Entering the workshop of Electric Bike Company in Newport Beach is like stepping inside a magical Hobbit hole of electric-bike wizardry. From the ceiling, dozens of bike frames hang in perfectly painted glory; all around, machines are buzzing, sparks are quite literally flying, and a team of local experts assembles what Electric Bike Review voted as the “Best Cruiser” in the country this year. But the road to electric-cruiser stardom was dotted with pebbles, (or perhaps boulders) along the path, and a lot of hard work went into the design and creation of the sophisticated-looking cruisers the company produces today.
“I used to cycle and did Ironman but I had no idea what it took to build a bike,” says Electric Bike Company Founder Sean Lupton-Smith, who started the company in 2014.
We’re in the entrance of his bike-making studio, a large-ish space brimming with bike parts and an intangible sense of creative grit.
“In fact, it’s a good question because had I known, you wouldn’t be standing here,” he says. “There’s no way I would have tackled this project if I had known how complicated it was.”
Lupton-Smith laughs, and I do, too, but there’s a certain gleam in his eye, the kind that tells you he would do it all over again if he had to; he’s just that passionate about what he does. His passion was proven over the next hour spent together at the Electric Bike Company HQ, as he divulged not only the intricacy and detail that goes into each, customized bike but also the story behind how he became the country’s premier builder in his craft.
Here are 10 takeaways from my trip around the workshop, which proved with every meticulously placed nut and bolt that for Electric Bike Company, the build is always worth the ride.
The company began as a charitable endeavor to send bikes to South Africa, Lupton-Smith’s home country.
“I came over to California and I was retired. I had been in the restaurant business all my life but I’d been back and forth from South Africa, and I wanted to send some low-cost bikes there, like a philanthropic thing to start off,” he explains. Lupton-Smith knew he could get a standard-style cruiser for about $100 and thought he’d order a few shipping containers and send the bikes across the world to those in need.
Everything changed when he visited Fashion Island and saw people riding around on high-powered, electric bikes. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we just put a motor and battery on our bikes and send those?'”
He purchased several bikes from Walmart and did just that—installing batteries and motors on each one. Lupton-Smith was so enamored with the finished product, he reasoned he could even sell the makeshift electric bikes for about $500. It was from this simple reasoning that Electric Bike Company was born.
Lupton-Smith enlisted an engineer from NASA and Boeing to build the perfect bike.
After complications arose with the effectiveness of his first prototype, Lupton-Smith called in an expert engineer who previously worked at NASA and Boeing to re-design the bikes. “We told him, ‘Listen, let’s do something that’s classic, something that’s not complicated … that may not be as fashionable but it’s going to have longevity,'” he says. “People want to ride a bike for a long time and know it’s their bike. Our kind of beach cruiser has been around forever and it’ll last.”
The company’s logo was created at midnight, by hand.
“I’ve actually got pictures of me on the floor here with my printer,” Lupton-Smith says. “So the way that it started, I knew everybody has a lightning-bolt style emblem, and I thought we could put three together and maybe that will look better. And then I made a road … and I was printing it out and cutting it myself. I wasn’t on a computer because I don’t even know how to do this on a computer. I ended up cutting it all out—this is 12 o’clock at night—and then eventually coming up with the design.”
The price of electric bikes is determined by battery range and the quality of the bike’s parts.
When it comes to electric bikes, the farther you can take them without recharging, (or the more powerful the battery) the more expensive they get. The most powerful battery Electric Bike Company has, which can last up to 100 miles, costs the most. The quality of the bike parts also adds to the price.
“You know, I always say it’s kind of like a red wine,” Lupton-Smith says. “You can have one glass of it that’s $2 and one glass of it that’s $1,000 but it’s still red wine. It’s really the same as everything that’s on the bike. Just the smallest, little thing like the attachment bolts that are on here can affect the price.
As Lupton-Smith explains, a bolt can have a certain type of steel, ratchet knot, manufacturing style, even a particular kind of washer and nut that’s attached to it. “Those are the important details that explain why a bolt can cost anywhere from two cents to a dollar,” he says. “And all that makes quite a big difference in the overall price.”
Electric Bike Company is the only brand in its category building its bikes from scratch in the United States.
While the parts are imported from all across the world, ensuring only the best are used on each bike, the bike itself is wholly put together at the Electric Bike Company workshop in Newport Beach by a skilled team of local builders. Customers visit the website—electricbikecompany.com—and customize their bike’s frame, color, seat, trim, design and more. In total, there are about 680 different options, ranging in price from $2,299-$2,946.
Once selected, the bike is built in Lupton-Smith’s workshop—it takes about six hours to construct a bike from start to finish—and is shipped, fully assembled, to riders across the world. Timing of a bike’s arrival depends on seasonality; during the busiest months, (the holidays and around Valentine’s Day) shipments arrive within a month. During slower times, it takes about 10 days. Currently, Lupton-Smith says the company is operating with a two-week lead time.
Every single part of the electric bike is inspected before the bike is given the final OK to be shipped.
Once a bike is built, it moves to a different area of the workshop, the inspection area, and is scrutinized by an independent team member who uses a long checklist to ensure quality control.
After passing inspection, the bike is test driven then wrapped and packed, ready to be shipped to an awaiting customer.
There’s a patent-pending part on the bike you won’t find anywhere else.
“The unique part of our bike is we’ve got this cool, little window on the back and inside is a retractable cord with a charger inside,” Lupton-Smith explains. “Nobody else does this; it’s a patent-pending part of the bike. The cord comes out and you can plug it in anywhere. So, I can stop at any Starbucks or gas station and just plug my bike in. With a lithium battery, 80% of the charge is done in 20% of the time. If your battery is really low and you just plug it in, you’ll get four to five miles quickly, which will get you home.” (For those interested in recharging using the power of the sun, Electric Bike Company offers a solar-panel recharger as well. View it in action here.)
If you don’t like it, Electric Bike Company will pay for you to ship your bike back, and return 100% of your money.
Because many customers don’t have the opportunity to test the bike, or even see it in person before ordering, Electric Bike Company offers a 30-day, 100% money back guarantee, and will even pay for all shipping costs for a customer dissatisfied with his or her bike. “If you get this bike in Australia and you don’t like it, we have to refund the money to ship it to Australia and we have to ship it back,” Lupton-Smith says. I tell him the generous return policy proves he’s confident in his product. He smiles and taps a bike nearby, nodding.
The battery is a business.
“We’re an electric bike company and the battery itself is obviously a huge part of our bike,” he says. “There’s a wide range of good-quality batteries and we wanted some control over that process because it gives us the ability to be able to adapt to the technology.”
In 2017, Electric Bike Company bought 50% of a $120 million battery company called TurnLife LLC. And in the very back of the workshop, Lupton-Smith has a cornucopia of batteries along one wall, adjacent to a smaller room with wires and fancy-looking testing equipment, where an electrical engineer dissects and assembles batteries, figuring out what works and what doesn’t.
Every bike is totally local.
Customers purchasing an Electric Bike Company cruiser have the ability to customize the frame completely, adding a name or logo of their choice.
“The reason why no one is offering [the customizations we have] is because they get the bike pre-assembled, and they’d have to disassemble bike, then assemble it, and it’s hard to have the team, the tools, the knowledge and the time to get that done.”
“And you have all that, right?” I say, reiterating a question I think by now, I could answer myself.
“Definitely,” Lupton-Smith responds. “We offer a unique product to basically anyone. We have a branded, custom-made, local bike.”
“Totally local?” I ask, just to clarify. (Hey, I’m writing for a Newport Beach magazine after all.)
“Yes,” he says without hesitation, waving a hand around the electric bike kingdom we’re still standing in, a place of ingenuity and inventiveness he’s assembled from home-grown scratch. “Totally local.”