything that I purchased felt small for me. It didn't give me the feeling that I wanted, that I remembered from when I was growing up and had a mini bike," he said. 

So he decided to make his own e-cycle, as a "hobby project." 

His first attempts were inspired by a German e-bike, the 1978 Porsche Magnum, which had pedals and a motor. He made a couple of prototypes out of metal and PVC pipes, with purchased wheels and other components, and took them to metal fabricators. But "everybody laughed at me," he said. 

Finally, he found an automotive shop in Shelby to help. And that's when his "hobby project" got serious and took over his evenings.  

"I'd be in Shelby to like 9:30, 10 o'clock cutting, bending, breaking, welding, trying to make our first bike," he recalled.  He began posting photos on social media of his design ideas, and suddenly, others were interested. 

"People started reaching out saying, 'Hey, if you make one, can you make another one and I'll buy it?' And that one became two became three became five became 10," McCoy said. 

McCoy eventually left his corporate job to form the company. Now, Huck Cycles is riding the e-bike wave. In less than three years, it recorded $2.5 million in revenue and sold more than 700 e-cycles in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., as well as to far-flung places like Latvia, South Korea, Guam and New Zealand. 

Huck Cycles now has 13 employees and can hand-build up to 80 bikes a month. Last year, Charlotte investor Steve Amedio and Clairvoyant Ventures invested $1 million to help the company grow. Amedio says they're planning to increase the investment this year to help the company move to a larger factory. 

Amedio said he first learned about Huck Cycles when he was shopping for an e-bike. That grew into an investment. 

"I love to be involved in things that are a little bit unique and interesting. I love the sustainability aspect. And certainly, there's the EV aspect of it. I love things that are bringing manufacturing back to North Carolina," Amedio said.

So what is a Huck Cycle? 

Huck Cycles look more like small motorcycles than bicycles. They have two models: the Rebel, which has pedals, and the Overland, which looks a bit like a dirt bike and does not have pedals. Both cost $6,200. Future models with two batteries and other features could top $8,000, McCoy said.  

All have 3,000-watt electric motors in the rear wheel - larger than most e-bikes. The speed is controlled by a handlebar throttle and has three settings - 20 mph, 30 mph and 45 mph, for off-road use. Batteries offer 35 to 50 miles of range, though that varies depending on the rider, terrain and speeds. And to recharge, you just plug the battery into a standard wall outlet. 

Huck is in an industry dominated by companies that manufacture in Asia or Europe. 

"One of the things that sets us apart from the market is we build and fabricate our bikes here in the U.S.," McCoy said. "We do import components and parts that we can't get in the U.S., but frames, hardbody components, tank, seats, anything like that, we do get locally. 

Huck's motors come from Japan, but the company also works with suppliers in High Point, Shelby, Mooresville, Statesville and Kannapolis. 

"So we try to localize as much as we can. And that allows us to be more nimble, more efficient, and then own more of the design process," McCoy said. 

And as for that Japanese motor, McCoy is currently hunting for a local company that can supply motors.

Ishi Kipp-Cook with her Huck Cycles Rebel in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Isha Kipp-Cook with her Huck Cycles Rebel in Huntington Beach, Calif.  (Provided/Isha Kipp-Cook)

Her dog rides, too

Huck Cycles' customers include recreational cyclists and riders who use the e-bikes to get around town. Isha Kipp-Cook of Huntington Beach, California, was an early customer. She and her boyfriend Eric Agnew studied the e-bike market closely for weeks before buying two Rebels in 2020. 

"So we go just anywhere we can and we also go out to dinner a lot, to the main street here. So we always ride our bikes there. I have a dog trailer that hooks up on the back of it. So my dog goes with us everywhere. And he loves it," she said. 

Sometimes, they ride 25 to 30 miles up and down the beach, she said. Kipp-Cook said e-bicycles are increasingly common where she rides. 

So is this a bicycle or a motorcycle?

"That's a good trick question. It's a motorcycle with pedals," Kipp-Cook said. 

More often than not, she uses the throttle, but the pedals come in handy when battery power is low and there's no outlet nearby, she said.

McCoy said he sees Huck Cycles' main competitors as motorcycle manufacturers. Unlike e-bicycle companies, Huck Cycles come with a Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN. That means owners can register and ride them on the road like motorcycles. 

"We don't really sit in the e-bike category. We're just a little above it in a different position, right (in) the moped-motorcycle category," he said. 

The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles does not require mopeds and e-cycles to be registered. A spokesman said a records search turned up just one Huck e-cycle registered in the state right now. 

 

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