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Electric bike powers ahead

Tauranga’s Anthony Clyde and Daryl Neal from Wellington are set to bring to the market an innovative all-electric farm bike, which has attracted strong interest from agricultural users.
Timothy Allan, director of Tauranga’s Locus Research, was so impressed by the prototype unveiled at last year’s Mystery Creek Fieldays that his firm has invested in the team’s new venture, the Utility Bike Company (Ubco).

Both Mr Clyde and Mr Neal have been working in the E-bike industry for a decade. Mr Clyde developed the Smart Motion bike, developed bikes for NZ Post, and is one of the largest E-bike importers to New Zealand, while Mr Neal’s company Lekkie sells a kit to convert regular bikes to electric power. Both partners have strong relationships with suppliers and manufacturers in China.

They met about five years ago and discussed projects they were passionate about, with Mr Neal contributing some design ideas for Mr Clyde’s bikes. Their ideas jelled around the idea of developing an electric farm motorbike.

“This project has such huge potential,” Mr Clyde told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend from China, where he is visiting supply chain partners with Mr Allan. “The electric utility bike is a disruptive technology and idea, and could make a range of farm equipment obsolete.”

Mr Neal said he grew up on a farm riding bikes.

“I had wanted to do a bike for the Department of Conservation to go out and check their traps, and Anthony had been thinking along the same lines,” he said. “We wanted a lightweight electric off-road bike to carry tools and use as an agricultural vehicle.”
The pair set their sights on putting a prototype together for last year’s Fieldays.

They developed and engineered a frame, working with offshore supply chain partners. After six months of intensive work, their prototype electric farm bike debuted – still unpainted – at the 2014 Fieldays.

Housed in the innovation sector’s Grassroots tent, the prototype received more than 200 expressions of interest to pre-order and won three of the four awards on offer.

One of the awards was for development time with Locus Research, which has a strong track record of bringing concepts through the development stage to market. Mr Allan told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend his team had formed a great working relationship with the two partners.

“It was the ground-breaking category, a high-quality design concept,” said Mr Allan.
“That, in conjunction with their unparalleled knowledge of the E-bike supply chain and deep partnerships with key companies in China, led us to become a part of the company.”

Mr Neal said the dairy sector was especially interested in the prototype because of its simplicity. The Utility Bike has no clutch or drive chain, which eliminates the biggest maintenance issue with regular farm bikes. The silent running means not waking the family at 5am. Farmers also advised that the bike would be useful when following cows because it was easier to maintain low speeds without needing to ride the clutch.

“The greatly reduced running cost didn’t excite them as much as the prospect of reduced hassle of maintenance and handling gasoline and oil,” said Mr Neal.

The partners, who work together as Neal Clyde Design while maintaining their existing businesses, elected to use their Locus Research award time for creating and marketing the new brand Ubco – The Utility Bike.

“The process to develop the brand has taken it from its roots, and the logo references the unique frame design developed by Daryl,” said Locus creative director Caroline Noordijk. “It sought to capture the future potential of the Utility Bike and all the concepts the design team has had.”

Mr Neal said it had been a busy 12 months since the launch, with extensive field testing of new prototypes.

“We’ve redesigned the bike and added features and made the systems waterproof and reliable,” he said.

At this June’s Mystery Creek Fieldays, the team will have three pre-production versions of their dual wheel drive model on show. They have graduated from last year’s Grassroots tent to the Accelerator section for products ready for market, and have also been allocated a grass area to demonstrate the bikes. The three bikes have been assembled in New Zealand, but the production models will be manufactured through existing factory relationships in China.

The company’s marketing plan is to do a 100 bike alpha production run, which Fieldays visitors would be able to order at a special supporters’ price, with the understanding the buyers would provide user feedback for further development.
“We want to learn from real world experience,” said Mr Neal.

Bay of Plenty Times

by David Porter