Thursday, February 19, 2015

Electric Bikes, Crowdfunding, and Caveat Emptor

One of my sources of entertainment this month has been watching the Sonders E-Bike story play out on the internet. For those of you unfamiliar with the Sonders (formerly called Storm) E-Bike, a good place to catch up with the events thus far is this piece by Lloyd Alter over at TreeHugger:

Is the $500 Storm e-bike too good to be true? Looks like.

This is one of those rare cases where I recommend both reading the article and the comments. If you have hours of extra time, you can also go to the Sonders Electric Bike Indiegogo site and wade through the 1600+ comments there.

While Lloyd Alter's article appears to fall firmly in the "this is a total scam" school of thought, you will find many, many other voices saying "no, no, the technology is evolving, they're cutting out the middlemen, Chinese manufacturing is amazing, anyone who doubts this is a shill for competitors and/or threatened by this." Of course to comment on the Indiegogo site you have to have pledged at least a dollar to the cause and many of the folks commenting there have already forked over $500+ dollars towards the dream of this bike. They want to believe.

My own take on this is that since Mongoose can sell a fat bike for $200 at Walmart and electric motors and batteries really are getting cheaper, that yes I will concede that the Sonders folks really could possibly deliver a $500 electric fat bike. Time will tell if they actually deliver something to the folks who've pledged to this project.

But I'm not pledging a dime to them and this project has already tripped many. many warning flags in my head. First off, the "act now before the price goes up!" is a classic excite the rubes technique. Of course that low price comes with high shipping fine print. Add in some shoddy "did we say 45 pounds, it's actually 55 pounds" and you'll wonder what gets changed next. Did you guess brakes? Yes, those brakes that they said are hydraulic? They're actually mechanical disks. And so it goes.

The Sonders folks did a demo day in a flat area where a bunch of people got to ride a sample bike for a few minutes at time. But that demo doesn't give me any faith in their projected charge times for the battery or any indication of the actual range the bike could go on a charge. And the numbers they quote seem wildly optimistic.

The latest turn of the tale is that those who have already pledged but now doubt can now pay an extra $120 insurance (non-refundable!) and if the Sonders folks don't deliver your bike within 3 months of their projected May delivery, you'll get your original payment back. Really!!! I think you're ripping me off so I should give you more money in case you're ripping me off!!! That's not something that puts my mind at ease.

And by the way they're willing to ship to Europe without bothering to note that given their specs, the bike is illegal in Europe. And they're kind of vague on the charger issue anyway. And then there was that whole not bothering to check if there was an e-Bike named Storm on the market already at the start. These are not the signs give a buyer confidence.

The best case scenario I can come up with is that sometime later this year a bunch of folks get a heavy, pretty crappy bike that they won't want to pedal very far once the battery goes dead.

But who knows, I could be wrong. But I don't think I am. The Romans had a saying, Caveat Emptor. And I think P.T. Barnum had a saying as well...

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