Quikbyke Qiosk arrives at AJ's Grayton Beach after 450+ miles journey.
The Quikbyke Startup Saga: The Next Chapter
By Bill Moore
Between unreturned phone calls, local zoning restriction and Hurricane Irma, Quikbyke's prototype solar-powered electric bike rental 'popup shop' has finally found its next home in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.
It was Pedego's president, Don DiCostanza who once told me that electric bikes are a "gateway drug" to electric cars.
Now I see them not as a gateway, but a bypass.
Long before I bought my first hybrid electric car - a preowned 2000 model year Honda Insight serial number 986 - I owned an electric bike. it was a funky but fun little white Currie folding bike. I'd ride it every chance weather and circumstance allowed; usually to run to the grocery store to pick up some small item for the wife or a bit further to the post office, or over to the bank, even further yet.
Over the years, I'd end up owning or riding other eBikes, both for recreation and as the occasional substitute for driving the family car; the Honda long since replaced by a 2009 Prius, now with some 56,000 miles on it.
I loved the experience so much that I wanted to share it with others, so I explored different ways to introduce more people to the delight of riding an electric bike. Around 2014 or 2015, I settled on the idea of renting eBikes to tourists, but not just any tourist: specifically to cruise ship passengers, who, at least in the Caribbean, usually had six to eight hours to kill ashore on islands with exotic names like Aruba, Barbados, Cozumel. More often than not, they'd either arrange some type of planned excursion through their cruise line or they'd simply walk around the town, browsing, buying the odd trinket or sipping a beer or two.
My idea was to give them a way to explore more of the island at their own pace by renting them an electric-assist bicycle for a few hours , but not just any old eBike, instead one whose battery was recharged by the sun. In effect, they'd be riding on sunshine.
Most island power grids are run off of imported oil. It's expensive and it's dirty. If I had to charge our electric bikes using the local grid, it would not only limit where I could put the bikes, but they'd not be much cleaner than the taxis and shuttle buses plying their trade on the islands.
So, for various reasons: transportability, security, novelty, I designed a cargo container to hold the bikes and act as a sort of "pop-up" rental shop. We equipped it with a battery storage bank fed by 1,800 watts of solar panels secured to the roof of the container. The battery bank would charge up during the day and recharge the bike batteries over night. Any spare energy during the day would keep replacement batteries fully charged, since one battery was good for about 3 hours of riding or around 20 miles. To get a full days use of the bikes would require swapping the depleted batteries at mid-day, a process that took about one minute. A battery that was around 50% discharged would take about 45 minutes to recharge. A fully discharged one would take about 3 hours.
With a matching grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and an initial five investors, we were able to build our first prototype (pictured above) and open it for business during the 2016 US Olympic swim trials held here in Omaha. Two of our earliest customers were the parents and siblings of swimmers who would go on to Rio: Leah Smith earning both gold and bronze medals; and Gunnar Bentz earning gold.
But Omaha wasn't the intended market for our Qiosk, as we dubbed it. We wanted to test it further in a more tourist-centric location, so when we were invited to bring it to Florida's Port Canaveral, we excitedly jumped at the opportunity. The port, located just a few miles south of the Kennedy Space Flight Center from whence Tesla's Falcon Heavy rocket sent that cherry red Roadster on its way to Mars, is the home of five of the world's largest cruise ship lines: the very folks to whom we wanted to introduce Quikbyke. We should have done our homework first, because after we got it to Florida, the Port, for reasons never explained, withdrew their invitation.
For the next too many months, we looked for other suitable venues, only to run into one barrier after another: zoning restrictions, people taken ill, Hurricane Irma. Finally, through persistence and EV World, we were approached by a Florida businessman from the state panhandle who already rented electric bicycles using a modified boat trailer to haul them around. Rene Chavez has enjoying some success under the banner of Green eBikes.
He liked the Quikbyke solar qiosk idea and drove over to the Cape to see it. We would eventually reach an agreement whereby he'd lease the qiosk and bikes from us, paying Quikbyke an agreed upon percentage of his rental and tour revenue. From our perspective as a startup, this was a nearly ideal arrangement allowing us to gain valuable operational experience and customer insight, not as a rental operation, as I'd originally envisioned, but as a manufacturer of solar-powered eBike rental "systems" that not only cater to the cruise ship market, but also resorts, national parks, business campuses and small community bike share programs: all of them solar powered; the cargo container being only one design approach of several.
This week, Rene, who has aspirations to acquire more qiosks for deployment to the islands where he's done environmental consulting, took possession of our "Alpha" Qiosk and its eight electric assist bicycles. The tourist season there on the Florida Gulf Coast is about to commence, so we're hopeful that not only will thousands of people see the Qiosk, but hundreds will discover the thrill of riding an electric assist bicycle for the very first time.
I am told that this is one of the top areas for recreational cycling in the country with many miles of safe, segregated trails to ride. There might not be any cruise ships that dock here, but that's okay, we still have lots to learn before we take that voyage.
Be sure to check out Green eBikes and Quikbyke's solar rental "shop-in-a-box." You can book rentals and tours online. Below is a map to the location. And naturally, if you'd like to learn more about Quikbyke's offerings, feel free to reach me at bill.moore(at)quikbyke.com or by phone at 402.575.8085.
Originally published: 14 Feb 2018
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