[Edited 16th October 2019]
We've been overwhelmed with the support the we've had since launching our folding ebike, the FLIT-16, in July 2019.
The past three years of development have been a wild rollercoaster, and it's amazing to now to have our first customers with production of our ebike now in full swing!
For those who are newer to FLIT, we wanted to summarise our journey to manufacture from the very beginning.
Meet the FLIT team! Joe, Dave, Alex, David and Gemma.
Beginning in Beijing
Dave and Alex started the FLIT project when they met while studying in Beijing. They had both spent time in industry, Dave working for Jaguar Landrover, and Alex working for OC&C Strategy Consultants in London.
At that time in China, ebikes and electric scooters were booming, and both saw the huge potential that electric vehicles had for revolutionising the way that we travel our cities.
Alex and Dave at the Great Wall
We started out working on components for electric urban micro cars that are being developed all over the world. But after a year of developing an interesting new type of kinetic energy recovery system, we came to accept that it would take years to build the infrastructure needed for these vehicles to become commonplace.
Switching to ebikes
But we weren't ready to give up. We really liked working together and were learning a lot from building new tech and getting stuck into public policy debates.
Our experience so far had made us more determined to change the way that people get around cities. So we returned to what some see as an old piece of technology: the humble bicycle.
Both of us had spent years travelling around cities from London to Beijing by bike, and Alex had cycled across the US and China on his road bike. We were also really excited by what maturing technology was doing for ebikes.
With lithium-ion batteries improving and coming down in cost every year, and new ranges of motors coming out for all sorts of different bike designs, ebike sales in Europe had grown from 0.1 million in 2006 to 1.6 million in 2016.
The evidence that we were seeing for a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get more people out of cars and riding bikes was hard to ignore.
It's time for a new generation of ebikes
We wanted to develop an ebike that would give people as much flexibility as possible: one that could be taken on the train, underground or bus, as well as stored inside a small city apartment.
Folding bikes have traditionally done this job, and a number of folding ebikes have emerged as variations on this theme. But these electric cousins have usually been retrofits (they take a traditional folding bike design and adding a battery and motor) which have ended up being too heavy, too bulky, and, frankly, too ugly to be desirable.
By starting with a blank sheet of paper and developing a folding bike designed to be electric from the very beginning, we knew that we could offer something that ticked all of the boxes: a folding ebike that's incredible to ride, fast to fold and light to carry.
We had a few ideas for how to engineer this type of ebike, but also recognised early on that we would need help to make it a beautiful product that people would feel proud to ride.
David Turpin, an industrial designer who had 20+ years experience of working on consumer electronics, was the next to join the FLIT team. David took Dave's mechanical designs and turned them into simple, elegant shapes that worked together to create a beautiful bike.
Cambridge: a beautiful cycling city full of smart engineers, what's not to like?
Coming home to Cambridge
In the summer of 2016 we came back to the UK and settled in Cambridge, the cycling capital of the UK, to start building our folding ebike and growing the FLIT team.
Straight away we went out in search of the support that we'd need to make our early designs a reality, first being awarded a grant from the Department for Transport through their Innovation Challenge Fund.
We then secured support through two of the best startup programmes in Cambridge: the Allia Future Business Centre, which has provided us with a home and community to work from; and Accelerate Cambridge at the Judge Business School's Entrepreneurship Centre, which has given us access to some of the best mentors.
Having this kind of commercial support helped us to make a whole series of decisions about what kind of company we wanted to build, and gave us valuable contacts to engineers who could help us to realise our plans.
Our supporters and backers since we founded FLIT
The first prototype
After a year of R&D, including working with a very skilled prototyper in Essex (his previous projects included making the official torches for the 2012 London Olympics) we finished our first ebike in October 2017, just in time to reveal it at the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit in Paris.
We had been selected as one of the top 50 mobility startups and were keen to start showing people our first working ebike.
Showcasing at the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit in Paris - you'll notice that our first prototype looks very different to the FLIT-16!
We used our first prototype to continue to build the support that we needed to develop the bike further.
First, we secured a place on the Design Council's Design Spark hardware accelerator. This gave us specialist mentors who helped us to think beyond pure engineering design to better understand the point of view of everyone who would interact and ride the ebike, from those who build it, to those who sell and maintain it.
Around this time, Joe Sherwood, a young University of Cambridge engineering graduate with a keen interest in cycling also joined the team. Joe has helped in both designing and prototyping a number of components on the FLIT-16, and has taken the lead on operational issues from compliance to logistics.
In the summer of 2018, we were awarded follow-on funding from Design Spark, which was also shortly after we had also come third in the Innovation and Entrepeneurship Competition in Shenzhen.
The road to manufacturing
Next, with a new design and fresh resources, we went straight to the Eurobike trade show in Germany to find a manufacturing partner. Having spent much of the previous year working on prototyping in the UK, we had come to accept that we needed to work with bicycle manufacturing specialists to build the best possible ebike.
Sadly, although we had come across many great bike frame builders in the UK who could work with steel and carbon fibre, we hadn't been able to find anyone who could manufacture at volume in aluminium, our preferred material.
It quickly became apparent during our time at Eurobike that the bike manufacturers in Taiwan were the best fit for our needs of deep bike manufacturing experience, quality, and flexibility.
Alex, Dave, and Joe meeting with a specialist fork manufacturer in Taiwan
After meeting with about a dozen suppliers, we settled on a medium-sized factory which specialises in unconventional aluminium bike designs. With 30 years of experience in the industry, we are confident that they will deliver a high level of quality, and their smaller size means that we can work together flexibly.
As we began working together, this gave us many opportunities to spend time working in the factory alongside the manufacturer's engineers, while also visiting some of the trade shows in Taiwan where suppliers of everything from battery packs to specialist washers and bearings gathered to show off their wares and haggle over deals and partnerships.
It was here that we met our battery supplier: a specialist subsidiary of one of the world's biggest computer manufacturers, Acer.
Manufacturing prep bears fruit
In November 2018, after an intensive month of Dave living in Taiwan and working every day with the manufacturer, we finished our first manufacturing prototype and brought it back to the UK in time to unveil it to Jesse Norman, the Minister of State for Transport, at the DfT's Transport-Technology Innovation Showcase in the heart of London.
In the meantime, we had also decided to change our name from Hinton Bikes to FLIT for the simple reason that we wanted a name that we would be able to use in the long term and sadly weren't able to trademark Hinton Bikes. FLIT also better captures our core purpose of helping people to move around the city quickly and easily.
Final assembly of our first manufacturing prototype (Dave is the photographer)
This prototype was a big step forward for us and allowed us to begin a lot of tasks that we had previously planned, from doing our first test rides and demonstrations with ebike stores, through to designing manufacturing tooling and completing much of the testing for safety certification. Most importantly, the prototype proved that the final design worked very well, as multiple trips on it in Cambridge and London proved.
This gave us the confidence to hire our first full time member of staff beyond the core founding team. Gemma Moses joined the team to help get the word out after running her own business for a couple of years. She has quickly made an impact on the team by rebuilding the website, helping us to set up test rides, and enormously improving how we present the ebike (you can probably tell the date she started by flicking through our Instagram feed, there is a noticeable jump in quality...).
Taking everything we learned from the experience of developing the first prototype, we quickly began work on the next prototype, which refined a few design details and made improvements to the frame. For this, Dave made another trip to Taiwan to visit the factory and meet with component suppliers again at the 2019 Taipei Cycle show.
This trip was an important one for deciding on a number of final details from frame colours and painting techniques to final brake lever selection. Soon afterwards, we took delivery of our last prototypes, painted, with fully wired electrical systems, and ready for the road. We decided to name our ebike the FLIT-16, the '16' referring to the wheel size of the bike.
The perfect pair! Our final FLIT-16 prototypes in our chosen colours: marengo grey and maya blue.
Test rides around the UK
Before our big launch, we wanted to get as many peoples' feedback as we could on the ride and design of the FLIT-16. This meant that we organised hundreds of test ride all around the UK, from Oxford to Bristol to London and many more!
We loved meeting our very first test riders and getting there opinion on the ebike, and were so pleased that they all loved test riding the FLIT-16 too.
We still run lots of events up and down the country, so if you're new to FLIT and haven't managed to test ride yet please do get in touch. We can either send you our upcoming test ride event schedule, or we can arrange a personal booking at our offices in Cambridge.
What's been great about getting feedback is that we've been able to listen to your suggested changes or tweaks to the design. We've actually changed quite a few things from our grey and blue prototypes to the final production version FLIT-16. Examples include the handlebar height, which we have now raised based on your feedback, and a clearer handlebar display, which we have now changed to a much better one!
A very happy test rider by the beautiful Kings College in Cambridge.
The big launch!
After much anticipation, we launched the FLIT-16 on Kickstarter on July 30th 2019. We had an incredible campaign, and sold out of all of our early bird ebikes within just ten minutes of launching! We were blown away by the support that we had through the campaign and the positive feedback that you guys gave us about the bike.
Our aim of the Kickstarter campaign was initially just to raise enough money to cover the tooling cost for manufacturing the ebike, but by the end of the campaign we were thrilled to have raised over 5 times our goal.
The campaign ended in September 2019, but after such an incredible experience with Kickstarter and our backers, we decided to release a limited number on Indiegogo InDemand.
Dave, Alex and Joe celebrating the end of our Kickstarter campaign (by the Insta famous pink doors at our offices at the Future Business Centre)
As we've been working with our manufacturing partner in Taiwan for over a year, we had been gearing up for production for a while. This meant that as soon as our Kickstarter campaign ended, we could kick off production.
It's very exciting times with Dave over in Taiwan at the moment (October 2019) to oversee the very first FLIT-16s being built.
We'll be sending production updates via our newsletter, so make sure you sign up using the form below if you haven't already!
Dave at our manufacturing partner in Taiwan measuring the steel inserts for the hinges.