Built from bottom-up, this Coimbatore electric bike is funded by the people

Spero is India’s first crowd funded e-bike, raising a sum of Rs 30 lakh
Built from bottom-up, this Coimbatore electric bike is funded by the people
Built from bottom-up, this Coimbatore electric bike is funded by the people

It seems that the electric bike market in the country is finally showing some signs of life, with 2016 witnessing two e-bike startup launches. In February, Ather, a Bengaluru-based company, was launched with funding from the founders of Flipkart and venture capital investment firm, Tiger Global, to the tune of Rs 81.6 crore. On the other hand, Spero, took to crowd funding to raise a sum of Rs 30 lakh, making it India’s first crowd funded e-bike.

A management graduate by education but an engineer by practice, Spero’s founder, Shanmugasundaram Manikandan, is also the Managing Director of Milltex Engineers Pvt Ltd, a company that has been dealing in textile machinery spares and innovation kits for almost four decades.    

“We are not from that league to convince someone to give us a few million dollars with just thoughts and ideas. We come from a brick and mortar family. I put my savings into this idea and made a prototype,” says Manikandan explaining why he resorted to crowd funding.

Spero’s crowd funding has already raised Rs 38,64,800 from 146 funders with some pre-ordering the vehicle and others contributing as little as Rs 100 for the idea. Manikandan is completely overwhelmed by this.  

“The fact that we had people contributing money not to own a Spero but for the idea was visible when you had people contributing Rs 100, Rs 500, and Rs 1000. Hats off to those people! According to our charter we cannot give them a Spero but in return I can give the market a good product, a good business opportunity for people,” he says.

Indeed, he’s overcome with emotion over those who contributed the smallest amounts. “Our heart actually bleeds – a person who spent Rs 100 would have aspired to own a Spero but couldn’t; this is all he could set aside. Wonderful! We are taking this small token with humility.”

He also points out that out of the 99 people who have pre-ordered Speros only 30 have taken a test ride on it. Others, he says, have just seen the Spero online. “They have not even seen Spero in real life. This is amazing! We are not Amazon selling the One Plus. We are Spero and Milltex.”

The makers of Spero are insistent that every feature of the bike must be useful for its owner and have tried to keep things as simple as possible.  

“There is a general theory that we use only 30% of our smartphone’s features. Even Steve Jobs might not have used all applications that were available in an Apple product. We do not want that to happen in the case of Spero. We would like people to use all the features.”

Manikandan is quite confident that Spero is going to act as a benchmark in the electric two-wheeler segment. “For a simple electric bike, a pedaler (bicycle), this is the platform. People will not accept anything inferior to this anymore,” says Manikandan adding that the Spero will officially be launched in September.

What inspires his confidence is not theoretical knowledge of how an electric bike can be manufactured but know-how gathered by trial and error, he says.

“The problem was that we were neither cycle manufacturers nor electrical experts. We were mechanical people. But cycle making is just geometry and putting things together. We tried a lot of combinations. We made a few, pedaled them. We bought a few from the market, broke them down. We understood minute things – raw material, thickness, tubes, etc. We learnt it the hard way. But the cycle was just one aspect. The other was electrical. We split our team into two. The heart, the battery, was separated from the soul, the finesse. After about 9 to 12 months we had both ready.”   

While Manikandan wants to go global with the Spero, he affirms that it “shall not be done at the cost of the aspiring Indian”. The first priority will be India, he says, adding that by March 2020 they will have a presence in every Indian city.

Spero has the distinction of being the first Indian e-bike that uses regenerative braking technology. The energy that gets wasted while braking is redirected to charge the battery. The Li-ion battery also gets recharged when the rider is pedaling.    

Spero also boasts of a digital interface through which the rider can “talk to the Spero.” The interface will let the rider set speed limits, disable power from the battery, and display information such as battery capacity and motor temperature.

There is also a cruise control activated when the Spero is driven at a constant speed for six seconds. “When cruise control takes over you can let your wrist relax,” explains Manikandan.

Manikandan wonders how Coimbatore missed being an automobile hub and hopes that Spero can help build the city’s brand.

“The spirit of Coimbatore does not just mean entrepreneurship; it also means automobiles. People from Coimbatore like Karivardan and Narain Karthikeyan, GKS Sir (Lakshmi Mills founder GK Sundaram Naidu), ELGI Sir (ELGI founder LRG Naidu), have all been auto enthusiasts. I fail to understand how Coimbatore missed becoming an auto cluster. It is a golden opportunity. I thought, why not give it a try. We chose electric because that is the future.”

In e-mobility Manikandan sees a solution to global warming. “The hybrid has already been positioned, but has not taken off. Electric has lost momentum. Now is the time to come back with a bang and say electric is the future. For e-mobility to grow there has to be a people’s movement. We can’t wait till the end to make a change.”

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