A 30-mph e-bike to compete with cars in cities? Investors just bet $20 million on it

Bird and Lime are scooting along, backed by hundreds of millions in venture capital. But there are still plenty of companies hoping to dominate the still-nascent micromobility market, given its promise. Among them: Bond Mobility, a three-year-old Palo Alto, Calif. and Zurich, Switzerland-based startup that says its “high-performance” dockless electric bikes will leave e-scooters in the dust.

Investors think the company might be right — at least, they think it might be right for a certain type of customer who wants to get to where she is going faster. DENSO’s New Mobility Group just led a $20 million Series A round for the upstart, whose vehicles can travel at up to 30 miles per hour. That’s twice what electric scooter companies have decided is a safe speed.

Electric mopeds like that of Scoot have a top speed of 30 miles per hour and they only require a bit of in-app instruction. Yet Bond doesn’t see these as direct competitors either, perhaps because they must be parked in legal parking spaces, whereas dockless electric bikes can be parked nearly anywhere (for better or worse).

Whether or not it’s a good idea to travel so fast on a bike in an urban environment is apparently up to the customer to decide. Though Bond’s bikes are only available for now in Zurich and Bern, Switzerland, they are coming to the U.S. soon, says the company, and a loophole in California law may help. To wit, any motor bike that can’t go more than 30 miles per hour can be rented with just a car license in the Golden State. Some states are even more lax when it comes to motorized vehicles.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that Bond’s founder, Kirt McMaster, has shown himself to be a bit of a risk-taker in the past. McMaster previously founded Cyanogen, a now discontinued open-source operating system for mobile devices that was based on the Android mobile platform and which burned through at least $115 million in venture capital, including from Andreessen Horowitz,  Tencent and Benchmark, before shutting down in December of 2016.

By then, McMaster — who famously boasted once of Cyanogen, “We’re putting a bullet through Google’s head” — was already gone. He was ousted months earlier and replaced by a new CEO for whom it was apparently too late to turn things around. Soon after, he set his sights on the world of transportation.

Of course, Bond — which operates in Switzerland as Smide and uses hardware from the Swiss e-bike company Stromer — has yet to prove that it can compete on U.S. soil, let alone elsewhere in Europe. But McMaster seemingly hasn’t lost his penchant for talking up his products in the meantime. As he told Business Insider earlier today, in his view, the “speed e-bike is the apex predator” that may just kill better-funded “scooter guys” if all goes as planned.

McMaster is smart to try. According to a recent McKinsey study, more than a quarter of the world’s population lives in cities with more than one million inhabitants, and vehicle speeds in many of these places now average 9 miles per hour, making alternatives highly appealing. In fact, it says, by 2030, the micromobility market in expected to reach $200 billion to $300 billion in the United States, $100 billion to $150 billion in Europe and $30 billion to $50 billion in China.

Certainly, it’s a lot easier to scale up micromobility assets than any kind of car-based sharing business, as notes that same McKinsey study.