Per Hassel Sørensen, CTO and product developer at Podbike tells us about easy modern-day cycling and commuting.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Podbike.
Per Hassel Sørensen: In January 2009, I was hit by a car when riding my regular bike. I crushed my knee and almost broke my neck. Once recovered, I started to search for a safer vehicle that was still a bike. In 2010, I built my first velomobile with three wheels from a kit. I soon added an electric assist motor, which is much needed for the hilly terrain in Norway.
Four wheels for better stability as well as full weather protection were two obvious improvements to increase safety and practicality. About 50% of the reported accidents on bikes (at least in Norway) are caused by the bike falling over. Having four wheels prevents this.
So we made an e-bike with four wheels and full weather protection primarily targeted towards those who currently use cars. Our aim is to remove practical barriers that prevent people from cycling. Create a vehicle that makes cycling attractive to even more people. We do that by combining as much comfort and safety from cars we can practically implement, with the benefits and healthy lifestyle of cycling. As optional extras, you can get an electrical blower to prevent fogging and to help to keep cool on hot days. You can also remove the canopy and ride it topless. Other options are a windshield wiper and washer for rainy days and a complete set of wheels with studded winter tires for ice and snow, complete in a carrying bag. The Podbike Frikar e-bike provides you with a healthy alternative that does not deplete limited resources.
How does Podbike innovate?
Per Hassel Sørensen: We have no other choice than to innovate. It was simply impossible to build such a vehicle as Podbike® FRIKAR without creating new solutions. So almost every solution we use is unique and tailor-made for our application. We seek to find the best possible solution according to regulatory requirements, safety, environmental issues, including production & service life, cost, and functionality.
We have made our own front and rear lights that are controlled using a LIN bus. We have made our own driveline that uses CAN and BLE. We were also forced to design our own multi-link front suspension and seats simply because suitable parts did not exist. Our electronic body controller enables a lot of optional features that are unique on a bike. And since the software modules and the microcontroller routines are over-the-air upgradeable, we will provide more features over time, so the bike will become better even after you have received it.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Per Hassel Sørensen: From March 13, 2020, Norway – like many other European countries – was “closed down.” Meaning most people worked from their homes. Since Podbike is still in the pre-revenue stage, Corona does not present us with major challenges for now. All planned events are cancelled or postponed by the organizers.
Due to COVID-19, a lot of parts have got a long lead time. For instance, pedal arms (but we got them now). Our suppliers for body parts and canopy experience a longer lead time to get the raw material needed. Meaning it takes even longer time for us to get the parts. We are leaving no stone unturned! Doing everything we can to get the parts we need quicker.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Per Hassel Sørensen: We have spent a lot of money on prototyping, and sometimes we need to scrap solutions that we have put a lot of effort into, simply because they were not good enough. At the same time, it gives us good learning, but costly 😉
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Per Hassel Sørensen: Daily video meetings with Whereby.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Per Hassel Sørensen: Currently, there are no other four-wheel ebikes with full weather protection in the market, so we are the first-mover company. To protect our unique position, we have invested heavily in patents, design, and trademark registrations globally. We have an internal goal to always have active patents so that future competitors will have difficulties copying our solutions.
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