#Asia Smart bicycle wars: Can underdog SpeedX race past giants Xiaomi and Baidu?

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By delivering sleek and intuitive bicycles built with tech savvy avid cyclists in mind, it believes it can capture a sizeable market share

SpeedX 2

For millions of workers around the world, riding the bicycle isn’t just a recreational activity, it is a legitimate — though sometimes hazardous — means to commute to work.

In fact, in places such as Europe, the US, and Asia, there is a growing demographic of white-collared workers ditching fuel-guzzlers for bicycles. The reason being it is inexpensive–no mulling over oil prices; eco-friendly; there is always space to park, and for free!

Naturally, some entrepreneurs have seized the opportunity to disrupt this space and encourage greater adoption of bicycles. In Singapore, there is at least one startup: ZaiBike, which aims to foster a bike-sharing ecosystem locally.

In bicycle-crazy China, big tech startups such as Xiaomi and Baidu are offering their own solutions, combining tech with bicycles. Just days ago, Xiaomi launched a crowdfunding campaign for their new smart bicycle QiCycle. Smaller startups are also stepping into the game, and their products are no less effective.

Also Read: Xiaomi is expanding their smart transport empire with bicycles

China-based but US-incorporated startup SpeedX is one such example. Tony Gang Li, CEO of SpeedX, believes his bicycle may provide the superior solution  –by appealing to enthusiasts.

e27 speaks to Li to find out more.

Seeking answers on a bicycle tour

Before plunging headfirst into the topsy turvy world of entrepreneurship, Li was living the comfortable corporate life–first as a summer analyst at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, then as a business analyst at Essex Lake Group LLC.

That two gigs lasted for a grand total of nearly two years (ending in September 2013), before Li decided to call it quits and launch his own startup. He rung up his ol’ high school buddy (an ex-Alibaba engineer) Jason Gao and together they founded helloklick – a smart button that attaches to Android phones, allowing users to access important apps at one click. It was acquired by a bigger smart device company 360 in a mere three months.

When deliberating over their next venture, Li and Gao looked inwards and examined their personal interests and struggles.

“When I quit the consulting firm, I was overweight–at 95 kilogram. I said ‘If we own the whole world at the cost of our health, our lives will become meaningless’,” says Li.

Together with helloklick’s team of seven, they embarked on a cycling trip in Hainan and Taiwan spanning one and a half months. And that was when the idea clicked: they would combine their love for cycling and technology, and innovate the bicycle industry.

Building a community of cyclists

While there are already more than 430 million cyclists in China, the Chinese government is still proactively urging people to take up cycling.

“Since 2010, the Chinese government have been promoting a healthy lifestyle. This means putting restrictions on license plates, so you need to wait to get a car–even if you have the money,” says Li.

Also Read: Lumos raises US$809K on Kickstarter for its smart helmet

With the government’s mandate in mind, the SpeedX team developed an app. Users can keep track of their cycling records such as mileage, calories burnt, and time travelled. The SpeedX app also has a social function.

“You can join cycling clubs and share your ride and earn points. During our product launch conference we announced that we’ll promote a healthy way of living, and will inject RMB20 million (US$3.07 million) into cycling competitions this year–all organised through our app.”

Li claims the app has accumulated over 500,000 users currently.

Creating a smart bicycle for enthusiasts

Having launched an app, the team’s next step was to incorporate its tech into a bicycle. Thus, began the development of the SpeedX Leopard.

But therein lies a few hurdles–the big tech players such as Baidu, LeTV, and XiaoMi have launched their own smart bikes.

With large war chests and ample engineering resources at their disposal, some of these smart bicycles have accomplished no small feats of technological advancement; Baidu even has one that generates its own electricity.

So how can a one-year old startup hope to grab a slice of the US$12 billion bicycle market share in China, when these titans storming all over the field?

Well for one, SpeedX’s main business is solely smart bicycles. Xiaomi dabbles in a whole array of technology from air purifiers to Smart TVs, but their core product is smartphones.

Also Read: Why light electric vehicles will outpace cars before you know it

And secondly, SpeedX does not even plan to go head-to-head with these tech companies.

“We focus on the avid cyclist–the cyclist who cares about his/her performance. Our bikes are performance related while the other [tech] brands target a more ‘general’ audience,” explains Li.

“I think our most direct competitors are the ones that also make performance road bikes; think of brands like GIANT, Trek and Specialized,” he adds.

So what does it mean exactly?

SpeedX Leopard

To start off, the SpeedX Leopard features military-grade carbon fiber material which is not only tough but also dampens vibration. In addition, the built is aerodynamic and lightweight at 8.4 kilogram.

SpeedX sought for a design that is organic and intuitive. This led to a partnership with Frog Design Inc–whose more notable designs include the Apple II computer.

“We want to create a simple, but daring look. In an industry dominated by veterans, we’re the third brand to achieve full hidden wiring (no brake cables),” says Li

The end result is a “race-ready SHIMANO 105 drivetrain, TRP fully internal brakes and a T1000 carbon fiber frame, front fork and seatpost.” In simpler terms: it can handle anything from off-road biking to the Tour de France.

The other two brands are priced higher: the TREK Madone 9.2 costs US$5,999 while the Specialized Venge Pro ViAS costs $8200. In comparison, the SpeedX Leopard would retail at only US$2,699.

Also Read: 4 tech products we need to kick out of our lives now!

To get the best out of your bike, SpeedX also provides a Smart Bike Fitting System. Once the order is placed, you can upload a photo of yourself and SpeedX would tailor the model, frame, handle bars and stem to your specifications.

For cyclists who need a more souped up bicycle can go for the SpeedX Leopard Pro, which sports a “Shimano Ultegra Di2″ and a whole bunch of bells and whistles only a cycling enthusiast can decipher.

For the layman (or tech geek), here is the most interesting feature–the Smart Control.

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Basically, it tracks and records your cycling data including speed, time, distance, power, altitude, weather and slope, providing a analysis that is displayed all on 2.4 inch screen.

The data analysis is then incorporated into the inbuilt cycling training programme XCoach, which makes recommendations on challenges you can complete and ranks you against other users.

And it’s all powered by a battery pack embedded inside the seat post. SpeedX claims it can last for 80 hours on a single charge.

Hitting pay dirt

The final product was the result of 1560 sketches, 12 different prototypes and one year of effort. But it looks like it was well worth it.

Its Kickstarter campaign has raised over US$175,000, with 29 days on the calendar.

It is also raising funds on a China-based crowdfunding platform JD-Finance, garnering over RMB 10.8 million (US$1.66 million). In contrast, Xiaomi’s smart bicycle QiCYCLE has only raised RMB 3.5 million (US$537,000) through crowdfunding.

SpeedX also has grabbed the attention of major investment firms. It received an angel investment of US$1 million from Zhenfund, a Series A from RMB50 million (US$7.67 million) from Innovation Works. And recently, it raised another round from Xing-Jinding Fund, worth RMB30 million (US$4.62 million).

Clearly, smart bicycle technology is in vogue in China.

Future plans

Li says he plans to open a SpeedX office in the US. He also plans to launch other smart bicycle gear such as smart locks, helmets, and more apps.

Right now, SpeedX may have raised plenty of funds, but will its tough-as-nails smart bicycle survive the real stress test–long term market traction?

Image Credit: SpeedX

The post Smart bicycle wars: Can underdog SpeedX race past giants Xiaomi and Baidu? appeared first on e27.

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