In October, a new shop called Mod Bikes (mod-bikes.com) opened its doors at 1632 S. First St., offering six models of electric bikes in hopes of adding options to Austin's increasingly complex transportation scene.
Israel-born Dor Falu Korngold, the co-founder of the company, designed much of the storefront, from its neon-lit displays to its stools, as well as the bikes themselves. Eight years ago, he built his first retro-style e-bike and is now the designer behind all the ones sold out of the company's Austin showroom, garage and headquarters. They include casual, mountain bike and even foldable models that can fit inside a car trunk to take anywhere. We spoke to Korngold about Mod Bikes and how its bikes fit in with a place overrun the last few years by ride-hailing apps and electric scooters.
American-Statesman: Let’s start with the big question. Why should Austinites look into purchasing an e-bike?
Dor Falu Korngold: It’s not just Austin. It’s a revolution that's happening worldwide. Austin is a very unique city in that it’s kind of small. The oldest area like Central Austin, everything is very close together. As far as bike lanes and stuff like that, it’s kind of amazing here. You could basically go anywhere on a bike. First, with environmental issues more important than ever, this is one of those solutions where you can actually do something to help. Second, you’re experiencing a lot more from going from point A to B; it's more fun to ride this way rather than taking a car. As far as traffic, it has all the benefits. A lot of the time it’s faster, and you don’t have to pay for parking.
How do e-bikes work?
We try to keep it very straightforward. You have the option to pedal just as on a regular bike. You can just pedal and use the gears. The other way to go is to choose how much "pedal assist" you want whenever you feel you need to. The higher the level of assist, the faster the speed will be and the less you have to work. Some of our bikes, you also have the option to use full electric power. It’s very easy for people who don’t know how to ride a bike.
There are people who don't know how to a ride a bike who use e-bikes?
It’s a lot easier to ride an e-bike than a regular bike. You don’t have to keep both legs on the pedal all the time. When you have the throttle, you can keep both legs on the ground and balance and then start to pedal.
How do you see e-bikes fitting into Austin’s transportation scene, which includes ride-hailing, electric scooters and probably not enough mass transportation?
In Austin, scooters opened up this electric vehicle market so fast and so big. People can see now that there’s more options to get from place to place.
We see ourselves as the next step of transportation after the scooters. Scooters are a cool gimmick, and I think they did an amazing job on becoming a part of people’s lives. But as far as safety, I think it’s too accessible for people. You don’t have to have any skills, you don’t have to own one, you just hop on a scooter without any guidance or knowledge about the maintenance of the vehicle you're riding. Once you own an e-bike, it’s there for you all the time; you’re in charge of maintaining your bike and the safety of your bike. You will be more responsible for your vehicle, and you will be more responsible for yourself, and you will wear a helmet and keep the bike maintained and charged.
How do you promote safety for your customers?
We work with our customers face to face, and we have an electronic user guide. We do advise to drive on bike lanes. The bikes have lights on front and back and all the reflectors. We promote helmets. A lot of times, we're giving them out for free with sales. For the first week, we advise customers to go on the lowest speed to get used to this new thing. After that, when you’re coming in for your first adjustments, we can open up options for the full speed of the bike.
Are there challenges or advantages to having an e-bike in this particular city?
As far as bike lanes, it's a very big development in Austin. This city is adding bike lanes everywhere. Austin Energy gives up to $400 in rebates for purchasing electric bikes from an authorized dealer. We have a lot of tourists around here, and when we tell them we have this program, they’re shocked. Expanding roads is expensive and hard; getting people on alternative transportation is a lot cheaper and a lot greener. As far as scooters, it helps people living 2 to 5 miles from downtown. But when you’re talking about more than 3 to 4 miles from downtown, with a scooter, it’s too far. With some of the rules and places without bike lanes or sidewalks, it's confusing for riders, a little bit of chaos. We connect with customers and help explain where they can ride.
About how much will someone need to spend to get a good, reliable e-bike? Do they require much maintenance?
The way we built our bike was to be affordable, starting from $1,790 up to $3,490 before rebates. Our big difference from everyone else selling online is maintenance. I know it’s just a bike, but this is like a car. People are driving them 20 to 30 miles a day. They need to be inspected and maintained. We’re giving free maintenance for life with each e-bike purchase, and each one is made in-house. There’s a lot of things we can adjust to fit the customer's needs. The most important thing about buying a bike is buying the right one. ... Anyone coming here and wanting to take the bike and borrow it for a week or a couple of hours to get a better understanding, we’re allowing people to do that.
What's the range and battery life, and do they take a long time to charge?
Some bikes go up to 60 miles on a single charge. They can go up to 25 miles per hour, depending on the model. A full charge takes between three to five hours, depending on the battery level.
What was your background before you got into this business, and how did Mod Bikes start?
I was always a builder, a creator. I worked in a bicycle store in Herzliya, Israel. Eight years ago, I took a very old Electra retro frame that was full of rust, and I kind of took it all apart then built it all together again with a motor and electric brakes. I’m self-taught. My father was a mechanical engineer, and my grandfather an electrical engineer. One of our friends from the U.S. told us about Austin and how it's developing as far as green energy and bicycling. We developed the idea of a bike shop here and doing our own brand. I spent two years in development of all those bikes.
What else should people know about e-bikes?
The biggest message that we want to give people is: Come here with an open mind. Until you try it, you can’t understand the power of it and what you can do with the bike. We're building a full service for people, and we want the bikes to not be too technical or too fancy or expensive. We're making it simple for people to want to use the bike.
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