Along our journey to develop SURU Cycles one shocking revelation continues to dominate our focus: ebikes have a terrible reputation for unreliability. Three years of research revealed that the commercial rental ebikes suffer up to 20% downtime for repairs, and that the industry throws away as much as 30% of their inventory each year.
What kind of hardware business junks a third of their equipment annually?
The atrocious unreliability of many ebikes today is not a result of dodgy electrical parts, sloppy welds on frames or assembly errors. Interviewing dealers, distributors and hundreds of users points to a lack of integration between the various components that make up ebikes. When a frame cracks or an electrical part fails it is usually caused by interference or stress caused by another component, because each was designed and manufactured by separate businesses and never integrated as a whole.
In basic terms, the end product is less than the sum of its parts.
The ebike today is roughly where the PC desktop computer was in the late 1980's. The underlying technology of the PC was fundamentally resolved and reliable, but the manufacturers of the end product were really just assemblers of parts each of which was designed and made by dozens of uncoordinated independent companies. The notorious lack of user friendliness and unreliability of early home computers was almost entirely because the end product was not designed as a whole by a single team.
Ask anyone working with computers in the 1990's and they will confirm that software crashes were a daily occurrence. Third party devices like printers and scanners connected to networks functioned some days, but not others. It was normal for peripherals from the same brand to fit some models and not others.
One of the reasons Apple found success was because the Macintosh computers provided a unified ecosystem of end-user products which always worked together because they were all uniquely designed by them, for them. It made Apple products expensive and limited to life within that ecosystem, but reliable and easy to use.
( above : it was expensive, slow and didn't have a lot of software compared to rivals but it didn't crash and peripherals always worked)
Ebike brands today fall roughly into the same two groups. At the top are integrated product solutions like those made by global multi-nationals like Giant, Pon and Accell Group, while lower downmarket are the hundreds of reseller brands who just assemble ebikes from catalogue parts open to anyone. The former can afford to develop specific powertrain parts with leading component manufacturers Shimano, Continental, Bosch and Yamaha. The resellers cannot.
In China and Taiwan, any one of a hundred factories or agents can provide brands with complete ebike products based on a specifications sent in an email, but as you go down the price ladder, the number of generic suppliers multiplies as does the statistical probability of machine failure. Who really designs the whole?
(above : a generic ebike made from an a-la-carte menu of generic parts and marketed by a hundred different brands all around the world)
The only way to guarantee reliable machinery in any manufacturing sector is to develop the whole end product from the start with strict guidelines and incorporate ongoing testing throughout the entire R&D process. Indeed, product testing must continue into the production cycle too.
Testing and finding the limits of a consumer product, especially a motor vehicle, must in fact be a constant for any serious manufacturer, an activity as vital to the business as accounting or finance. The Japanese popularized the idea of kaizen, or continuous product improvement with the Toyota Way, but in reality it is just common sense. In a world full of hungry competitors and technological breakthroughs promising to leapfrog one ahead of another, ensuring reliable product quality is must.
The most successful and lowest cost marketing is word of mouth, because when a person endorses something to another that recommendation comes without influence from the manufacturer. Customer expectations are easy to manipulate with marketing before purchase, by seductively promising features and lifestyle and performance. But once in an owner's hands a product must stand on its own merits.
The current global ebike market is dominated, in terms of volume, by thousands of tiny reseller brands who market different promises but deliver the same basic goods. Most of them are undercapitalized owner-operator businesses with little to no technical backgrounds in engineering or product development. Most last only a few seasons, shut down by irate customers and retailers unable to get spare parts, service or other support.
Like any industry, the big transnational and regional players are sweeping in and eliminating most of the assembler-brands. Within five years consolidation will whittle down the choice of brand name ebikes open to the market, but in reality the actual product choices will remain about the same. It is a well documented truth that the frames made by most of the world's famous cycling brands are manufactured in Taiwan or China, often in the same factory. Paint, stickers, and component packages are all that separate most competitor brands at the consumer level.
Electric bikes are hardly different. Which is why SURU is different. With a true R&D heavy founder team with extensive motorcycle industry experience, we don't rely on off-the-shelf solutions for almost anything. Our frames and chassis parts are not only designed from scratch using our unique manufacturing processes, but they are made by us in Canada as well. Raw metal in one end, finished parts assembled into complete electric bikes on the other. SURU controls the process from beginning to end.
Our design. Our production. Our standards of quality.
( above : extreme cold weather testing of SURU ebikes ensures product reliability )
This winter, we continued to upgrade and improve the SURU One Fifty, not merely by asking suppliers to adjust specifications but by getting into the snow, mud, sand and salt water aboard our bikes ourselves. We test rode prototype parts, pushed SURU bikes into terrible conditions and measured and remeasured the results. Some parts failed. They were remade and tested again. Some failed again.
Because SURU was founded by an ex-Yamaha, ex-Piaggio motorcycle designer, maintaining superior automotive standards of quality and continual product testing are baked into the SURU company culture. Testing was, and continues to be, a staple of our commitment to making the most reliable electric bikes on the market.
There are some terrific ebike manufacturers out there, and they all subscribe to the same holistic design approach. If you want to make something well, you have to suffer the details. If you want to make something reliable over and over again, you have to find weaknesses and systematically eliminate them.
Sadly, assembling reliable parts from different makes and hoping that they will work properly together is the status quo for most of the industry today. This has to change, because hope is not a good business strategy.