Last week, Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe confirmed what many of us already knew: the buzzy automaker was exploring the possibility of making its own electric bikes.
If it follows through — and there’s no reason to assume it won’t; an electric mountain bike would fit in nicely with the company’s specific brand of outdoor adventure vehicles — Rivian will face a challenge that many other automakers have also faced, which is how to build a successful micromobility business.
I think there’s no question that Rivian could build a really cool-looking e-bike. The company has certainly made a mark for itself by designing beautifully made and incredibly fun to drive products. But I do think it’s questionable as to whether people would want an e-bike that shares a brand name with a lineup of SUVs and trucks. And if they do, there’s no guarantee that Rivian will be successful in its pursuit.
Rivian is the latest company specializing in bigger vehicles to dip a toe into the world of electric two-wheelers. And there’s some reason to be skeptical. Often, when you hear about car companies releasing their own electric bikes, it’s just a brand licensing deal. (Think Jeep’s e-bike or those Hummer bikes from last decade.) Other times, it’s a much-hyped project that ends up falling victim to corporate cost cutting, like General Motors’ Ariv e-bikes.
Rivian is the latest company specializing in bigger vehicles to dip a toe into the world of electric two-wheelers
But occasionally, something interesting emerges, like Harley-Davidson’s recently released Serial 1 e-bikes. Granted, Harley-Davidson has a better justification for getting into the e-bike biz given that it already specializes in two-wheeled conveyance. But it is still a company that built its brand and its reputation on internal combustion engines, even as it begins to chart a different course for itself.
This is where Rivian could possibly make an argument for itself. The company doesn’t have to reckon with a legacy of making ICE vehicles. Nor does it need to treat its e-bike project as a science experiment in electric motors. It already has a firm footing in that world, making any sort of translation into a smaller form factor less of a heavy lift.
Sure, companies often file trademarks for products they don’t end up using, but the potential for growth in e-bikes is really hard to deny. E-bike sales grew by a whopping 240 percent compared to sales data from two years ago, making it the third-largest cycling category in terms of sales revenue.
Rivian isn’t the only automaker that sees potential in e-bikes. Porsche recently unveiled a pair of high-priced, full-suspension electric mountain bikes, the Sport and the Cross, that it’s making with long-standing partner Rotwild. The German automaker also acquired two e-bike affiliated companies in recent months: Croatian e-bike company Greyp and Fazua, an e-bike drivetrain manufacturer that specializes in lightweight motors. BMW has also released a pair of rad-looking e-bike concepts that may get produced alongside its cyberpunk-looking electric moped.
Even Elon Musk has mused about making a Tesla-branded e-bike
Even Elon Musk has mused about making a Tesla-branded e-bike — but don’t hold your breath waiting for that one.
There are less recognizable but more meaningful links between the auto industry and the world of e-bikes. As noted by Puneeth Meruva in his excellent Flywheel newsletter, Tier-1 supplier Bosch is one of the leading manufacturers of e-bike powertrains. The company has become synonymous with well-crafted, powerful, and premium-priced e-bike motors and seems to have locked most of the legacy bike makers into lucrative deals. And in another sign of the potential for massive growth in e-bike sales, the German company just announced plans to make those motors in the US at a $260 million factory in Charleston, South Carolina.
It’s unclear whether Rivian would go the Porsche / BMW route of building its own e-bike or the Bosch route of making the motors and batteries that could be plugged into other companies’ frames. A lot of people seem to think that the future of e-bikes rests in the hands of the direct-to-consumer brands like Rad Power Bikes, Juiced, Super73, and others. But the legacy bike manufacturers are adapting, evidenced by their spinoffs like Trek’s Electra, Giant’s Momentum, and Specialized’s Globe.
There’s a lot to unpack, and much will depend on whether the e-bike market remains fractured or whether an incumbent eventually emerges to gobble up the majority of the market share. It could be Rivian, or another automaker for that matter — but I wouldn’t count on it.