Every EVELO electric bicycle starts out as an idea, which is then developed over time by a team that works together. What are the goals? What kind of bike are we designing? Who is it for? That idea is engineered into a design: with renderings, specifications, 3-D models, and a prototype. From there, the new model becomes a little more concrete, with various colors, motors, batteries, and displays considered and evaluated. Once every component is determined manufacturing can begin, then final assembly and quality control. Next, every ebike is boxed up and shipped to our wharehouse, with the final step being delivery to you, the customer.
Below is our complete production process - from idea to delivery - to give you a better understanding of what goes into every EVELO electric bicycle.
Overall Bike Design Concepts
A bicycle starts out as an idea, which is then developed over time by a team that works together. The ideas come from many places. Sometimes, it's something the designer has thought about for years, and it's finally time to bring that dream to reality.
But often, the idea comes from hearing the same repeated requests. The designer realizes a need for a particular bike and sets out to design something that people have asked for.
The first thing that often happens is the "back of the napkin" sketch. The designer will either be by themselves or having a conversation with friends and colleagues. Ideas flow, drawings are made, revisions, thoughts, discussions, "what ifs," and basic design philosophy.
What are the goals? What kind of bike are we designing? Who is it for? Is it a cruiser or a mountain bike? Or is it maybe a commuter bike?
This is the beginning of the creative process. Bike designers aren't just engineers. They are artists with a vision. Their medium is the aluminum of the frame and rubber for the tires, copper for the motor, and lithium for the battery.
A basic design is developed. This is the most variable part of the process. At this point, the designer isn't thinking about anything other than the best bike they can make. There are hard realities that will need to be confronted later in the process, but now is the time to think about what would be the ideal.
Initial Renderings and 3-D Models
The next step is making the design more concrete. The sketches become renderings and 3-D models. The basic frame geometry will be worked out using detailed drawings of the many components that will go into making the bike. This is where the designer really starts to have to make some decisions. After all, bike parts are standardized things. They need to work within the constraints of what's actually available.
A good designer also understands how the frame's geometry affects handling and comfort. A steeper head tube will make the bike handle more quickly, but that might not be the goal if the bike is meant to be a comfortable cruiser with a relaxed ride. This is also where details like clearance for the rider's feet must be considered. After all, you don't want someone with big feet to have their toes hitting the front wheel in turns.
There's also a harsh assessment of the look of the bicycle. During the sketching phase, a beautiful bike might have been drawn. Now is when the designer finds out if reality and beauty are compatible. Compromises are made, and input is sought from others. Critiques from colleagues are invaluable at this stage. This is where the real team effort starts. Sometimes, the designer will be puzzled over making something work and look good. Ideas flow again, and eventually, the puzzles are solved as everyone works together to make a bike that people will truly want to ride and own.
During this phase, actual components are considered. Rims and tires for the wheels, motors, handlebars, seats. Many options will be considered, and a semi-finalized list of major components has been developed.
CAD Drawings and Technical Specs
Now it's time to start on the really hard part of the design process: the CAD drawings and technical specifications.
A virtual model of the frame is created, sometimes by the designer, but more typically by a CAD specialist. CAD software has revolutionized the design world, making the process faster and more flexible. But the expertise on how to fully utilize these systems is its own discipline.
The designer is not typically an expert at this. They will have basic knowledge, but it's much faster to have a professional who does this all day, every day, doing the hard work of getting a computer model of the bike built. The designer will work directly with the CAD expert; they both have their roles here. The expert knows how to build a model. The designer knows what will make a good handling, comfortable and capable bike.
This is also where component manufacturers really start to get involved. Every parts supplier will have CAD drawings of the components to provide. These are integrated into the bike model. This is where we start to see the iterative portion of the design process really take off. The components will need to fit in the places the designer intends to put them.
Conflicts in the design really start to show up now. Maybe the cranks will interfere with the chainstays of the frame? Is the alignment of the motor sprocket and rear hub sprocket good? They need to be in line, of course. And ergonomics are incredibly important as the designer wants to make sure the rider will be comfortable and feel balanced on the bike. You can't have the motor offset sideways from the seat, or the bike will not "feel right."
Many parts go into the building of a bicycle, and this is where the designer needs to bring all of those parts together. And it's not just the obvious things like wheels, tires, handlebars, and a seat. There are also things like the availability of frame materials. We'll get into more detail on frame building in a future installment. Still, the ability to actually *build* that frame must be considered.
Also, very importantly, things like the strength and stiffness of the frame need to be understood at this point. A good designer will have an intuitive idea about what's necessary, but those assumptions need to be tested. How thick does the metal in various portions of the frame need to be? The bike needs to perform as expected and be durable enough to last for many years of riding. The designer will now also be working with the factory engineers to refine the design to ensure that this huge goal is accomplished.
The frame is, simply put, the most important part of any bicycle, electric or otherwise. A bike can have the best components in the world, but if the frame isn't right, that bike is doomed to failure. It's the foundation, just like in a building. A good bike is a wonderful thing, and here's where that bike truly starts to take shape.
Prototype Testing and Evaluation
Now that we’ve got a basic design, it’s time for things to get real and really fun. It's time to build the first prototype.
Up until now, everything has been on paper, in a computer rendering, or in a CAD model. But sketches, renderings, and models will never tell the whole story. You need to actually build a bike and try it out to see if it can (realistically) be built and how it rides and handles.
All of those carefully selected components need to be fitted to a frame. The frame builder needs to assess whether there are issues with manufacturing the frame itself. The components need to be installed, wheels built, brakes and drivetrains installed, and in the case of an eBike: batteries assembled, motors connected to their control panels, etc. Basically, everything that makes a bicycle a bicycle.
The designer and the CAD specialist need to work with the factory to sort out any hitches that may come up. This is an iterative process, and a good, experienced designer will know what many of the potential pitfalls are. However, like everyone else, they're always learning.
Eventually, there will be an actual, physical bike to ride. And it won't be perfect. The welds on the frame won't be the prettiest, and the paint job will be "good enough." But, at this point, we don't care about things like this. We want something we can RIDE! And this is where we discover whether all of the design choices were perfect (hint: that's seldom the case).
Maybe the frame is a bit too aggressive in its handling when we were going for a comfy, laid-back cruiser. Or the other way around. Perhaps there's unwanted flex in some part of the frame, indicating that things need to be beefed up. During the CAD phase, stress analyses were done, and, in most cases, the designer got it almost perfect.
So, it's time to tweak those models, develop solutions, and build another frame. Then maybe another. That's one of the differences between a GREAT bike and one that's "good enough." A designer who takes pride in their work doesn't want "good enough."
The designer also has to assess their component choices. Combinations that may have looked perfect on paper may not work as well as expected. These things need to be considered. They're a huge part of the riding experience, and again, we want to get it right. Changes will often occur here as well. In a later installment, we’ll talk about selecting the right components.
Something to note here: it’s not just the designer riding the bike and assessing it. As many people as possible are doing this. The frame builder, the mechanics, the production manager, the sales manager. Getting as many people involved as possible is a great way to figure out the problems and their solutions. Everyone brings their own experiences and knowledge to the table, and that’s incredibly valuable.
Eventually, after a whole lot of work by an ever-growing team, the bike is now ready for the next step: the finishing touches that make it look the way the team wants. Now we choose the paint colors! That’ll be our next installment.
A good amount of energy goes into selecting the perfect color for EVELO models. Since each model has different riders, the goal is to select a color scheme that appeals to a broad customer base. Neutral colors show well on multiple frame designs and appeal to a large variety of riders.
From a manufacturing standpoint, the bicycles themselves are painted right on the assembly line, all at one time. So selecting multiple colors for a single production run is highly inefficient, raises production costs, and has nearly the same logistics as making independent models. Keeping things simple and streamlined is an effective way to mitigate unnecessary expenses and possible production delays. At a larger production scale, paint is handled by large spray nozzles instead of a handheld spray gun, so getting it right the first time is imperative.
Bicycle Component Selection
Selecting the individual components of a bike is a crucial step. We need to compare the manufacturer, quality, and specifications of individual parts. We also need to consider supply chain logistics. If we’re missing a single part of any of our bicycles during the final assembly process, it comes to a grinding halt, delaying packaging, shipping, and final delivery.
Let’s look at a few different component categories for a quick overview of what we’re looking for in bike parts.
Hydraulic brakes are industry standard for most quality eBikes. Reliable name brand components are generally our go-to in this department. Other things to consider are rotor size, pad material, fit, finish, and spacing. This also plays a role in developing the frame and fork. The mounting tabs and bracketry need to fit properly during assembly, and different brands utilize different mounting systems.
Several components create the overall drivetrain, but let's focus on the drive mechanism itself, either a chain or a belt. Belt drive systems work well with Mid Drive motors and Internally Geared Hub (IGH) systems but are not viable for bicycles featuring a typical external/derailleur gearing system.
The belt drive is the obvious choice since EVELO primarily uses Mid Drive motor systems and IGH style gearing components. It offers long-term reliability and requires minimal maintenance. A typical bicycle chain and cassette combo would be appropriate for bicycles that utilize hub motors or external gears.
A few other types of drivetrain systems are available on the market, such as a shaft drive system and many other experimental components that hit the news cycle from time to time. While these components are interesting, none have proven to be a viable alternative for a chain or belt drive-based drivetrain.
When selecting a tire, flat protection and tread pattern are the two most significant factors. A smoother tread pattern will result in a quieter ride, less rolling resistance, and better on-road performance. More aggressive treads are best for primarily off-road riding and applications because they will wear quickly and generate road noise when riding on the street.
Puncture resistance comes in many forms, from various materials embedded in the tread casing to simply making a thicker tire. High-quality tires will have a puncture-resistant layer, commonly referred to as Kevlar®, between the outer tread and the inner portion of the tire, making it much more difficult to puncture through the tire and create a leak.
Tubeless tires are growing in popularity and offer a few advantages over tube-based systems. The main advantage is that when a small puncture occurs, it is immediately repaired with the latex-based liquid sealant that lives inside the tire. These systems are generally lighter weight, as the sealant reduces the need for extra thick tires or tubes.
However, there are definitely pros and cons to tubeless systems.
- Immediately seals small punctures
- Lighter weight overall, less material
- The ability to run much lower tire pressures and avoid pinch flats
- Initial conversion or installation can be difficult for non-mechanics
- Requires sealant to be added at particular intervals
- Large punctures can make big messes
From a manufacturing and end-user experience standpoint, shipping new bikes with tubes makes more sense than shipping with tubeless tires. Shipping new bicycles with tubes makes it easy for their new owners to air up the tires and get riding.
Tubes also allow manufacturers to ship bikes with relatively low tire pressures to compensate for extreme temperature fluctuations during transit. Over-inflated tires can explode in a hot cargo container or even in the back of a UPS or FedEx truck.
Running tubeless with liquid sealant from the factory would complicate these items and make quite the mess if something failed in transit.
Bicycle gears are a necessary component for the most efficient bicycle operation possible. For electric bicycles, the two most common gearing systems are a chain and cassette, which are just typical bicycle gears, and an internally geared hub, which keeps all of the gearing components inside the rear wheel’s hub.
Here’s a quick overview of the two different systems:
Chain and Cassette:
- Commonly found in 7, 8, 9, 10-speed options
- The higher the number of gears, the thinner the chain
- The Derailleur is the component that moves the chain up and down the gears
- Exposed moving parts
- Require regular maintenance and adjustment
- Can click/make audible noise
Integrally Geared Hubs:
- Have been around since the late 1800s
- Available in 3, 5, 9, 12-speed confirmations from a variety of manufacturers
- CVT technology available in modern components
- Automatic electronic shifting systems are available
- No external moving parts, maintenance-free
Cost is a major factor in manufacturing. The price difference between a simple 7-speed Derailleur Shifter and an Automatic Shifting CVT Internally Geared Hub is over 300%. While simple gearing systems will get the job done on basic bicycles, as the overall quality and component level of the bicycle increase, the gearing system is certainly not something you want to overlook in terms of quality, longevity, and maintenance.
eBike Specific Components
Let's focus on some eBike specific components that need to be selected during the design process.
Batteries are arguably one of the most important aspects of an eBike. A battery refers to the entire pack assembly composed of individual cells and a Battery Management System (BMS).
The two most popular cell form factors are 18650 and 21700, which refer to the individual cells' size (18mm x 65mm and 21mm x 70mm). While the 18650 cell has been the eBike and automotive industry standard, there is a slow transition to the 21700 size cell that offers higher energy density, notable improvement in discharge rates, and other factors.
Battery Management is a commonly overlooked aspect of eBike batteries. But it is a crucial component for safe operation and longevity. This board is attached to each cell, ensuring that they are within their specified voltage range and charging and discharging properly.
All the cells need to charge and discharge at a similar rate for a lithium battery to function properly. If one or more cells are out of range or “bad,” the BMS will disconnect the main discharge port and no longer allow the battery to charge or discharge. This is a safety feature that prevents catastrophic failure of a battery system, ensuring safe operation.
Other aspects to consider are voltage, capacity, and battery location, such as in the bike frame itself or on a rear rack. Selecting a battery that offers a suitable capacity that fits its intended location can be challenging, so most batteries are designed and manufactured specifically for the eBikes they are a part of. Voltage generally affects the top speed of the motor system, with 48V systems being the current industry standard.
In addition to the battery, the motor is a crucial component. It deserves careful consideration during the design, manufacturing, and production process. There are two main categories of motor systems available for eBikes:
Mid Drive Motors - These motor systems are located down by the pedals, taking advantage of the rear wheel gearing to operate. They are generally more efficient and offer more range and flexibility but are also more expensive and require proper shifting from the rider for optimal performance.
Hub Drive Motors - These motors are part of the front or rear wheel of the bicycle. They are easy to operate, economical, and generally found on less expensive eBike options.
The manufacturer of the motor itself is also important. There are many recognizable names in the eBike motor manufacturing space, like Bosch, Shimano, Panasonic, and Bafang, the largest eBike motor manufacturer in the world. Dapu is also growing in popularity and commonly manufactures motors for other larger manufacturers. So while their name is not as popular, they are often rebranded with more popular names.
The display panel on the handlebar gives the rider a clear view of information such as their speed and current state of charge when riding an eBike.
Display panels come in various styles and sizes and are commonly paired with the motor and controller system on the bike. It is possible to mix and match these components from one manufacturer to another, but this can cause communication issues between the display and the controller, so it’s generally best to keep things consistent and use a display panel recommended and supported by the controller and motor system producer. We also want to ensure that our display panels are large and easy to read. They should also include standard features such as battery charge, speedometer, odometer, and trip mileage.
Frame manufacturing is one of the most integral parts of the production process. The process begins with sourcing the raw materials, usually 6061 aluminum, and turning them into tubes. 6061 aluminum offers several advantages like low density (weight), excellent strength when heat treated, and high corrosion resistance.
Creating raw finished tubes: Step one begins with creating the die and producing specific tube shapes. Hot aluminum is fed through the dies and pushed through during the process of extruding finished tubes. These tubes are then cut into appropriate lengths, and the actual frame-building process begins.
Shaping of the tubes: The blank tubes can be shaped and are typically done by mechanical bending or hydroforming. Both methods require large molds, and your EVELO uses several proprietary tubing molds created during the design process. Mechanical bending is suitable for small tubing bends. Hydroforming is a 3-D process, basically turning round tubes into complex shapes with required bends to accommodate the frame design, creating a stronger tube. In hydroforming, fluid is forced into the mold, and the resulting pressure shapes the tube.
Mitering and Welding: Once the tubes are completed, they are mitered and welded. The mitering process involves making precise cuts on each tube so they fit together as closely as possible. The tubes are laser cut in a special 3-D cutting machine and then tacked together for welding. The frames are then welded by hand and checked for trueness. Then they go through a final QC check before and after heat treating.
Design Elements: Several key factors affect the construction of the frame. A large consideration is the battery placement. Frames with integrated batteries are more complex and require additional reinforcements due to the large hold cut in the primary tube. An additional design element that adds complication is the step-thru frame. The double diamond bicycle frame design is universal, strong, lightweight, and appropriately stiff. Removing the top crossbar from the equation is great for easy on/off access, but it adds a lot of complexity to the design. When you combine an integrated battery and low step-through, you have what can be one of the biggest challenges in frame design and production.
To add stiffness and strength, the hydroformed tubes on a bike like the Omega are done on a proprietary mold which makes the tube strong and stiff while avoiding unnecessary gussets and material. The result is a frame maximized for strength, stiffness, and compliance.
Frame Testing: Each new model is tested before production and is certified to the ASTM mountain bike testing standard. This is a more rigorous test, but even our bikes designed primarily for road use have passed the more stringent testing. The test involves repeated horizontal and vertical fatigue and impact testing. The test ends when the frame fails. It will have to exceed a set number of cycles to pass the test and for the design to be certified.
Frame Finishing: Masking the frames is done by hand and is very labor-intensive. Early prototypes are painted by hand, whereas production frames are done in an automated paint booth which better ensures full, even coverage and recapture of unused paint. Once completed, the laser cut decals are applied by hand. Then the frame receives two additional coats of clear coat for maximum paint durability.
At this point, the frames are complete and checked by our remote QC team for final inspection before they’re packaged and shipped to our assembly factory.
Parts Sourcing and Preparation for final assembly
We started with very broad strokes of what we wanted the bike to be, then filled in the details on major specifications so we could build the frame to suit it all. Before assembly, the last step is to nail down all the little stuff and get everything in place to put it all together.
By now, most of the components have already been chosen, but we still have some flexibility in sourcing. Some specifications are flexible enough that we can meet them with any number of different parts. We can source these parts from multiple vendors. As we prepare for the final assembly, the goal is to get all the pieces we need to build the bikes within our time window for delivery for the least amount of money.
If you want to buy pedals for a batch of bikes, literally thousands of options are available. Often, the exact same part from the same factory is available from multiple sellers. Here we weigh our options, considering the cost of the parts, their availability, and the Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ). In general, the sooner you need something, and the fewer of them you want, the more it will cost.
We typically use one of three approaches for sourcing parts, depending on their uniqueness, specificity, and availability. We can order directly from the manufacturer, go through a distributor, or simply have the factory source the parts. The factory goes through these same steps on its own, keeps a backstock of many parts, and has relationships with many vendors. They can often get a better price than other distributors, so this option works well, especially for more common parts. Items like seat posts are easily substituted, and as long as they meet the spec, one is largely as good as another. We intentionally use common parts to get the best price and availability, so we aren’t hung up waiting for unusual parts.
For truly unique parts, we go straight to the source. Items like the fork on a Galaxy 500, or the tires we use for Auroras, are made to our specs. We generally place orders for an entire year’s production at once rather than ordering for every production run. We have a very close relationship with Enviolo, which we source many of our transmissions from. There aren’t substitutes, so proper inventory planning is crucial to keeping our production schedule.
For parts that the factory doesn’t source and aren’t special enough to require cooperation with the manufacturer, we source them through distributors. Items like our Shimano and Sturmey Archer transmissions are used in low enough quantities that it doesn’t make sense to place a large order directly from the manufacturer. However, they are widely available from third-party sources. At this point, we simply find the vendor that has the best combination of price and availability.
Batteries are a special situation. Often, the battery is chosen even before we’ve ever done a frame rendering. This is the case for bikes with integrated batteries, such as the Atlas and Omega. The battery shape/case and its dock are established by the battery manufacturer, so we start with an idea for a bike. We then choose a battery that will fit the space and offer the performance we need. For bikes like the Galaxy 500 and Compass, we can largely choose the battery after setting the design for the frames, as they simply mount to the frame.
With the battery design chosen, the next step is to choose the cells. Many people don’t know that the battery cells are almost always made by a different company than the one that assembles the cells into a functioning battery. These cells are very similar to the AA, C, and D cells that you know from other small electronics, just bigger. eBikes typically use the 18650 format, though newer models such as the Atlas and Omega use the 21700 format.
The numbers represent the size of the cell itself. A 18650 is 18mm x 65mm, while a 21700 is 21mm x 70mm. The larger format cells tend to support high-power demands better than the smaller cells and will become more common in the near future.
Even among each size, there are hundreds of different cells available, using different chemistries to offer different performances. Some cells are capable of very high output but don’t have as much storage. Other cells might offer more storage for a longer range but can’t put out as much power. If you want both high power and high storage, the tradeoff is price. With our industry-leading warranty, we must source the best batteries possible to avoid sending out free batteries all the time. To this end, we try to buy from the best manufacturers, typically Panasonic, Samsung, LG, and Sony.
An EVELO bicycle is truly a global product. From our staff in the United States to transmissions from The Netherlands and many components from China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, the logistics involved in getting all of the pieces to the factory at the right time are staggering.
Production planning starts at least a year out for most models. Once we know all the parts we need and the orders are placed, we communicate closely with the factory and outside vendors. While a just-in-time system is great for the bottom line and what we do for most parts, some items have enough lead time or quantity discount that it makes sense to warehouse them ourselves. We’ve worked with our partners long enough that it seems second nature now, but the global logistics needed to bring a bike to market is truly a marvel.
Final Assembly and Quality Control
Your EVELO has been designed, the frame has been welded and painted, and the individual components have been specified and purchased. Now the bikes are assembled, given a QC check, boxed, and placed into a container for their journey across the Pacific.
The frame and all the individual parts are shipped to the assembly factory. Every part, down to the bolts and spokes, is detailed on the bike’s Bill of Materials (BoM). The factory will confirm that the parts on hand match the BoM and that enough are on hand to complete the production run. There will always be a slight overage of required parts to cover any potential damage or defects.
The assembly factory will build bikes for multiple brands, but production will be dedicated to one brand at a time, and all of the parts for a given brand will be segregated from the others. This makes scheduling and coordinating parts deliveries critical for the assembler and scheduled production far in advance.
The hubs, rims, and spokes have been delivered, but they need to be assembled into a complete wheel. The wheel building line is typically the single biggest part of the operation. Spokes, hubs, and rim are laced and given their initial tensioning by the machine. They are de-stressed, hand-tensioned, and given a final check by a skilled wheel builder. This hand tensioning and truing step gives us a superior finished product versus a machine-only build.
The frames are placed on a special jig that holds them upside down. That seems counter-intuitive, but it actually works very well. The frames travel along an assembly line similar to what you would see in an automotive factory. There are dedicated stations to install the different parts. While the assembly technicians are cross-trained in all tasks, they usually specialize in one facet of the assembly.
As the frame travels down the line, brakes are installed and topped off with fluid, wheels are installed at another station, motor and wiring harness, battery, cranks, pedals, etc. Shifting is adjusted and calibrated. Any required firmware updates or programming is completed, and the electrical system checks are completed. At the end of the line, you have a fully assembled EVELO bike.
So the bike is assembled. What next? The bike is taken for a ride. The factory has an indoor test track, and a member of their QC team hops on and takes it for a spin. This is why your bike may have a mile or two on the odometer when you receive it. Shifting, braking, pedal-assist, throttle, display, and lights are all checked. The battery key is inserted into the lock to ensure that it functions as it should. Every part of the bike you will need to use will be checked.
If something isn’t functioning as it should, that bike is flagged and set aside to resolve the issue. It then goes through the QC process again.
Box it up!
Once all of this is done, and the bike is signed off, it is partially disassembled. The front wheel, fender, and light are removed along with the pedals, handlebar, and stem. The frame, fork, and wheels have foam, cardboard, and plastic padding installed, and key areas of the box are reinforced with additional padding. You will spend almost as much time removing the protective packing as you will assembling the bike.
The partially disassembled bike is placed in the box with a separate small parts box with the pedals, assembly tools, and owner’s manuals. The charger is also placed in the box, and it is glued and stapled shut. They are then staged for loading into the shipping container to bring them to our warehouse.
Shipping and Transportation Logistics
Our bikes travel to the United States via cargo containers on large container ships, similar to transporting your car, microwave, and running shoes, frequently on the same ship. The process starts with determining when a particular production run will be completed.* When that is determined, we book containers to ship the bicycles and spare parts, a truck to carry that to the local port where it’s loaded onto a container ship. The ship crosses the Pacific Ocean to the United States. Upon arrival at the port, another truck carries that container(s) from the arrival port to our warehouse for storage and eventual shipping to a customer.
Once we feel we have a solid completion date for production, we begin booking a container rental and its transportation to and from the factory, via ship from port to port, and to and from the port to our warehouse. The first and last steps are typically done via truck and involve different processes and regulations depending on their country. Each country has its own set of regulations regarding the transportation of different products and materials.
Our first step is determining how many bicycles and tricycles we will be shipping per container, which is determined by calculating the size of each box, telling us how many of each will fit in a forty-foot-long container. Once we have a quantity established and have a container size selected, we book the container(s). Working with the factory and a logistics broker—someone that already has established relationships with multiple container, shipping, and trucking companies—a container with a unique identification number is selected.
Then, working with our broker, a truck is scheduled to get the container(s) from a storage yard at the port to the factory. This is timed to be as close to completing a production run as possible to alleviate the factory having to store a large collection of boxed bicycles, which take up a huge amount of space. There are typically storage fees associated if the bikes are not picked up in a timely fashion. Pick-up dates are usually scheduled in advance, typically within twenty-four to forty-eight hours of delivery, again to alleviate storage on the factory premises.
Containers are then picked back up by the same trucking company for transfer to the port. A more recent factor that has created delays in this part of the process has been container availability and, as a result of that, container costs. For example, what may have cost companies $4,500 two to three years ago, now costs an average of $25,000.
At the port, containers are transferred into a yard until the scheduled ship arrives and/or is loaded. Again, we work with a third-party broker to book passage on a container ship in advance. Once the ship has arrived at the port in Taichung, Taiwan, for example, it is then transferred onto a ship. We are then sent tracking information to follow that ship's progress from Taichung to a port in the United States, in our case, typically in Tacoma or Seattle, Washington.
Various factors may cause delays: global supply chain interruptions, overbooking of container ships, delays at ports preceding the one we’re shipping from, regulations, etc. As we have seen over recent years, this can stack up in a hurry to create significant delays.
This process is nearly identical to shipping out of China, with most differences related to laws and regulations governing the transportation of our finished product and the parts we work with.
Carrying a container across the Pacific is a journey that typically takes about two to four weeks. This is determined by the size and age of the ship, the global costs of fuel, traffic at the arrival port, and, most importantly, the weather. A significant storm can set a ship's arrival time back by a week or more. As for traffic at a port, during 2020 and 2021, there were lines as long as 150 miles, with as many as ninety-six ships delayed in offloading their goods despite having arrived on time.
The paperwork necessary to prepare the customs clearance begins before the container is loaded onto the ship. The Importer Security Filing (ISF) is filed with the Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Before arriving in the United States, customs paperwork is filed with the CBP, including the commercial invoices and packing lists of everything in the container. CBP calculates the tariffs and duties owed by the importer based on those. Duties for assembled bikes can range from 0% for imports from Taiwan to 25%+ for imports from mainland China. Duties for individual parts can vary widely.
Most of the containers are cleared on an honor basis, given our track record. However, it is not uncommon for the containers to be flagged for an inspection, ranging from containers being unsealed and products inspected to entire containers getting X-rayed. Inspections can delay the release of the shipment by a week or more. Normally containers are pre-cleared before the ship berths at the port.
A cleared container is offloaded at a warehouse at the port. A trucking company contracted by our freight forwarders picks it up once a chassis becomes available, makes a drop-off appointment with our warehouse in Kent, Washington, and drops it off for unloading. Once unloaded, the same trucking company picks up the container and delivers it back to the port.
Possible delays are jams at the port—due to the number of containers being offloaded at once—chassis availability, etc.
Upon scheduling the truck picking up our containers, our Shipping and Inventory Manager takes over, coordinating delivery times with the warehouse and informing them of what will go into inventory. We utilize a shared warehousing space with multiple companies, so scheduling is key here.
Specific personnel are assigned to the unloading, transfer, data entry, and storage tasks. During this, we are inspecting for products expected, quantities expected, condition of packaging, and that the identifying information on the boxes is all correct. Once everything is out of the containers and on the shelves, we schedule the empty containers’ removal and return. We update our inventory, including showing an item as “In Stock” on our website. Then shipping out to our expectant customers begins.
*While a production run can be influenced by various factors, a key one to keep in mind is the logistical processes of the parts suppliers we work with in assembling our bicycles. From Enviolo to Gates, Shimano to Sturmey Archer, each has to work with various logistics-related companies to get their products from a diverse array of countries, from the Netherlands to Vietnam, to our factories in China and Taiwan. Each is affected by assembly time in their own facilities, parts suppliers, and container delivery in and out of their respective factories or ports. Their delays can quickly become our delays.
Storing inventory can be done in a few ways: in-house, at a third-party warehouse, or by drop shipping from an external source. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks when considering the cost and efficiency.
Warehousing all inventory in-house means that an eBike company needs a physical location with lots of space. If each bicycle is boxed individually in a box of approximately 60x34x11 inches, the amount of space needed to inventory all the models and the associated warranty parts is pretty large. This means that the cost for the location is going to be relatively high and will require additional equipment and personnel to do the picking and packing. This situation can be costly but allows for more control over the overall process. Fulfillment times can be much quicker and with fewer mistakes, meaning the customer service department invests less follow-up time. Customer satisfaction also boosts sales in the long run, so maybe a higher upfront cost has many long-term benefits.
Using a third-party warehouse is a common option that offers the benefit of not having to pay/occupy a large physical location. This way, a dedicated warehouse set up for storage, picking, packing, and shipping does all the physical work once the order has been processed and sent to them. When using a third-party warehouse, the company pays storage and fulfilling fees. However, they do not have to employ the personnel or pay for the physical location and associated insurance costs outright. This option gives up some control of the fulfilling process but potentially saves the company money, especially upfront. This option can be very viable with a good system, especially for a smaller company.
Dropshipping items is probably the most costly option if done regularly because the cost of goods will be higher. This is not a viable option for regular use unless a business partnership has been established. There is very little control over the timing of fulfillment and shipping because it’s handled by a third party. The benefit of this situation is evident when items are not available internally, thus allowing the supply chain issues not to ripple into customer service/satisfaction. It allows for products to be supplied without having to inventory them internally.
Shipping to Customers and Bike Shops
An eBike almost always ships partially assembled, which means at least some assembly is required at the receiving end. For a direct-to-consumer company, there are no dealers or test ride centers in place that handle assembly, fine-tuning, and customer pick up.
This means that the eBike is usually shipped directly to the customer, where they are responsible for the assembly. This works for anyone who can be around for delivery and is mechanically inclined and willing to do the minor required assembly and any necessary adjustments.
One big benefit of this system is that the end-user can be riding their bicycle in a shorter amount of time. This will, of course, depend on the ability and availability of the end-user.
Some folks prefer a professional assembly, which can be done at a local bicycle shop. In this situation, a shop is sourced near the customer's home, and an assembly service is set up in the customer’s name. Since the assembly of an eBike is virtually the same as that of a human-powered bicycle, any competent bike shop can handle the job.
Once a shop is selected, the eBike is shipped to the shop where they do the assembly before the customer is notified that it's ready for pick-up. Usually, if shop assembly is offered, the customer pays the eBike company a fee, and the shop assembly cost is covered by the eBike company. This option is not commonly available and is a sign of a company having great customer service. The benefits of shop assembly are that a professional addresses the initial setup and tune-up, making the customer experience smoother and more enjoyable. The downside is that the time to assemble at a shop is often longer due to their existing service load.
Hazmat vs. Complete Bikes
Shipping an eBike falls under some specific requirements because a lithium battery is included. Luckily when the battery is installed in equipment, the eBike can be shipped via ground service with no other special needs. This makes shipping a complete eBike relatively easy when done via FedEx Ground/UPS Ground using solid packaging that can handle the weight of an eBike.
Unfortunately, shipping a battery on its own is considerably more difficult than a complete eBike. Since the battery is not installed in equipment, it is subject to hazardous goods shipping. The biggest hurdle is that the shipper has to be certified to ship lithium batteries.
Additionally, special paperwork has to be completed. A special label and sticker must be used for each individual shipment. The battery has to be packed in a specific way to protect it during shipping. The resulting package can then be shipped via ground service.