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How An Electric Bike Company Changed Gears And Found Its Purpose

Outrider USA started out as an electric bike manufacturer with fast, race-winning bicycles. What happened when they discovered their real customer was individuals with mobility issues.

How An Electric Bike Company Changed Gears And Found Its Purpose
[Image: Flickr user dleinbach]

Sometimes simply having a cool idea isn’t enough to fuel a company. College friends Tom Ausherman, Jesse Lee and Daniel Rhyne wanted to build the best electric bikes on the planet.

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They formed Outrider USA, a North Carolina electric bike manufacturing company whose primary focus was building fast, record-breaking, race-winning bikes. Faster and better was the company’s driving motto; yet, despite having a winning bike, sales were modest.

Finding a Purpose

“We were very confident in our product but we weren’t meeting our financial [goals],” says Lee. In December 2013, four years into the business, the team was at an all-time low. “There was no gas left in the tank. We were talking about taking on other jobs, supplementing income and transitioning out of the company,” says Lee.

They knew the problem wasn’t their product or the team’s technical expertise in the electric bike industry. It wasn’t until the team received a call from Christopher Wenner, a quadriplegic adventurer, that they discovered what their company’s problem was: their product didn’t have a purpose.

Wenner was an avid cyclist who had broken his neck in a diving accident in high school. For the next 21 years of his life he was certain he would never again get on a bike, yet he was haunted by a recurring dream that he was in a bike shop searching for the right components to build the perfect bike. He didn’t care if he ever walked again, but missed terribly the freedom and exhilaration he’d experienced while riding his bike.

Fascinated by the electric bikes the Outrider team was building, Wenner asked if they would be able to make an adaptive electric trike with special hand controls for people with limited mobility.

After hearing Wenner’s passion for cycling, the Outrider team began to imagine a new path – one that didn’t involve top speeds, but helping people with disabilities experience the joy of cycling. After spending a few days with Wenner, witnessing how he got around and attempting to understand how an electric bicycle would work for him, the Outrider team knew what they needed to do. “The light bulb turned on at that point and we realized where we needed to go,” says Lee.

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With guidance from Wenner, the Outrider team codesigned The Horizon, an adaptive, all-terrain electric bike that can be used by people with disabilities. While the Outrider guys were equipped with the technological knowledge required to build the bike, Wenner brought the experience of living 23 years as a quadriplegic in an electric wheelchair.

“[Wenner] understands the adaptive use industry well and we understand the electric bike industry well. We realized we could play off each other and put together a really effective team,” says Lee.

Collaborating with Wenner was a turning point for Outrider. The change in perspective and purpose bred new life into a business that was ready to close its doors. “Our energy went way up [once we discovered this new purpose for the business],” says Lee. “It’s been incredible to watch these people do something that they could not previously do.”

Through collaborations with Wenner and adaptive sports and rehabilitation centres across the country, Outrider created a truly adaptive bike that could be used by individuals of all abilities. With a tested prototype, the team took to Kickstarter to fund their first production of The Horizon. With 246 backers, the team exceeded their $100,000 goal by 126% and are now well on their way to bringing The Horizon to market.

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While they credit Wenner with helping their company find its purpose, Lee says the biggest lesson the three friends have learned through this process is the importance of listening and being open to a different path. “Coming out of school, we wanted to do things our way. We were building good products but we weren’t doing much listening and we weren’t willing to humble ourselves in any way,” says Lee. Opening their mindsets to a new perspective has given Outrider USA new wheels.

About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction.

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