For some people, it can seem almost utopian: The sight of countless commuters using bikes in certain European cities, and not just for recreation or short rides to the park, but for daily work and grocery trips, and even weekend journeys to the country.
That is not the case in the U.S. for various reasons — among them, the lack of density in many areas, or the way automobiles dominate public spaces in others, as per law and tradition. It’s hard to see, at least in late 2019, how that would change anytime soon. However, as more commuters explore options beyond cars, as more localities refashion themselves as bike-friendly, and as the sharing and digital economies continue to expand, there could be room for a different type of biking experience in the U.S.
At least, that’s the hope of a company called BOND Mobility, which is trying to ride the popularity of the Mobility-as-a-Service market to bring a bigger taste of European-style biking to the U.S. — and perhaps fill in some of the gaps left by ridesharing operators, such as Uber and Lyft. In a new PYMNTS interview, Dr. Raoul Stöckle, CEO and co-founder of BOND Mobility, spoke about why the current sharing and transportation landscape could favor such a trend.
More Than Cars?
“Europe uses bikes more often than the U.S.,” he said, “and the infrastructure is more bike-oriented than it is here.”
It almost goes without saying that automobiles are prime features of not only the U.S. culture and self-image, but daily consumer life. Even so, such so-called micromobility options as shared bikes and scooters in U.S. urban areas at least indicate the consumer desire to use those means of transportation when relevant and applicable.
However, a player such as BOND Mobility doesn’t want to replicate those (often Uber- and Lyft-backed) scooter and bike efforts — not exactly. The opportunity, at least as Stöckle sees it, involves offering what he called premium bicycles to enable longer journeys that don’t involve cars or trucks. The general process is the same — consumers use mobile devices and an account via the BOND app — to select and unlock the eBikes, end trips and pay for the service.
The real difference involves speed. BOND-provided bikes can hit speeds of some 30 MPH, thanks to a motorized assist. That helps get riders up hills, and otherwise extends rider endurance — theoretically enabling those longer, European-like bicycle journeys.
As BOND has pitched on its website, “You can move at the same speed as car traffic on many urban streets, which is much safer than being overtaken by faster-moving vehicles.” Average trips for BOND bicycles run about four miles, which compares to about 1.5 miles for other scooters and shared bikes, according to Stöckle. That would seem to fit well within most U.S. rules-of-the-road regulations, which afford bicycles the same rights to access most roads. “It’s a completely different experience, compared to the rest of the micromobility bike use in the U.S.,” Stöckle told PYMNTS.
New Funding And Partners
Some investors are backing the concept as BOND Mobility, already active in Switzerland, attempts to gain a foothold in the U.S. market, where younger consumers, like many of their peers around the world, are embracing sustainable notions of consumerism and transportation.
Earlier this year, for instance, BOND raised $20 million in a Series A funding round, led by “DENSO's New Mobility Group out of its global headquarters in Japan, and Ininvest,” according to a statement. DENSO aims at “reducing CO2 emissions by half with technologies that resolve global warming, energy and resource issues. Micromobility is another solution to the problem.”
Micromobility options are indeed spreading in the U.S., though backlashes have emerged as cities get annoyed with sidewalks that are cluttered with scooters and shared eBikes, among other issues. Those issues are likely to attract more focus from politicians and policymakers in 2020. Indeed, the entire sharing economy is undergoing more regulatory focus as sharing options become more attractive and widespread. That’s the reality that BOND Mobility and other players will have to address.
Yet, Stöckle is optimistic about BOND Mobility’s prospects, and who the company could work with as it seeks traction in the U.S. “We want to get corporations and universities on board,” he said. The general trends seem favorable, but it’s still a long ride to success.