It may seem like a lifetime ago, but Bird made its debut only a year ago on the streets of Santa Monica.
By the summer of 2018 scooters were already the year’s, if not the decade’s, biggest blockbuster. Scooter adoption levels rivaled potentially any other technology in human history and resulting in much analysis in the disruptive potential of these vehicles.
But Bird didn’t manage this alone.
Disruption usually doesn’t just happened by just one company.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO DISRUPT
An innovative company introduces a disruptive product or service to the market. This offering is at first a feature poor, low cost product or service that gains a small market share, often creating a new category, without necessarily taking much market share large existing, incumbent’s offerings.
Other firms (often not entrenched incumbents) or entrepreneurs take notice and begin offering similar products. This creates a vibrant ecosystem of innovation with numerous firms experimenting and innovating. Over time, the feature poor offering begins acquiring more and more features, unlocking more and more value, and expanding its market share, all the while maintaining its low cost.
Within a few generations, the disruptive product along with this vibrant new ecosystem of companies gains nearly all of the feature of much more expensive, now legacy products or services, quickly resulting in a tipping point of adoption.
Arguably, Bird biggest contribution was not just the introduction of scooters to large audience, but building an entire industry around it ranging from VC firms interested in the space, to industry conferences, to personal scooter ownership, to a healthy ecosystem of scooter sharing competitors which then spread scooters farther and wider than Bird could ever do alone.
This week, Bird announced the Cruiser.
The Cruiser is a large scooter or electric moped with sizable, beefy tires, seating for 2, hydraulic disk brakes, rear suspension, 52V battery architecture, and a 50+ mile range. It was designed in collaboration with San Diego based Juiced Bikes, sharing some similarities to their Scrambler.
Besides creating a vehicle with the potential to uncover the elusive scooter unit economics and address the safety concerns over small tires, Bird will likely again cause another mobility shift, this time to real automobile disruption.
SCOOTER 1.0 VS SCOOTER 2.0
Scooters miraculously did in a few months what it took a handful of cities decades to do with large investments in bike infrastructure: getting people onto two wheels.
But that was just the 1st/last mile. Given the lack of bike infrastructure and the lack of good public transit, this was not enough to give the personal automobile a real run for its money.
But the electric moped is different as we pointed out just last week in our newsletter. It is a vehicle that can compete head-on against the car.
Speed: Small scooters or bikes used outside of protected bike lanes (which is almost all of the time) can be quite unpleasant and dangerous. We’re often marginalized between flow of traffic and parked cars, with collisions possible with either one. Electric mopeds can range from 20 mph to as high as 60 mph. This means that they can use the road like an automobile using the full lane and keeping up with the flow of traffic.
Range: Little scooters have limited battery capacity and range. Unless work and home are close or public transportation is available, little scooters will (and have) limited impact on automobile use. Mopeds can easily boast 40+ miles of range.
Comfort: Tiny wheels and real-world roads with potholes and cracks don’t mix. Mopeds have thick, large diameter tires usually with full suspension, allowing car-like
User Experience of A Car: With comfort, range, and speed, the user experience of electric mopeds are much more in line with those of car, for which our roads are currently designed for.
ASIA SHOWS US THE WAY
According to Wikipedia, “there are 200M motorcycles, including mopeds, motor scooters, motorised bicycles, and other powered two and three-wheelers” worldwide. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorcycling
Much of these are in Asian countries and almost all are gas powered. While car adoption has skyrocketed and have caused all sorts of havoc from pollution to traffic jams, the moped has remained a huge mobility force, delivering low cost, fuel efficient, and nimble mobility to hundreds of millions.
THE MOTORCYCLE, POWER, AND GAS HURDLES
In many states including California (Bird, Lime, JUMP, and Lyft’s HQ), riding a moped capable of over 30 miles per hour puts users in legal motorcycle territory.
While 30 miles per hour might seem plenty, its at the tipping point of comfortable street-sharing with cars. If riders truly want car-like freedom, they will require speeds of up to 45 mph. Incidentally, this is why we had this Twitter shoutout to any company that can achieve 45 mph under $3k price-tag.
But above 30 mph, users are required to have a driver license, insurance, and registration. This process is enough to deter almost everyone, at least in the States, from switching to existing gas mopeds.
Traditional mopeds are also under-powered often running on loud, smelly two stroke gas engines.
This is where the true power of Bird’s Cruiser will lie. Just as it introduced people to the joys, affordability, fun, and convenience of small scooters and blew open the doors for a booming scooter market, the Cruiser will most certainly do the same for car replacing mopeds, allowing the masses to experience their clean, quite power and utility and be much more willing to invest the time and energy in getting a motorcycle license.
THE MATCHES ARE THERE, THEY JUST NEED A SPARK
The smartphone existed before the iPhone (think Blackberry or Trio).
The technology was there, but Apple’s marketing and design prowess sparked the smartphone’s mass adoption, killing inferior competition and fueling rival Android and its hardware manufacturers.
Electric scooters existed before Bird in the form of Xiomi and many others. In fact, Have A Go was founded with the mission to increase their popularity (as well as the many other forms of micromobility).
But Bird made adoption as simple as it could get. They put a these scooters on the sidewalk and allowed anyone to unlock them with a smartphone. And the adoption speaks for itself.
Electric mopeds exist or are being developed from large Western companies like Harley-Davidson and Vespa, to smaller companies like ONYX and Bloom Scooters, to large Asian brands like Niu, Gogoro, Unu, and GenZe. Even electric moped-shring providers have cropped up like Revel and Scoot.
However, they are not widely known and accessible.
Bird has the reach and scale to show the Western world the power of the electric moped and to finally serve as the tipping point for car replacements.
THE 1ST/LAST MILE WAS JUST THE BEGINNING
Bird’s true historical significance might not be the little scooter that can easily be dismissed as a toy and might not even have long term financial viability.
But it might just be blowing up the electric moped category with the Cruiser, which, after a century of the automobile’s every increasing occupation of city street, might tip the scales back to more efficient, safer, inexpensive, and sustainable modes of mobility, getting us much closer to human-centric, car-free streets that urbanists and many cities are hoping for.
And where will that leave Bird?
It’s hard to make predictions about the future of specific companies, but the market for micromobility will be much, much larger where all manufacturers and providers will enjoy much larger slices of the pie.