E-bike manufacturer SONDORS shocked the world last week when it unveiled its 80 mph (130 km/h) and $5,000 SONDORS Metacycle. It was the first affordably priced electric motorcycle that promised street-legal highway riding and enough range for nearly any reasonable commute.
But as epic as it was, the unveiling left us with plenty of questions. So I sat down with company founder Storm Sondors and product director Matt Irish to get the answers to the most common questions we saw about the Metacycle.
First, a bit of background ahead of our conversation.
The naysayers and doubters were many (and I was admittedly one of them way back then), but SONDORS followed through and actually delivered the goods. They proved they could do more than talk the talk – they walked the walk.
Since then SONDORS has gone on to sell over 100,000 electric bicycles, focusing on affordable designs that simply get more butts on seats.
Matt Irish joined SONDORS after getting his start in the electric two-wheeler industry at Zero Motorcycles, where he was one of the first dozen employees back in 2008. He also worked at Ducati, though we’ll forgive him for his gas-going ways as he eventually wound up at SONDORS, where he played a major role in bringing us the Metacycle.
And I guess while I’m doing introductions: Hi, I’m Micah Toll. I’m a green energy nerd specializing in two-wheeled electric vehicles since 2010, and I’ve been writing for Electrek for the last three years or so.
Cool. So now without further ado, let’s get to this Q&A.
Micah Toll: Thank you both for joining me and taking the time to discuss the SONDORS Metacycle in more detail. Our readers and viewers had a pile of questions for you guys, and I threw a few more in myself. One of the main topics for questions and comments was your pre-sale strategy, with either the $5,000 upfront payment or seven monthly payments for a bike that won’t be available for nine months. Can you tell me more about the strategy there?
Storm Sondors: So, there are a couple different thoughts going on there. First of all, there are a lot of people who can create a product in this category. E-bikes, motorcycles, you name it. But what’s difficult to identify is if there’s a market for that product. I’m not the smartest guy in the room, but I’m the smartest guy in the room when it comes to knowing my limitations. I recognize that just because I touch something, I don’t necessarily have the god’s touch to make a hit product, that every time it will sell to thousands of people.
So, yeah, originally the pre-selling strategy was because of money, so we could raise the money for production, tooling, ordering components, etc. But now it’s almost more to verify that there is indeed a market for the product I’m creating. Developing a new product takes a lot of time, and time is the most valuable thing I have. If I launch a product and I see there isn’t demand, I can scrap it and move on because I have a hundred other ideas in my head that I can allocate that time to. So in this case it was more about gauging demand, and also since this is a new category for us, we needed to make sure there are enough people that this product makes sense for to plunk down the deposit or entire amount. And to be clear, you don’t need to pay the entire amount right now, you can just put down the deposit. And so that tells you as well that we aren’t just hungry for cash to make sure we have all the funds in the bank before we do something.
So demand was the number-one reason behind this. But that said, probably in year two, year three, year four when we start catching up with the production, I’m sure we’re going to have some in stock. But that’s like three years from now, you know what I mean? Right now for the first three years I see everything being built just on a pre-order basis.
The pre-sales also help us reduce prices, probably by around as much as 30%, because we aren’t buying excess steel, aluminum, battery cells, and other components. That’s my rough estimate, cost-wise, if you were to start having to buy excess materials in advance with loans, paying interest, or with a revolving credit line. So from a cost aspect as well, the issue of affordability becomes so much more real when you do it under this type of model.
Micah: That definitely makes sense. So moving on, I think the next most common question I saw from our readers and viewers was about that negative space in the frame. So many people wanted to know if there was going to be a storage option to put some kind of storage box in there?
Storm: So let me give you a little bit of context here first about how the SONDORS Metacycle was born. It wasn’t born yesterday or a day before or a month before. I was looking to build, for marketing purposes, a very high-performance e-bike. Because you know we make these very affordable e-bikes that we build for the masses. We don’t build ultra-premium e-bikes like Trek or someone else. So I said to our design team, I want a really high-performance e-bike with all the bells or whistles. Like even, Matt, what’s are those Bluetooth brakes I wanted?
Matt Irish: Yeah, like all these crazy high-end parts we were looking at.
Storm: So I was looking at all of our design concepts and I really loved this one, which had very much the same frame like you see now, except incorprorated in an electric bicycle. And for e-bikes, we always think about storage, and so there’s a perfect space for a bag in that hollow space. That was in our original concept, a removable bag to put there in the e-bike or attach whatever you prefer.
And so in the SONDORS Metacycle, it’s going to be the same thing. There’s going to be a hard case bag there. And Matt, can you share the details on the three options? Maybe you take it from here so I’m not making crap up about the details.
Matt: Yeah, so you’re correct there Micah, and we’ve actually gotten that question a lot as well. And so there are going to be three insert accessories there. One is a hard case bag that inserts into the space. One will be a range extender battery. I don’t know the exact size yet but probably 3 kWh, so you end up with about 7 kWh total of battery. And the third option will be a charger for public stations, a level 2 charger insert.
Micah: Okay, so now you’ve actually just answered two of my next questions, which were going to be how you were handling the J1772 plug for public charging stations and whether there’d be an optional range extender battery.
Matt: Right, so yeah, the public charging option is an accessory, it will be an insert charger. And we’ll have the range extending battery as well.
Storm: And Micah, these options are really based on our experience from the e-bike side. Not on the motorcycle side as much. Because again, if we’re going to saturate the market like we did with our e-bikes, then we want to stay ahead of the curve. We don’t want to do be doing what we did with e-bikes where we needed to catch up, where it was like, “Oh we forgot this” or “Oh we forgot that.” So we are just taking whatever is very predictable right now and assuming it won’t change much in the next few years and we’ll incorporate it into the current model. So like public charging stations, they are here to stay and will only grow, so it’s like an easy checkmark to include it.
Micah: So I know when I ride motorcycles, I like to grip the “tank” area with my knees and thighs, and a lot of other riders do too. But with the SONDORS Metacycle, there’s empty space there. So what is that like to ride? How does it feel? Will that be an odd thing for conventional riders to get used to?
Matt: That’s a fair question. It’s actually – the only real way I can describe it is just that it isn’t very different. That backbone of the frame there that’s between your knees when you’re on the bike, it’s in a really natural position where the tank would be on a motorcycle.
And if you think of most motorcycles, the tank either narrows or is sculpted for your knees, and so honestly it feels really natural. It just feels like a motorcycle, though it’s very easy and light because the weight is so low. And so it feels like riding a small, light motorcycle. You can grip it well, you can lean over and kind of use your inside knee to grab the “tank” space just like you would on a regular bike.
Micah: We saw a huge response to the SONDORS Metacycle outside the US as well. Is this going to be limited to US customers, or will you look at international options as well?
Storm: So we’re shipping our e-bikes to 45 countries now and we have a decent perspective in terms of shipping and regulations, customs, ports, etc. So I would say Europe is our priority, so we’ll focus on Europe right now as a market. And I think we’ll start taking deposits only – we won’t take any full payments from Europeans at this stage – but I think we’re going to start either today or tomorrow taking $100 deposits from Europe.
For the rest of the world, we don’t have any plans outside of the possibility of private imports. For other countries, people can theoretically buy from us from our California warehouse and then do their own private import. There are companies that specialize just in that, combining products in containers and shipping for cheaper. So that could be an option but we’re not really promoting that. The people that know, they know how to do that. And they just say, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll do the local pickup in California,” and then it winds up in some random place, and we’re like, “holy crap, how did it get there?”
And so Europe is our priority, also since the culture there is more motorcycle-friendly. And we’ve looked at the regulations and it’s really pretty straightforward for the European market. It’s not like India where it gets really complicated. And we want to go after easy markets and saturate those before we go after exotic places and create a headache there.
Micah: So speaking of regulations, let’s talk about the legality of the SONDORS Metacycle. Have you guys gone through the NHTSA process? We’ve seen issues raised about some areas of the bike, like lighting, reflectors, and such, that might be questionable.
Storm: Yeah, we’re going through that process. And Matt, I think we’re almost done with that process, right?
Matt: Yeah, we’re almost finished with that process. And there will be some tiny things like some turn signals and such that will move around a bit from what you guys saw. But no major changes. No funky design swaps. Just some really minor things that we’ll have to refine.
Storm: Yeah, and what you saw in the unveil is the one that has gone through approvals, so if I just decided at the end of the day that I somehow like a button to be gray instead of black, those are the kind of things that you’re going to see changed. But now even after months of looking at the bike, we’ve gone through all the changes of what I wanted to change, so we’ve gone through changes without anyone ever seeing what kind of evolutions we’ve done, except for the internal team.
Battery removal process?
Micah: So let’s talk about that battery now. I have to imagine a 4 kWh battery is going to be pretty heavy. Can you tell me how that removal process works?
Matt: Yeah, so you can see in some of the photos that there’s a keyhole in the front center of the vented area. That’s actually a pushpin that locks the battery into the bike. And so you if you undo that pin lock, the whole battery slides out of the bike. And you’re right, it’s 54 pounds or something like that, it’s not incredibly light, you’re not going to toss it over your shoulder and run up the stairs or something like that. But it is removable and it does have a handle so you can carry it once you slide it out. It’s not some unbearable thing.
And the thought was, well back in the early days of Zero I used to have to go to a hotel and park the bikes, and so I’d be in like downtown Milan for a show and have to run an extension cord down from a hotel room window to charge the bike. And so it’s not that removing the battery is something that everyone is going to do all the time, but it does give you that ability if you need it. It does two things: It lets you bring the battery inside to charge it if you have to. It also lets you take the battery inside if you have to park it on the street, so you keep the most valuable piece of it with you. So there’s a security thing there, too. It’s just convenience and security.
Micah: Another question that I saw a lot from our audience was about user-adjustable settings, like regenerative braking settings or power and throttle adjustments, etc. Any plans to allow riders to tinker around in there?
Matt: Not as we ship the bike. All of those things will be programmed and set.
Storm: You know, Micah. Just seeing from the e-bikes side all the madness with what goes on out there with user mods. Technically we can’t get involved in that because of the insurance liabilities, you know what I mean? And I’m going to say that you’ll probably see some crazy stuff out there, people doing customizations, but our position will be “you can’t do that.” But at the same time, we’re not locking anything. And even if you did, you know the codes are pretty easy.
Matt: Yeah, people find their way in anyways…
Storm: These days, let’s be honest, there are tons of smart kids out there that can figure stuff out. And that’s perfectly fine. So our official position is that it’s ready, it’s tuned to the best performance you can possibly do. But to be honest, you’re going to see a ton of groups out there, Facebook groups, owners groups, and you’ll be like, “How did they do that? I want to see that!”
And it’s so conducive to it, but I don’t even want to go there! I can already see it!
Micah: So when it comes to the range, I imagine that 80-mile range figure is at city speeds, unless I’m wrong on that?
Matt: No, no, you’re correct there. The 80 miles is a typical use case of city operations, daily commute type operations. And we have tested that number, you can get that.
Storm: And that’s at 45 mph.
Matt: Yeah, an average travel speed of 40-45 mph gets you around 80 miles out of the bag.
Storm: And if you do more like city traffic riding, you’ll get way more. I know when I rode in LA, you know I couldn’t go 40 or 45 mph all the time, it was a lot of stop and go. And so that’s the range that we’ve tested, and so you know what our standards are.
Micah: Oh yeah, for sure, and I tried to make that clear to people too, that you can’t expect to get that range at highway speeds. But can I ask, are you guys interested in wagering a highway speed range estimate?
Storm: Not right now, I wouldn’t do it right now.
Matt: We’re going to eventually do some various range tests with published results, so you can see at this average speed, you can go about this far, and at that speed you can go about that far, etc. But you know Micah, you’ve covered electric vehicles long enough. The way it goes is that whatever you say about range, you’re always wrong. So the “up to 80 miles” thing is a realistic, real-world average, and that was number I was comfortable hanging my hat on after doing this for so long. Quoting other numbers at higher speeds, well, there are just so many variables…
Storm: And just so you know, from behind the scenes, we did drop to 80 from 100. We didn’t go to 80 from 60, which is typically what a lot of companies do. This was like, listen, we know in the right conditions it can doo 100+ but we’ll claim 80 so that way if someone gets 75, at least they’re closer to 80 than they are to 100.
And here’s what we do to mitigate this. I know about this from e-bikes, and of course you do too, but most people ask about range even though most people will never use the full range to the potential that it’s available. And it’s a psychological thing. But we have a really easy solution to that for all these people that are stuck in “range mode” and that’s why we have the extended range battery option. And there will be people that even buy a second battery to keep in their office which is a 20 mile commute away. And we’re like, “Why…?” But again, there’s always going to be people that feel they need more range. And so we don’t want to get involved in debates with people about range, we’ll just give them the additional tools if they want them. And the range extender battery can basically be like a security blanket, it’s more psychological.
The SONDORS three-wheeled electric car
Micah: So that’s about it, the last thing I wanted to do was to push my luck and see if I can squeeze out any more info from you about the three-wheeled electric car, the SONDORS EV you’re working on.
Storm: Yea, so, so, we, ummm… rubs face. Man, look at this, Matt!
Matt: “eh, eh, eh” laughs while imitating Storm’s stalling
Micah: laughs nervously, hoping I can still get some details
Storm: laughing, Don’t they say about people who scratch their face after the question…
Matt: Take him to Vegas, now you know his tell!
Storm: Yeah I should definitely not be playing the cards. Ok, so, Matt knows better, but so we partially raised the funds to do the generation two pre-series vehicle, and I covered the missing part personally, so we completed the vehicle around, I guess it was Thanksgiving, right Matt?
Matt: Yeah, yeah.
Storm: And we got it back in LA, it’s probably right now in the port, right Matt?
Matt: Yeah, it’s either in customs or it’s in the-
Storm: In customs today or tomorrow, yeah. And what we’re going to do right now in California is putting the battery pack in. Because now it’s in the floor. Back in the day it was up front. And also the powertrain we’ve tested. We went with the all-wheel-drive configuration as well on this one. So the evolution is better, you know. You’ve got an e-bike and then you’ve got a motorcycle and now you’ve got like a covered winter vehicle, right? Or something that has kinda of like a snow mobile feel to it, versus just a front or rear wheel drive three-wheeler, which is a tough gig in weird weather conditions. So it’s all wheel drive, it’s done. And it’s, what else is going to be in it? We’re also putting in level 2 autonomy.
Matt: Yeah we’re installing the level 2 autonomy stuff, and then just doing all the tuning associated with that. You know, so basically it’s got some time with the engineers between the battery install and the level 2 autonomy install, but it’s fast approaching.
Micah: And so that will be essentially the production prototype at that point?
Storm: It will be eighty… seven percent production prototype at that point.
Micah: Laughs, Ok 87%, can I quote you on that?
Storm: Yeah, and the reason I’m saying 87% after I did my calculations is that I want to simplify this by 13%, not to add something. You know, Tesla originally had some issues with body panels and things not matching too well and there were too many parts to begin with. So that 13% is actually a reduction in parts, which I hope to see in a full production vehicle. Because, it goes back to the same thing. You know, the reason why I think we’re going to sell a ton of SONDORS Metacycles is because of the ease of production. That’s what really makes the difference.
And it’s the same for this car. Because we’re never going to have these fancy factories like GM has. So it’s going to come into clean warehouses where you basically just have plug-and-play type of situations, so if you can imagine Boeing, the way the fuselage comes together, the front , the middle, you know. That is the play. It’s what I really challenge us everyday to do, because that’s what I’m really excited about. That’s what lets me put out a ton of electric vehicles because it is easier to produce them. And that’s where I think we’re going to excel better. Not directly in the car arena, but with these alternative things. The SONDORS Metacycle, the three-wheeler, etc. But of course it’s going to take some time.
We’re going to let the Metacycle now take the limelight for a while and we don’t want to interfere with the autocycle, but we’ll probably do the unveil in probably three months from now. You know, we’ll give it a really good, you know, drive it hard for a while…
Matt: Shake it down for a bit.
Storm: Yeah, we know we’ll be shaking it down a lot so we’re even putting a clear shield over the paint so we’ll can pull it off later after we beat it around for a while. And that’s how you’ll know the unveil is going to take place, once we take the clear shield off the paint.
Micah: Awesome, so that actually covers all the questions I had for you guys. Is there anything I didn’t ask about though that you’d like to share?
Matt: One quick thought to build on what Storm was just saying about the way the autocycle comes together too, and the big deal that goes back to the price point on Metacycle and everything else, is the forethought that goes into the design to make that possible. We really went out of our way to minimize components, simplify things, boil this thing down to the essence of the motorcycle. You know, what do you really need? You need a motor… you need a battery… you know. And so that’s how we’re achieving this goal too. People are like “how is it only five thousand bucks” and well the answer is that “there isn’t that much too it”. And there’s sort of a brilliance to that, because its actually very difficult to remove that much excess and boil it down that much. So that’s really where the effort and time and energy went into this thing and how we’re able to do this.
Storm: And on my end, what’s most exciting about this whole process is I really want to see if we can get back to two wheels as a form of real transportation again versus just a weekend kind of aspect or anything else. Because I felt like what was missing was something everyone could use, women, guys, everyone. Where there’s no pretentious aspect and it’s not intimidating, there isn’t attitude, because it’s so freaking cool. You can’t make it any cooler than this.
And also something that will help is that with the SONDORS Metacycle, I feel like anytime you pull up next to a car, they’re not going to want to run you down, they’ll look at it as something cool. You know, when you pull up next to someone in a Ducati, they immediately want to run you down and so you’re constantly being terrorized. But what we noticed with our fat tires bikes when we launched those was suddenly people weren’t trying to run us off the road, they were slowing down to get a better look and were more like, “That’s interesting, I want to check that out.” People suddenly started to respect us. I feel the same thing will happen with Metacycle where riders will have a much more positive experience riding it. Because once that car driver pulls up next to it, he wants to slow down, ask you questions and interact with you instead of just run you down. So that’s my vision and I just hope it plays out the way I envision it.
Micah: For sure, I’m 100% with you there. I do so much advocacy trying to promote two-wheeled vehicles as complete commuter vehicles that can replace cars on the road, not just serve as fun runabouts, which they can be too.
Storm: Exactly, why can’t you combine the fun with the transportation? People always feel like it has to be one or the other. We don’t just want an electric car parking lot on the 405. It’s great to see people driving electric cars, but then if it just turns traffic from a gas car parking lot on the freeway to an electric car parking lot, I mean what the hell, man? But anyways, I’ve got to run guys. Micah, that was fun – anything else, just send me questions and I’ll get back to you.
Micah: Awesome, thank you guys both, Storm and Matt, for taking the time!
All: speaking goodbyes over one another followed by the usual few awkward seconds of searching for the “close chat” button
So there you have it, everyone. Full answers about the SONDORS Metacycle, straight from the horses’ mouths. What do you think? Is the bike for you? Do you still have unanswered questions? Let us know in the comments section below!
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