At a time when nearly every US-based electric bicycle company imports their e-bikes from Asian factories, one California-based company proudly builds its e-bikes locally. Newport Beach-based Electric Bike Company invited me out to its factory south of Los Angeles to see for myself what goes into the process of building high quality, American-made electric beach cruisers.
My first introduction to the Electric Bike Company actually came last year when I reviewed their flagship model. I walked away from that experience very impressed with the quality of the bike. But while it’s one thing to hear the phrase “Built in the USA”, it’s another thing entirely to see it in action.
Local manufacturing, of course, means local employees. Electric Bike Company has a team of twenty-something employees that all live around the community. And as it turns out, beach cruiser-friendly Newport Beach has proven to be the perfect location to establish the company.
“This is important to us,” Electric Bike Company CEO Sean Lupton-Smith explained to me. “These are electric beach cruisers that are built in a beach community by people who live in that beach community.”
Check out the short video of my visit to Electric Bike Company’s factory above
With local manufacturing and better control over the entire process, Electric Bike Company is able to offer perhaps the best warranty in the industry: 10 years on the frame and motor as well as 5 years on the battery.
The company also takes advantage of the extreme level of control they have over the production process to outfit the bikes with the best components they can without pushing the price sky-high. That price, by the way, ranges from $1,499 to $1,999 for Electric Bicycle Company’s current line of electric beach cruisers. And while that price seems fairly middle-of-the-road, the quality of these bikes far exceeds the price.
From ensuring the use of sealed bearings to employing only stainless steel rust-resistant hardware on the bike to using custom-made e-bike specific tires rated for 50 km/h (31 mph) to outfitting the bikes with Tektro Dorado 4-piston hydraulic disc brakes (which is essentially motorcycle-level quality), these bikes are well designed and even better outfitted.
Just check out the custom-made tires that Electric Bike Company designed, shown below compared to other high-quality tires they have tested.
Speaking of the Tektro Dorado hydraulic disc brakes, Electric Bike Company originally wanted to assemble its own brake levers, lines, and calipers on the bikes from Tektro’s parts, but Tektro doesn’t allow companies to perform such assembly, and instead only ships the brakes as a complete assembly, pre-bled from its Taiwanese factory. But to ensure perfect cable lengths and optimum performance on its bikes, Electric Bike Company invited Tektro’s engineers out to see its California factory.
After impressing Tektro with its professional assembly process, Tektro granted Electric Bike Company the right to assemble Tektro’s own brakes locally. Now there’s a team of dudes in California assembling, installing, and bleeding e-bike brakes instead of some nameless, faceless mystery line worker somewhere around the world.
In fact, you won’t even find any line workers at Electric Bike Company’s factory. There the bikes are hand-built by a single technician.
As Sean explained to me, “What we build is a very personal product, these electric bikes. So we try to give a more personal touch, and that includes the same builder working on the bike from start to finish.”
Those builders receive the purchase orders from Electric Bike Company’s front office, complete with a number of customization options offered to each customer, and then begin building the bike from the ground up, starting with the bare frame. In fact, sometimes the frames are actually bare, as in unpainted aluminum.
That’s because Sean had a spray booth facility built in his factory, officially licensed and permitted, so that the company could offer a complete range of custom colors to its riders. The paint is even locally sourced right there in Newport Beach.
Now, of course, an American-built electric bike isn’t made solely from American-sourced parts. Like any vehicle, Electric Bike Company’s e-bikes have an international supply chain. German-made Continental tires, Taiwanese-made Tektro Dorado brakes, Korean-made Samsung battery cells, and other parts are all combined to create the final product.
But by performing as much of the process as possible locally in California, Electric Bike Company has been able to remove the weak points normally found on cheaper imported e-bikes.
After seeing the problems with inconsistent wheel quality, Electric Bike Company invested in wheel building and truing machines. And they don’t just lace the motor wheels, they even lace their own front wheels instead of simply buying off-the-shelf standard bicycle wheels. That allows them to use their own choice of double-walled rims and Sapim spokes to build quality wheels that last for years (and help Electric Bike Company offer such long warranties).
From touring the factory and talking with Sean and his employees, I can see how much care is taken on every component, even the ones not built on-site.
For example, while Electric Bicycle Company doesn’t build their own electronic speed controllers (the device that interfaces power between the battery and the motor), they have the controllers manufactured to their exact specifications, including designing the wire lengths and connectors to be uniform across their entire line.
“That helps ensure that we can update the bikes as quickly as possible. If some new technology comes out, we don’t have to find a way to integrate it into many different models, it will immediately fit all of our bikes because we design them this way from the beginning,” Sean explained to me.
Even packaging is an area for pride at Electric Bike Company. Unlike most e-bikes that arrive partially assembled, Electric Bike Company ships its bikes completely assembled.
Riders simply roll the bike out of the box, straighten the handlebars and ride away. The bikes come in a specially-sized box with custom foam blocks cut and shaped to fit the bikes, perfectly protecting them inside the box.
Having received an Electric Bike Company e-bike myself, I can say that it is without a doubt the best-packaged e-bike I have ever seen. And in my line of work, I must have unboxed well over a hundred e-bikes shipped from just about every corner of the world by now.
Electric Bike company is constantly trying to bring even more of the production in-house. While the battery cells are welded off-site, the rest of the battery is assembled under the same roof as the rest of the e-bikes. That includes wiring in anti-theft modules into the battery and even 3D printing components of the battery cases that are unique to Electric Bike Company.
In time those processes can be shifted to injection molding, but Electric BIke Company is still growing, meaning 3D printing provides them flexibility for design changes and doesn’t require the same investment as injection molded parts.
Sean is also trying to innovate on other fronts as well. While he enjoys building high-quality e-bikes, he knows that not everyone can afford a $1,500 or $2,000 e-bike. So he designed a DIY electric bicycle conversion kit, which became known as the FUN kit. It includes a battery box that also houses the controller and wiring, and wraps itself around the bike’s downtube to stay centralized on the bike and out of the way.
The kit also includes a front hub motor, throttle, pedal-assist, and LCD display. It even includes Electric Bike Company’s high quality, German-made Continental tire. Yet the whole thing retails for just $699 and could conceivably turn a conventional beach cruiser or other standard bicycle into an electric bike with high-quality parts for under $1,000.
Sean is even hoping to find a way to introduce the kits to his native South Africa, where the inexpensive but powerful and high-quality kits could foster further independence in hard-hit communities by providing attainable transportation alternatives.
In fact, it was the goal of bringing this type of transportation assistance to South Africa that originally got Sean interested in electric bikes nearly a decade ago, and thus would be a fitting way to complete the circle on his journey through the world of electric bicycle designing and manufacturing.
These innovations and more (I saw other interesting projects underway that aren’t ready for public release yet) combined with the company’s emphasis on local production speak to Electric Bike Company’s desire to build high-quality electric bicycles that actually improve lives – both of riders and of those in the local community.
You can tell how proud Sean is of the local jobs that his company has created, of the opportunity he’s had to mentor many of his younger employees, and in general of the bikes that his company has developed.
I look forward to seeing more innovations coming out of the Electric Bike Company in the months and years to come and hope other companies can use them as an example of how with the right drive and ingenuity, e-bikes can still be built in the US.
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