Ebikes are all the rage and the West Australian brand, Tiller Rides is giving you a chance to be a part of it by investing into the business. For as little as $250, you can secure a small slice of the pie and not only are you rewarded with equity, but the unique Tiller Rides ebike is part of the clean and green ebike transport revolution.
If you have not heard of Tiller Rides, you could be forgiven as the brand has been been WA-centric and at this stage, Tiller Rides have 115 pre-orders and are preparing to move into production and delivery for customers.
The design and construction of the Tiller Rides bike is quite original and we asked Founder Julian Ilich about the design, details and functionality of the bike as well as about the approach to generate ‘crowd-investment’ and open up to everyday people.
The Bike – Original Design
Christopher Jones: The Tiller Rides bike has a very distinctive design, from a customer perspective, how does it better satisfy their needs compared to other ebikes on the market? On your website you discuss that you felt that a bike that combined the style and function you wanted didn’t exist, can you provide details?
Julian Ilich: Our goal all along was to create an urban transport bike that people would use more often than a regular bike. Every design feature, including the aesthetics, serves this purpose.
In the area of style, we wanted to create a bike with a style that was suitable for any occasion – from an important work event, a hot date, picking up the kids, or ducking down to the shops to get some milk. As a designer I look at most bikes, especially those with a lot of features bolted on, and see a mess rather than something beautiful and this lack of balance between form and function prevents them being usable for all occasions.
We also wanted to create a bike that was highly functional. So rather than do what everyone else does and bolt on features like lights, carriers, batteries, controllers, displays, cables etc on the outside, we put them inside or, like the stand, seamlessly integrated them into the shape of the frame. This allowed us to have better style and more useful features than any other e-bike on the market.
Christopher Jones: The bike is built in one size and is promoted as one-size-fits-most. I see that the saddle height and position forward / back could be adjusted though the handlebar height and reach doesn’t appear adjustable. How can the bike be adjusted so that the rider gets the right position to fit their body size and personal requirements?
Julian Ilich: The great thing about designing an electric bike for everyday urban transport is that the rider isn’t putting in as much effort, and in general isn’t in the saddle for as long at a time compared to road or mountain bikes. This means that getting optimum geometry isn’t as important.
Based on this concept, and our desire to make choosing a bike simpler and allow e-bikes to be shared between a couple or family, we created a one size fits-most design. To do this we set the geometry at a midpoint of what is typically considered Small and Large and designed the seat to be highly adjustable. Our seat moves up and down 350mm and forward-back 80mm which means that riding position is close to ‘Moderate’ for the tall people with the seat right back and close to ‘Relaxed’ for shorter people with the seat all the way forward – even without handlebar height adjustment.
We have had over 500 people test-ride the Roadster now with very few people asking about extra adjustability. Also, two of the beta-bike test riders, who are regularly riding the bikes for final testing, are around 6”2 tall while one is closer to 5”3 and they all seem to have found a setup that works well.We do have the option of adding a steerer tube extension but no one has opted for that as yet.
Christopher Jones: The bike has a very distinct frame and appears to be a shell construction. Can you describe this and whether it is also completely structural or if you have an additional internal frame?
Julian Ilich: The frame is the first Aluminium bike frame in the world (that we know of) that is made from a shell of pressed aluminium to form what is commonly called a Monocoque (from French, from mono- ‘single’ + coque ‘shell”). This means that all the loads are carried through the shell and hence there is no additional internal frame.
The result is an extremely strong frame that can withstand significant bending and twisting, which most riders immediately notice makes the bike feel a lot more solid and less flimsy than a tubular frame – which translates into the rider feeling safer on the road.
Christopher Jones: The bicycle design includes details such as a front and rear integrated bike lights and would have lent itself to and mid-drive motor though you have opted for a front hub drive motor. Can you discuss the reason for using a front hub drive motor?
Julian Ilich: Because of our goal to create an urban transport solution rather than an electric bike our design process was all about solving urban rider problems and creating the best package rather than just choosing the best electrical drive. This approach is what sets our Roadster apart. In contrast, most bike companies have retrofitted or integrated off-the-shelf electric drives to their current manual bike design rather than re-think what works as an overall solution.
You get a sense of what I mean about thinking about the whole package when you consider all the reasons we chose a front hub motor;
• It is cheaper than a mid-drive and so allows us to spend more on other convenient features like the locking system and GPS tracking.
• It doesn’t overload the gears, especially the more expensive grease-free internal geared hubs we use, and so significantly reduces the wear and tear and cost of maintenance that a mid drive’s gears will require.
• A mid-drive is usually a big chunky thing at the bottom of the bike that would have had a large aesthetic cost.
• Mid drives are significantly more noisy than our hub motor.
• We wouldn’t have been able to have our magnificent retracting double stand if we had had a mid drive or we would have had to push the battery up significantly raising the centre of gravity and step-over height – both of which would reduce the functionality of the bike.
• Because the motor is attached to the wheel and contains the sensors that the motor controller uses to determine if the bike is moving forward and hence when to start applying power during take-off, the bike has superior take-off responsiveness. On a typical mid-drive the motion sensors are a magnet and sensor on the rear wheel and so may need a full revolution or two before power cuts in. This makes taking off easy – especially for less experienced or natural bike riders who we want to get riding again.
• The front hub motor also makes our Roadster All Wheel Drive – this is particularly useful in the wet and when you come across the odd bit of soft sand or gravel you need to get through etc
• Hub motors are simple and have been around for a long time meaning all the issues have been ironed out making them very reliable.
This is not to say that mid-drives don’t have their place, however the main advantage they give is in climbing steep hills, so they aren’t always the best solution for navigating flat or mildly hilly, urban areas in Australia.
Christopher Jones: On the handlebars, the power mode can be selected and on the frame there are integrated LED lights to provide visual feedback about the mode and battery power level, though unlike many ebikes, there is no handlebar mounted LCD display. Why have you taken this approach?
Julian Ilich: There are a number of reasons why we haven’t added a permanent LCD display. Our customer research told us that riders rarely look at them and so don’t need it. Most of the time all they wanted to know was the level of assist and battery power level – which is why we put these on the built-in display.
For those who want more, we have put all the other features such as speed, distance travelled, ODO etc. in our app that is connected to the bike via Bluetooth. Riders can then add a simple phone holder and this becomes the display.
We did it this way because our display can now be updated every time we update the app – so we can add other useful features over time as customers request them. We don’t have a display that is being damaged by sun and rain each day – hence lowering maintenance hassles and costs. The other reason why it isn’t a permanent fixture on the bike is that showing speed isn’t really required because the pedelec bikes cut the assist at 25km/h and so given most riders ride along just below this cut-out speed, they know their speed anyway.
We also found that on a bike where people are using it for the same trips they are only interested knowing distance the first couple of times they ride somewhere. There was no point therefore having a costly display on the bike for those few times.
Finally, we wanted to keep the handlebars clean and stylish. Other e-bike model displays are big and chunky, and we would prefer a simpler streamlined look on the Roadster.
The Business – Tiller Rides Investment
Christopher Jones: The initial concepts for the Tiller Bikes began in 2015 and since then you have refined the design and pre-sold over 115 bikes ($4,090 price tag with $350 deposit) as well as gained investment into the business. You have also built a team of 15 people and initially earmarked September 2019 for delivery of the pre-orders. Are you delivering the pre-ordered bikes currently?
Julian Ilich: We are currently in the process of raising a minimum of $900,000 in investment to set up the production line and start making the pre-ordered bikes. We have a manufacturer chomping at the bits to get started so assuming this raise goes well we will start rolling bikes off the production around March – April next year.
Just to clarify how the team is engaged, the team you can see on our equity crowdfunding page are a combination of Board members (who so far haven’t been paid – they just earn Options), part timers, contractors and a few full time core team members. This approach and combination means we have a large overall team who are experts at what they do for the project but come on and off the project as required. This way we run very lean and get maximum value from our investors’ money – which is why we have been able to develop an entire bike from scratch on the budgets we have had.
Christopher Jones: You are seeking to attract investment via the Australian birchal crowd-investing platform with a minimum target of $900,000 and have already reached $580,000. Can you share the reasons for seeking out investment from the community instead of one or two big-name angel investors?
Julian Ilich: There are a few reasons for this. The main reason for using crowdfunding is that by enabling investors to invest as little as $250 lots of people from all walks of life can be part of the business. This is in alignment with our idea of building the business around a community of riders and people who all believe in making a difference to people’s lives and the planet. This is very different than just selling a product to a bunch of customers who care little for your company.
The other reason is that by raising via crowdfunding, which requires a lot of promotion spend, we are both raising money and building our brand – a win-win. In addition, the investor rewards system where investors get 50% off a Roadster for a $5,000 investment and a bonus Roadster at $10,000 investment (and two at 50K) means we are also selling bikes as part of the investment. This will result in more bikes on the road in the first 3 months after production starts which, because of the striking look of our Roadster, will do a lot to build the Tiller Rides brand and drive more sales.
Christopher Jones: For people interested investing, the minimum investment is $250 (AUD at $1.35 initial share price offering). Is the entire transaction (share purchase) completed through the Birchal website or do investors need to consider stock brokers? (How can an investor sell or purchase further shares following the public offering).
Julian Ilich: Because investing in Tiller Rides is a private investment into a business that isn’t on the stock exchange you don’t need a stockbroker. Birchal is an accredited equity crowdfunding platform based in Melbourne and their role is to ensure companies raising this way haven’t misrepresented the investment and manage the deposit of investment funds.
To help people through this process, we have created this step by step guide video.
Christopher Jones: Are you gathering pre-orders and investment predominantly from West Australians or have you attracted national or international interesti in the Tiller Bikes and equity in the business?
Julian Ilich: We currently have pre-orders from all over Australia but around 80 – 90% are in Western Australia. This is mainly because people want to test ride the Roadster, and see it in the flesh, before they decide to buy one and at present we only run test rides here in WA.
We do have long lists of people from other states who have expressed an interest in test riding the Roadster, people can express their interest on our website, and we are working to run test rides in other states.
Christopher Jones: The investment income is earmarked for production and national expansion. Does production include the production of the aluminium frame as well or is it predominantly assembly from delivered parts / components?
Julian Ilich: Our frame is entirely our own design and all the parts of it are designed by us. A big part of the production line setup is therefore creating the tooling/moulds to make the frame – especially the pressed sheet metal parts that are made in a similar way to a car door or bonnet.
Our main manufacturer will make the frame, buy all the off-the-shelf-parts from designated suppliers, and then make all the remaining Tiller Rides designed parts (such as the cast stand and rear carrier) and finally assemble the entire bike on one production line.
Photos: Supplied by Tiller Rides