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Flywheel: Zoomo's UL Certification w/ Alan Wells | Vehicles from Cowboy, Yuba, Rad Power, Lectric, & Jack Rabbit
Exploring Zoomo's UL certification journey & featuring the top 5 vehicles of the week
Welcome to Flywheel, a weekly exploration of the owned and used micromobility. Each newsletter will highlight an observation of trends emerging in the industry and feature five of the most interesting used vehicles being sold in the secondary market.
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The observation of the week explores Zoomo’s UL certification journey with Alan Wells. This week’s featured vehicles are a tech-forward commuter, two longtail cargo bikes, a rugged SUV of ebikes, and a mini escooter-ebike hybrid.
Observation of the Week
Zoomo’s UL Certification Journey with Alan Wells
UL certification has recently become a hot topic of discussion, particularly in response to the series of ebike battery fires that have been reported around the country. The UL certification process is still somewhat of an opaque mystery to most people in the sector, and, to date, there’s still only a limited number of brands that have gotten their vehicles certified. One of the earliest companies to work on UL certification is logistics-focused ebike brand and rental-provider Zoomo. On this week’s Flywheel, I interviewed Zoomo’s VP of Product Alan Wells about their UL certification journey. Please welcome Alan:
“What prompted Zoomo’s decision to get the Ul certification, and what was the tipping point where you realized this was something that Zoomo had to do?”
“That decision actually predated my time at Zoomo, so Zoomo was one of the earlier brands to be interested in the certification. The company has been working on it since before March of last year when I joined the company. Zoomo has both B2B commercial fleet customers and individual courier customers, and the founders and the R&D team saw that there was starting to be an interest from the commercial front. More specifically on the B2B side, as larger companies started adopting ebikes for commercial use (delivery, and logistics), there was a really high focus on safety-related certifications for the vehicles. They're more informed buyers than your typical individual courier, and they were interested in UL certification (both at a vehicle and battery level) well before any regulation mandated it (i.e. regulators cracking down in NYC).”
“It seems like, at least at the beginning, Zoomo’s product was built on bikes from other OEMs. Now it seems like the company has started to design their own vehicles. What's the current distribution of the fleet in terms of custom designed ebikes and ones bought from other suppliers?”
“Going back to its beginnings, Zoomo started out as a side hustle for the two founders in Australia. They were working in the food delivery space and just saw this need in the market for couriers to access ebikes in a really easy way, but the initial purchase price was a really significant barrier. Given that the ebikes were so much better for delivery riders than traditional bikes, the first product that Zoomo introduced was basically just an off-the-shelf (OTS) bike from another manufacturer with some courier-related accessories offered via a subscription. But, it quickly became pretty apparent during that time that these OTS, more consumer focused bikes were not really purpose built for delivery riders. Our typical customers ride 4-8hrs a day if they’re doing a lot of delivery work and, in some B2B cases, fleets have multiple shifts of riders riding the same bike so one bike might see 14-16hrs a day of utilization. The consumer bikes just didn't hold up under that kind of use. So Zoomo then started to design its own customized bike products, built specifically for the delivery use case. The vast majority of bikes in our fleet today are Zoomo-designed bikes that are built to be a bit more durable, have integrated rear racks, attachment points for other cargo accessories, typically beefier brakes, thicker tires, and other things that high usage delivery riders really need. We do still operate third party vehicles, but they’re more so in larger form factors (i.e. Urban Arrow for front loader cargo bikes and EAV for quadricycles).”
“Has Zoomo already received any UL Certification? If so, how many of the Zoomo-designed bikes out there today already have it?”
“Yes, we've received the certification already and, around this time last year, we received our first batch of UL 2849 certified bikes. Our fleet is still a mix of UL 2849 certified bikes and bikes that don't have that certification. The way these certifications work is that they’re specific both to the product and to the manufacturer that builds the product. So for contract manufacturers, you have to get every factory, every manufacturing partner, and really the whole kind of supply chain behind the bike inspected and approved by UL to be certified. So, we have produced and are continuing to produce UL 2849 bikes, but we do still have some bikes produced over the last couple of years that are not certified.”
“Could you dive a little deeper into what the UL certification process looks like and talk about some of the steps involved?”
“UL reviews your existing product and comes up with a number of changes that you have to make to meet the standard. The first set of these changes is around materials selection. For example, certain types of plastic are required to meet the UL certification. So, even if you already have an existing part design and have already acquired the tooling, you may still need to switch to a different type of plastic that is UL certified. Another set of changes is around connectors and wiring harnesses. There are requirements on the materials that the wiring harnesses are made of, the type of connectors that are used, etc.
Once you make these changes and do the supply chain work of finding all of those UL certified inputs into your product, there’s an extensive inspection process. All of the factories that are building your product need to have a UL representative inspect them. That UL person will not only confirm that all of the raw materials, supplies, and subcomponents that go into the product are actually UL certified components, they will also inspect the way in which they’re handled/assembled and ensure that there’s a certain level of safety engineering rigor.
There’s also a fair bit of requirements and changes on the electronics and firmware side, so it's not just about the materials of the components. It's ultimately quite complex. End-to-end, the process for us took about a year to go from deciding to get UL certified to having our first batch of certified vehicles produced and in-market. We worked really closely with UL, and we were lucky to have a great UL representative that helped guide us through the process.”
“From the steps that you mentioned, it seems like a lot of the certification work is front loaded before manufacturing the vehicles. Is there any kind of testing that UL does with the final product either before you start selling it or maybe after it’s on the road for a while?”
“All that upfront work is to even get to the point where you can build a product that you believe should be eligible for certification. Part of that supply chain verification is what you do after your initial production run, and part of it you do during each production run, depending on the frequency that you're refreshing the production. UL will inspect each product that gets built every time the production process changes before giving that certification. So there’s a closed loop in that sense. There’s some testing that happens when you start mass production with initial candidates coming off that production line, and there's an ongoing relationship with UL where they continue to inspect the factory and continue to audit things. They don't, to my knowledge, take vehicles that have been sold into the market and then test them after use. What’s coming off the production line is the last checkpoint for a vehicle.”
“For those initial sample batches, what kind of testing are they doing? For example, are they testing the product under certain vibrations or conditions, cycling the batteries, etc.?”
“The UL certified bike spec, UL 2849, actually also requires a UL certified battery, UL 2271. So you have to bring a UL 2271 certified battery into a bike that is otherwise UL 2849 ready and compliant, and then those two things get tested together as a combination. The battery certification UL 2271 goes through a series of shock, vibration, water ingress, and other IP rating (Ingress Protection Rating) type tests. The manufacturers of the subcomponents that go into your products also have to provide some assertions or documentation around their approach to safety engineering (i.e. what kind of FMEA analysis or other safety-focused engineering work have they done). You’ll have to look at UL’s standards to get an exhaustive list.”
“In Zoomo’s case, did you use an OTS battery pack that was already UL 2271 certified and just did the Ul 2849 system level certification, or did you do the battery certification work as well?”
“We worked on both in parallel. We worked with our battery pack manufacturer to get a UL 2271 certified battery pack in the market because they didn’t have one available yet. Affordable certified battery packs didn’t really exist when we started the certification process. Then we combined that pack with a UL 2849 certified bike to have a fully certified bike product.”
“How much leeway do you have to change something on your product before its certification is no longer valid and you need to get re-certified? Does Zoomo just need to indefinitely have a team that constantly works on UL re-certification every time you refresh the product?”
“The short answer is yes, you have to refresh the certification every time you modify the product. Similarly, if you want to source from different contract manufacturers, or if you want to change any components on your product, you also have to refresh the certification. We haven't yet gone through a certification refresh, but we’ve learned from our initial conversations with UL that the complexity of the recertification depends on the degree of changes made to your product. So if design changes are being made to the product, the process might be equivalent to effectively certifying a new product. But say there's a component in your supply chain that hits end-of-life and you're just finding a replacement that is very similar, you will still have to re-certify but the process will likely be less complicated and will take less time.”
“What were the most challenging parts of going through UL certification? What were things that maybe you thought would be more straightforward than they ended up being?”
“I think the first thing that turned out to be hard is the degree to which UL mandated changes reach back into the supply chain. Let’s take the battery for example, where we work with pack manufacturers. Those pack manufacturers might have 50 different component suppliers that feed into their pack. So we need to go a few steps back into the supply chain and get all those components and sub-components and sub-sub-components up to spec in order to be certified. Coordinating across all of these different layers of the supply chain was really complicated and challenging.
The second challenge was around how in-depth the UL inspection and certification process is for our suppliers and their suppliers and so on. UL wants to review some of the design documents that go into various subcomponents, and that's often considered sensitive IP by the suppliers. They obviously don’t want to just release their schematics or their design files. UL has a really delicate task here to thoroughly inspect what they need to inspect while simultaneously ensuring that the IP and all confidential information is protected. They need to be able to receive and review those files without passing anything to other people within the supply chain.”
“It sounds like you're asking a lot of your suppliers in this process. How do you incentivize them? If these suppliers are only getting certification requests from one customer, why would they even bother going through the process?”
“I think this is where the situation has changed quite a bit. We were pretty early to work on UL Certification, it was before there was any requirement in New York to have this certification. So for us it was hard to convince our suppliers to work on certification with us. That being said, we were fortunate that we have a fairly substantial footprint, so I suspect that motivated suppliers to cooperate with us. Now the situation is really different. Suppliers are seeing so many requests in the market for these certifications that they’ve realized this is something they have to do and they’re starting to do it out of their own accord.
The suppliers that we worked with now also have the benefit of being early to it. So now they're much further along that process than they probably would have been otherwise. So it ended up, I think, working out for them in the long term.
We also bore the cost of certification and paid the suppliers. This was something we invested a pretty significant amount in.”
“That’s a good segue to my final question. I think the biggest argument I've heard against UL certification is the cost, and that it'll bias the industry towards more expensive bikes that are likely from the incumbent brands. How expensive was it for Zoomo, and how did you justify that cost internally? Do you think it's a feasible course of action for smaller brands, or do you think that the whole industry and the average price of a new bike will just end up jumping significantly?”
“As far as unit volumes go compared to consumer brands, Zoomo’s volumes are smaller than large consumer bike companies because we focus on the delivery and logistics market. So for us, it was a significant expenditure. There are also fees that you have to pay UL for the certification and their time. For us, that ended up being somewhere between a third to a half of what we spent.
If you’re a consumer brand building hundreds of thousands of bikes, the cost probably feels a lot less material. That being said, those costs have to show up somewhere. Particularly for the first couple generations of products that get produced, the cost of the certification will likely be reflected in a higher retail price. It's not going to be something that doubles the price of a vehicle, but I think it's something that increases the price by single digit percentage points. However, eventually, UL certification will become so much of an industry standard and the certification process will happen at such high volumes that it basically just happens by default at all levels of the supply chain and the cost doesn't turn out to be significant anymore.”
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Top 5 Vehicles of the Week
The Cowboy C4 is tech-forward class-1 commuter that seamlessly blends software and electronics to create a highly sophisticated and comprehensive user experience for urban riders. Enabled by its vertical integration, the C4 has several state-of-the-art software features, ranging from theft detection and GPS tracking to an integrated cockpit that lets riders dock their smartphone and use the Cowboy app as the hub for vehicle controls, native navigation, and ride analytics. The software even has crash detection functionality, which is a notable safety feature that no other leading ebike has. The C4’s powertrain features a 45Nm hub motor and a swappable 360Wh battery pack, and is combined with a belt drive. While these components are modest compared to those on the powertrains of other commuters, they are sufficiently powerful for the average commuter and provide arguably more utility than other urban ebikes when combined with Cowboy’s software. In the wake of rival ebike OEM VanMoof’s recent bankruptcy, the C4 is now the clear choice for riders looking for an ebike that pushes the envelope on technical functionality and provides an Apple or Tesla-like integrated experience. This listing has only been ridden for 40mi and is being sold because it’s too big for the seller. Listing can be found here.
The Yuba Spicy Curry AT (all-terrain) is a highly-comfortable class-3 longtail cargo bike and an upgrade to Yuba’s flagship Spicy Curry model. The original Spicy Curry became extremely popular because of its low center-of-gravity chassis where the rear wheel is smaller than the front wheel, which simultaneously gave riders exceptional maneuverability and one of the highest cargo capabilities in the market (440lbs). With the Spicy Curry AT, Yuba has managed to release a vehicle with even more performance and comfort. The Spicy Curry AT’s powertrain features an 85Nm Bosch Cargo Line Speed mid-drive motor and a 500Wh Bosch PowerPack. This is an update to the original Spicy Curry’s Bosch Cargo Line Cruise mid-drive motor, which gives riders a higher class and max-speed (28mph vs. 20mph) and ~10Nm more torque. The new model also features a front suspension fork and hydraulic brakes, giving riders similar stability with significantly improved rider comfort and off-roading capabilities. This listing has a mileage of 468mi and was bought at local bike shop SloHi Bikes (proof of purchase available upon request). It has been routinely maintained by SloHi, and comes with a rear child seat and panniers. Listing can be found here.
The Rad Power RadRover is a class-2 fat-tire ebike and Rad Power’s off-roading SUV equivalent. Its powertrain features an 80Nm rear geared hub motor and a 672Wh battery pack, and is paired with a front suspension fork and knobby 26" by 4.5" fat-tires. These features give the RadRover an extremely comfortable and powerful ride, making it a great choice for anything from pavement cruising to off-road/trail riding. In fact, the rugged nature of the RadRover is why it’s a particularly popular vehicle for tour companies. However, given its weight of 71.4lbs and a length of 75.25", the RadRover can be cumbersome to maneuver and store/park. This listing has a mileage of ~1000mi and has recently replaced brakes. It’s only being resold because the seller’s building is banning ebikes. With the recent spate of ebike fires, many buildings and regulators are cracking down on ebikes by requiring UL-certified vehicles or banning them altogether. While ebike fires are certainly a big issue, they’re primarily a concern with cheap knock-off ebikes as opposed to vehicles from reputable brands like Rad Power. Its a shame that a lot of people will be forced off great and reliable bikes, or off ebikes altogether since UL-certified ebikes currently skew towards more expensive brands, because of building managers and authorities throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Listing can be found here.
The Lectric XPedition is an economical class-2/class-3 longtail cargo bike and arguably the best budget cargo bike available today. Its powertrain features an 85Nm rear hub motor and a 672Wh battery pack with an optional dual-battery configuration. Whether riders plan to use its industry leading 450lbs payload capacity for hauling cargo or a second adult passenger, the XPedition has more than enough power and torque to be a competent minivan-replacement. While the XPedition doesn’t have suspension, it’s still smooth and comfortable to ride due to its 20” by 3” street tires. This smoothness is also further improved by Lectric’s “Pedal Assist Wattage Regulation" control system, which replicates the intuitive pedal assistance of a torque sensor by modulating pedal assistance based on power rather than speed. Lastly, the XPedition comes standard with a rear rack, rear cushions, running boards, lights, and other accessories required for urban riders, all at a shockingly low MSRP of $1,399. Given the amount of utility Lectric ebikes pack per dollar, the brand’s meteoric rise is no surprise. Since 2019, Lectric has grown more than 18X and sold over 150K vehicles last year alone. This listing is brand new and is sold by a compelling seller. The seller is actually an approved Lectric reseller, and operates a Lectric rental business. However, given that Lectric doesn’t have a retail store in the Bay Area, the seller offers rentals as an alternative to test rides and rental fees act as a deposit towards buying a new Lectric if bought through the seller. As more D2C brands try to figure out how to grow their physical customer presence, this rental reseller approach that empowers local advocates for the brand is one worth considering. Listing can be found here.
The JackRabbit is a seated electric scooter tailored for short urban trips. Though it resembles an ebike, the JackRabbit is technically classified as an escooter because it has no pedals and is only controlled by a throttle. Its powertrain features a 300W (~30Nm) rear-hub motor and a 158Wh battery pack. While this allows riders to hit 20mph, the modest motor only gives riders a 12% grade climbing capability and the low capacity battery pack results in <10mi of range. That being said, one advantage of such a small battery pack is that riders are technically allowed by FAA regulations to fly with the vehicle as a carry-on. The JackRabbit is optimized for portability. Aided in part by its light powertrain, the vehicle only weighs 23lbs and can be folded entirely flat. The JackRabbit is a unique hybrid of an ebike and an escooter. Given that pedals wouldn’t be that practical on such a small vehicle anyway, the JackRabbit gives up the pretense of pedals altogether and fully leans into the utility of a throttle. It combines the best of both form factors; it’s as portable and light as an escooter but has the improved comfort of an ebike due to its seat and 20” ebike-size tires. Escooter-ebike hybrids are slowly growing in popularity, and I think their raw practicality will resonate with riders new to micromobility. This listing has <100mi of usage and come with upgraded tires that are flat-proof and off-roading capable. Listing can be found here.
That’s it for this edition. Thanks again for joining, see you next week!
- Puneeth Meruva
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