“We are not selling you a bike, we are selling you an experience.” Vishal Chopra, Co-Founder of AlphaVector which is debuting a Rs 29,999 e-bike called Meraki, is clear of his business proposition.
“If you think about bicycling, the vision that comes to your mind is this guy riding on a black cycle in the bylanes of an Indian city. It was not really an experience you were aspiring to as an individual,” Chopra tells indianexpress.com in an interview.
Chopra, a Wharton graduate, says there is a growing consumer class in tier-1 and tier-2 cities with a greater disposable income who are looking to buy their first e-bikes in India. “It’s cheaper, it’s good for the environment and it cuts about a quarter ton of Co2 every year,” Chopra explains, adding that Meraki is a Greek word for putting a lot of passion into something.
Electric-powered bikes are all the rage in New York, London, Paris and Berlin, and interest in e-bikes have quadrupled during the pandemic. These are like regular bicycles but have a battery-powered motor. With many cities across the world still under lockdown, e-bikes have emerged as a preferred alternative to public transport and even cabs. In fact, many are calling e-bikes the future of transportation as they take less space on the road and are environment friendly.
“Some of our competition is essentially looking to retrofit a regular bike with an existing bike frame along with a battery pack, a motor, a controller and calling it an e-bike,” he says. Chopra says Meraki is “a well-engineered product at an affordable price” and lists its differentiators. “Instead of trying to retrofit a bike with the battery pack and the controller module, we essentially designed the frame from the ground up, where we were integrating the entire battery that comes into the frame of the bike.”
“The e-part of the bike has been built on a state of the art platform where we are using Panasonic battery cells with 100% safety record that gives you about 35km on a single charge, which is about 750 to 800 charge cycles.”
The e-bike comes fitted with a 250 watt, IP65 waterproof motor that has a top speed of 25 kmph. Its lithium-ion battery can be charged in 2.5 hours and offers up to 35 km at full charge. The e-brakes act as a safeguard mechanism for riders as well as a key lock switch through which you can lock the battery pack.
Chopra says the end goal was to make Meraki not just appealing and look good but also high on performance. “We rigorously tested every component.”
For example, the battery got tested for 5000 hours in a variety of temperatures. “We tested this e-bike [Meraki] at multiple locations across the country on different terrains,” he says, adding that there were some component iterations that the company had to go through in terms of selecting the right vendors and the right frame geometry for the bike.
Chopra says Meraki is designed and engineered in India. “It’s a multi-team effort. It takes you about 18 to 24 months to design an e-bike from scratch, which includes the time spent on design and prototyping, selecting the right components and checking on the geometries.”
Mumbai-based AlphaVector, founded in 2015 by Sachin Chopra and Vishal Chopra, is currently present in 350 cities and has adopted an omnichannel business model which allows the company to reach out to consumers through online as well as an offline network of 700 retailers. The start-up is backed by Avaana Capital, Titan Capital and Fireside Ventures.
“People are willing to spend good money now to get a great looking e-bike with a well-engineered design, and world-class components,” he said. The company is seeing the demand for e-bikes from big metro cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru as well as from tier-2 cities.
The global e-bike market is estimated to reach $38.6 billion by 2025, according to a report by Markets and Markets. Chopra says there is a business opportunity in the e-bike segment in India too and expects growth is not going to be linear but exponential.
The problem, according to Chopra, is that India still lacks adequate infrastructure to develop the ecosystem around e-bikes. “As a public infrastructure service, you need to have charging ports and docking stations for the e-bikes and those don’t exist in India. So the entire access to infrastructure is the number one challenge,” he said. Chopra suggests the government must work in a public-private partnership in building out that infrastructure first and if that happens, it would give a boost to the e-bike segment in India.