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Swiftmile's free e-bike charger fuels e-mobility growth

Published October 7, 2020
Swiftmile has installed 200 solar-powered stations in the U.S. and Europe.

A version of this article ran in the October issue of BRAIN.

SAN CARLOS, Calif. (BRAIN) — Winning a Christmas raffle six years ago changed Colin Roche’s life and quest.

No, it wasn’t a health club membership nor a cooking class invitation. 

It was a Pedego e-bike.

“I considered myself a cyclist up until I was about 35, which is when I developed severe arthritis in my knee due to years of playing soccer,” said Roche, who spent $50 to enter the Toys for Tots raffle that attracted 300 entries. “That is why this was such a fortuitous event for me; it literally got me back into biking with the aid of a pedal-assist bike and opened my eyes to what a game-changer they can be to getting back into biking.”

Roche’s love of e-biking eventually led to the idea of developing charging stations in cities, the equivalent of green gas stations for e-bikes and e-scooters. The result of that vision is Swiftmile, a company that has implemented 200 solar-powered charging stations in the U.S. and Europe.

Among the U.S. cities where it’s available include the Washington, San Francisco, Tampa, Austin, Texas, and Phoenix. 

Swiftmile hosts include hotels, parking operators, universities, and retailers, with bike shops on the horizon. “We’re about to roll a program out for bike shops,” Roche said. “A lot of bike shops have a good location where they could host a station. And it acts like a good lead for the bike shops: Instead of renting one, why don’t you buy one?” 

Free to cities, riders

Charging your bike or scooter at any of the U.S.-manufactured stations is free to the rider. Swiftmile offers public and private-label stations. Public charging stations will charge any brand and have a digital advertising screen. Private charging stations will charge whatever brand purchased it.

“Our program with cities does not require them to pay anything,” Roche said. “We just need access to a power source and a good location for us to place the system with our digital screen. That was a key piece to making this a win, win, win for everyone. The cities get it for free, the ads pay for the system, and riders get to use it for free.” 

When BRAIN contacted Roche at the beginning of September, he spoke from Edwards Air Force Base in California, overseeing Swiftmile’s first all-solar charging system on the base. 

“This is where they test aircraft, but they also test other things, and one of them is what we’re doing here,” said Roche, who said four charging stations for eight e-scooters each were installed along with 18 e-scooters. “Now it’s for scooters, but soon we hope to be putting electric bikes here because it’s a big base. The airmen — when they get out of school and they’re 18 — and all they have is a duffel bag, and they’ve got no way to get around in their spare time. And now in the age of COVID, this gives you good social distancing, a healthy way to get around, and it’s 100% renewable power.”

Roche hopes the end result of Swiftmile is to make it easier to get people out of their cars. That in turn reduces traffic, improves air quality, and provides a healthier transportation alternative. With the COVID-19 pandemic helping create more interest in bike commuting, Swiftmile was able to increase interest in its service.

The right service for the times

“It soon became clear that public transportation would be severely affected in a bad way because of people being fearful for transmission of COVID in a confined space like a bus, subway, train, or tram,” Roche said. “We started focusing on working with cities to deploy our mobility hubs for them to encourage more use of shared e-bikes and scooters, but also for private users to plug into our stations as well. They like the fact that our system is universal and can work with most vehicles. We also added a digital screen that can stream revenue generating ads, but also public-service announcements such as COVID related health alerts.”

That doesn’t mean there were some uncertain times for Swiftmile when COVID-19 evolved into a pandemic.

“The pandemic at first put a freeze on almost all investors until they could get a handle on what it all meant to their own portfolio companies,” Roche said. “Those were scary times for a startup in mobility when no one was using any kind of shared e-bike, scooter, or their own bikes. We were all in lockdown.”

But it all changed when cities began reopening and the aversion to public transportation occurred. 

“At the same time, e-bikes, bikes, scooters started to surge in demand,” said Roche, who has an entrepreneurial background that included developing the ergonomic pen, PenAgain. “The picture started to become clear to not only investors but cities as well that they need to deploy more infrastructure to handle this massive surge in biking and scooting but also encourage a way of getting around with less carbon emissions. For it to work well, you need mobility hubs for the shared e-bikes and scooters and private owners to charge off of.”

That helped Swiftmile raise $5 million in July, bringing total funding to $11 million. “It’s really to execute on our pipeline and scale our mobility hubs around the world,” Roche said about how the funds will be used. “We are at the beginning stages of a revolution in e-bikes, scooters, trikes, etc. We hope to become the gas station of the future to help build an ecosystem for these to flourish.”

And whatever became of the Pedego?  

“Yes, I ride it all the time to the store, to work, to our local outdoor brew pub,” Roche said.


Topics associated with this article: Electric bike

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