The Teenage Tinkerer Behind an E-Bike Revolution

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By his junior year, he’d founded Rad Power Bikes. Now based in Seattle, his company approached $100 million in sales in 2019. It has sold over 100,000 electric bikes. Numbers aren’t well reported for this young industry, but Rad Power Bikes is widely considered the largest e-bike seller in the […]

By his junior year, he’d founded Rad Power Bikes. Now based in Seattle, his company approached $100 million in sales in 2019. It has sold over 100,000 electric bikes. Numbers aren’t well reported for this young industry, but Rad Power Bikes is widely considered the largest e-bike seller in the United States.

When he was starting out in Humboldt County — home to back-to-the-landers and backwoods pot farmers — Mr. Radenbaugh fielded requests. “They wanted high handlebars, comfortable seats, powerful motors and long range,” he said. In other words, a blend of a bicycle, moped, scooter and motorcycle. This was in contrast to the few light and low-powered European and Japanese e-bikes available a decade and a half ago.

Sixteen years later, Rad Power Bikes is sticking to its formula: comfort, power and simplicity.

And that was before a pandemic sent the whole country searching for a socially distanced way to get around. Throughout spring 2020, Rad’s sales tripled compared with the year before. Many models now have a three-month wait for delivery. What had been a niche product for Humboldt’s aging hippies heading to Burning Man has become a mainstream option for Everyman.

Guidehouse Insights, a market research firm, conservatively forecasts that electric bike sales in the United States will grow to nearly a million by 2023, up from 650,000 this year. “For years we’ve been saying that the market needs a decent, good-quality, relatively high-performing e-bike for $1,000 to $1,500. That’s the sweet spot,” said Ryan Citron, a senior research analyst at Guidehouse Insights. “Rad Power Bikes hit that mark.”

Mr. Citron cautions that Rad, which sells direct to consumers, might lose customers who want to take a test ride before buying. Brick-and-mortar stores also offer e-bikes from the likes of Specialized, Trek and Giant — although commonly selling for $2,500 to $5,000. Deluxe models climb to $15,000 and higher.

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