Business & Tech

Electric bike maker charges into ride-sharing

Superpedestrian chief executive Assaf Biderman said his company will use its new investment money to begin building electric bikes for services than rent bikes.
Stephan Savoia/Associated Press/File 2013
Superpedestrian chief executive Assaf Biderman said his company will use its new investment money to begin building electric bikes for services than rent bikes.

Cambridge-based electric bicycle maker Superpedestrian is charging up on cash, in a bid to become a major supplier of battery-powered bikes for ride-sharing services.

Superpedestrian announced Wednesday it has received $16.5 million in venture funding, in an investment round that includes Tony Fadell, co-inventor of Apple Inc.’s iPod music player and the Nest intelligent thermostat, and Charles Kim of the Chinese investment bank China Renaissance.

Superpedestrian chief executive Assaf Biderman said his company will use the money to begin building electric bikes for services than rent bikes. The company isn’t planning to offer its own bike-sharing service to compete with Blue Bikes of Boston and others. Instead, it will be an arms merchant in the bike-share wars, building electric bikes for any company that wants them.

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“You can come to me and tell me, ‘I want a bike that looks like a flying saucer,’ ” Biderman said. “We’ll make it.”

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Electric bikes are pedaled like regular bikes. But they contain a battery-powered motor that can be used to increase the bike’s speed or help the rider climb steep hills or travel longer distances without fatigue.

Superpedestrian is best known for the Copenhagen Wheel, an electric propulsion system for bikes that it developed in cooperation with the Danish city and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Copenhagen Wheel can help cyclists obtain speeds of 25 miles per hour.

But the red Frisbee-shaped disk that contains the Copenhagen Wheel’s motor, battery, and electronics won’t be a feature of the new electric bikes for the ride-sharing services; they will instead have those various high-tech features distributed throughout the bicycle’s frame.

Biderman said his company also developed cloud-based software that can track the location of each bike in a fleet, and monitor battery power and the condition of the motor and other electronics. That will allow Superpedestrian to diagnose malfunctions before they happen, Biderman said, and in some cases repair them by simply updating the software remotely.

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For now, Biderman won’t say when or where Superpedestrian ride-share bikes will make their debut. But similar electric bikes have already become popular in China. A number of US companies have begun to operate e-bike services, including Uber Technologies and the Ford Motor Co. A California company, LimeBike, said it expects to introduce electric bikes in several Boston suburbs this summer.

Biderman said adding electric motors to shared bikes should sharply increase their popularity. “Regular bike sharing competes with walking. E-bike sharing competes with motorized transportation,” he said. “It’s a lot broader appeal.”

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.