Evelo Aims to Tap into Burgeoning Electric Bicycle Commuting Trend

8/30/12Follow @xconomy

What do peer-to-peer car sharing and electric bicycles have in common? They represent a shift in consumer attitudes towards transportation, says Boston-area entrepreneur Boris Mordkovich.

“It’s really interesting to see the perceptions people have about car ownership,” Mordkovich says. “Years ago, owning a car meant freedom and flexibility. Right now people are looking for a way to drive less.”

He’s the founder and director of Cambridge, MA-based electric bicycle startup Evelo. Prior to that he worked as head of marketing of RelayRides, the now San Francisco-based peer-to-peer car-sharing service that’s backed by investors like Google Ventures and has worked with GM to get its technology into new vehicles.

Mordkovich was introduced to the concept of electric bicycles by his brother and Evelo co-founder Yevgeniy Mordkovich, who had been using them with his wife as a way to solve their speed discrepancies while on long bike rides. The Mordkovich brothers founded Evelo in 2011, hoping to offer consumers another option for commuting. Boris Mordkovich says many are reluctant to ride a regular bike to work for simple reasons, like not wanting to cross a major hill, or not wanting to show up to the job sweaty from heavy peddling.

The Evelo bike can ride like a traditional bicycle, in full pedaling mode; a pedal assist mode, where the motor kicks in slightly to get through hills; and a full throttle mode that moves the bike with no peddling. It retails for about $1,900 and is designed to look and feel much more like a real bicycle than the “clunky, heavy, cheap imports” that have been previously seen in the U.S., Mordkovich says. Advances in chemistry in the last five or so years have enabled electric bicycle makers to include lighter, smaller batteries in their vehicles. The Evelo bike also employs what’s called a mid-drive motor, which connects to the chain to move the wheels of the bike, in a faster and more efficient way than the previously standard hub motor. The bike can drive about 40 miles on one charge, and can charge in four to six hours on about 8 cents worth of electricity, Mordkovich says.

Evelo publicly kicked off its operations this past April with a trans-American bike tour from New York to San Francisco, and managed to make it into an exhibit in the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in Davis, CA. The startup is hoping the U.S. will take its cue from China, which has been putting more effort into innovations in cleantech and transportation, as seen by their big-time investments in companies developing technology for electric vehicles. Evelo’s bikes are manufactured in China in order to take advantage of the “technology infrastructure” there, Mordkovich says. The country had 120 million electric bikes on the road in 2010 and is expected to have 150 million in 2015, according to a report in Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

“It’s the number one electric vehicle product that’s being sold in the world today that nobody really knows about,” Mordkovich says.

The U.S. has shown an increased interest in the mode of transportation, with San Francisco announcing in February that it planned to add electric bikes to its City CarShare program. And Greenstart, a cleantech-focused startup accelerator based in the city, has graduated a couple of innovative transportation companies: Scoot Networks, a platform for renting electric scooters, and Spinlister, which is looking to enable people to rent their bikes to friends and travelers.

Evelo is bootstrapped, but plans to raise its first outside round of funding toward the end of this year. The startup currently sells directly to consumers online in about 70 percent of cases, but is developing relationships with bicycle dealers to enable consumers to physically test out the product. “As we get closer to 2013, our focus will be to go to the dealer networks. At the end of the day, a bike is a very personal thing,” Mordkovich says.

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