By Betty Dillard firstname.lastname@example.org
A worldwide movement into the electronic age is steering Fort Worth entrepreneur Paul Jung down a new career path.
Earlier this summer, Jung rolled out Bodhi Bicycles LLC along with wife, Ashlee, and business partner Kirby Smith. The family-owned company makes electric bikes, bicycles just like regular bikes – with handlebars, brakes, pedals and gears – but powered by the addition of a small motor along with a rechargeable battery for a faster, smoother ride.
An idea more than a century old, the e-bike is an evolving and promising alternative form of urban transportation that has exploded in China and is just taking off in Europe and the United States, Jung said.
By far the growing demand for electric-powered motorcycles and scooters – many e-scooters are sold as bicycles so they do not have to be registered – is in China, where one out of every three inhabitants uses two-wheeled transport, according to research firm Pike Research. Many Chinese workers weary of crowded public transport or pedaling long distances to work are ditching traditional bikes and cars for electric two-wheelers.
Pike Research forecasts that the total number of e-motorcycles and e-scooters on the road, worldwide, will increase from 17 million in 2011 to 138 million by 2017. Sales of these vehicles will rise sharply in North America and Europe over the next six years, the firm predicts.
“People in the U.S. still enjoy their cars and SUVs but we’re starting to see a trend toward bicycles, particularly in big cities,” said Jung, a native New Yorker. “More bike paths are being built, including our new ones in Fort Worth. Mayor Price is a great advocate for cycling. More infrastructure is being architected to support bicycling. More people are choosing bicycling as a lifestyle and as part of their transportation in their daily life. As Fort Worth moves to more urban living, we think our bike is perfect.”
Jung’s high-end Bodhi Bikes are not your grandfather’s two-wheeler or even your father’s e-bike.
Carrying a price tag of $2,500, the bikes run the federally regulated 20 miles per hour, and are designed with new technology and a fresh, hip look. The current Sport and Step-Through styles feature a 250-watt electric brushless front-wheel motor powered by a 24-volt lithium-ion removable battery, handcrafted bamboo fenders, a plush saddle, ergonomic grips and a drive train that uses Austin-based NuVinci’s new continuously variable planetary technology for ideal gear ratios.
The power-on-demand system results in miles of fun and zero emissions, Jung says, and is unlike anything available on the market.
While Jung is proud of his bikes’ technical features, he remains focused on their aesthetic and cultural amenities.
“We’re really providing an accessory to people’s lifestyles. Our lifestyle brand is defined by three themes – wellness, family and environment,” Jung explained. “Our bikes can help you reconnect with family and friends. You’ll get a whole different perspective touring outside, and more power going up hills. You can also get a total gym workout outside while protecting the environment and reducing your carbon footprint.”
Wheeling into more advanced technology and different markets is nothing new to 50-year-old Jung, who admits to having a “techie-geek inside of me.”
Jung, a first generation Chinese-American, graduated from New York University with a degree in computer science and economics. He worked six years as a software engineer for a firm in Atlanta and later spent eight years as a tech executive for Taleo Corp., an online talent management company now publicly traded.
Jung met Ashlee in New York, where she was beginning her career as an executive search consultant and where he had returned to become an actor. The couple moved in 2003 to her hometown of Fort Worth as a better environment for their two young children. Before launching Bodhi Bicycles, Jung was running a boutique executive recruitment solutions firm he and Ashlee co-founded.
Although selling electric bikes is a decidedly different career change, Jung says the new endeavor is the just the type of challenge he wanted.
“I decided it was time for a new challenge,” he said. “I have a firm belief in continually challenging yourself. I like to find that next thing to stretch my limits.”
Jung’s interest in e-bikes piqued after a friend introduced him to one.
“I fell in love with it immediately,” he said. “When you get on one you’re taken back to getting on your first two-wheeler as a kid, just feeling that freedom and laughing and smiling.”
Jung and Smith developed a business plan and assembled a board of directors for the company. Both partners oversee sales and customer service activities for their start-up, while Smith also conducts sourcing and manufacturing in China. Paul and Ashlee became the first investors in the company, which has raised about $500,000 from local angel investors.
An ancient story inspired the company’s name, and was chosen to set the tone for the upscale brand.
“Prince Siddhartha sat under a Bodhi tree and meditated,” Jung said. “When he awakened from his meditation he became the first incarnation of the Buddha, an enlightened being. We aspire to the values associated with the Bodhi tree – enlightenment and awakening. Those are themes we think are relevant to who we are,” he said.
Jung said the new technology and the high-end components used help set Bodhi Bicycles apart from its competitors.
“When Kirby and I did the research we realized we had the opportunity to build something different, both in terms of style and in terms of ease of use. It’s still a fairly complex technical machine but at the same time we’ve made it very easy to ride,” Jung said. “That’s one of our key differentiators from our
Currently, the owners are working on a folding e-bike, which is expected to be available next spring.
Additional features being considered for future models include GPS and wireless technology.
The company does not have its own storefront as yet but bikes are available to test ride and buy at Colonel’s Bikes in Fort Worth and Custom Scooters in Plano. Jung said the company is looking to expand to other dealers across Texas as well as nationwide.
“It’s a fun ride. We’re riding the wave of a very nascent industry in the U.S. We think we have a unique product,” Jung said. “My wife and I are trying to create something for the long haul and something we can be passionate about and have fun with, too.”