It’s both one of the world’s strangest bicycles and astonishingly popular on Kickstarter: Halfbike II by Kolelinia has raised $973,764 on a $50,000 goal.
Halfbike II looks like an odd crossover between a unicycle and a skateboard, and is ridden standing. Riders turn by using their weight and leaning one way or another. The experience, illustrated in videos of people jumping obstacles and performing acrobatics with the contraption, is something in between skiing, biking, and skateboarding. The bike is also foldable and weighs less than 18 lbs., to make it more transportable.
Halfbike II cost $349 through the Kickstarter campaign–and will retail for $599. Halfbike I, the previous model, cost $900 retail.
Halfbike’s designers, Martin Angelov and Mihail Klenov, two young architects living in Sofia, Bulgaria, market the vehicle as a new type of urban transportation, as well as a recreational device.
“I think the key to our success is this completely new biking experience we created, which can hardly be compared to any other sport,” says Angelov. “I think people are curious.”
The idea for a standing bike first occurred to them when they were studying architecture together in 2010. It was just one of several alternative cycling concepts they considered. They loved biking and had a strong interest in new types of urban commute. As aspiring architects, they were keen to show off their design skills at a bicycle design competition, for which they produced an early sketch of a standing bike with a single wheel at the back.
They didn’t win an award at the contest–and for a couple of years, nothing happened.
“I did different things after I graduated. I worked as an architect and as a web designer, and for a couple of years the designs were simply sitting in a file,” says Angelov. “At some point, however, we became too curious how it would look in real life.”
They cut up some old bicycles in their free time–hence the name Halfbike–and started experimenting. “The first prototype was totally unrideable and ridiculous,” he laughs. “It would tilt to one side immediately when you tried to ride it.”
Then they swapped the single rear wheel for a skateboard axle, and started experimenting with different ways of turning. The next models were rideable, if barely. “Then it became like a game–you reach new levels and this opens new possibilities.”
It took over a year to figure out the main engineering challenges: the pedals, the back wheels, the height of the handle, the frame. Angelov had access to a small workshop at the architectural bureau where he worked, and that provided him with valuable experience working with different materials. The rest of Halfbike, they achieved through trial and error.
By early 2014, they were ready for their first Kickstarter campaign. They barely met their target, but gained valuable experience and attracted worldwide attention. Among their more successful publicity stunts was a press release, complete with pictures and videos, they sent out to media worldwide, including Fast Company.
“Many of them picked up the story and it went viral,” says Angelov. “Writing the text was one of the more challenging tasks for us, because neither of us had any experience with this. But we knew that this is how you market a product.”
On the production side, making the first batch of 100 bicycles during the 2014 campaign was an invaluable experience. “It was like a bootcamp,” Angelov adds. The most important lesson they learned was how to streamline the production better, making more parts locally and ordering other parts in proper sequence. For the 2015 Kickstarter, they also changed the frame and some of the other components. This all helped lower the price point for their product.
Now the biggest challenge is boosting the production capacity sufficiently to accommodate the unexpected fundraising success. “It’s one thing to build 100 bicycles in a year, and quite another to build over 2,000,” says Angelov.
But they are rapidly expanding their workshops, and he is confident that together with his old friend and colleague Mihail, they will make it on time. “The most important thing for me is to have a good team you can trust,” he adds. “Otherwise it’s simply impossible to do this kind of thing.”
As for the success of their Kickstarter campaign, Angelov could not be happier. “We are overjoyed,” he says.
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