Now on view at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA is our latest moto-centric exhibit: Electric Revolutionaries.  Curated and concepted by Paul d’Orléans, the exhibit focusses on 11 designers making an impact on the electric mobility scene, each in very different ways; from top speed to accessible mobility, from aesthetic perfection to hand-cobbled and crude, from luxury to mass market to one-off.  Each of these designers is tackling a different set of issues, illustrating the wide-open nature of EV design at this early stage of the industry.  Our 11 designers are brave pioneers, embracing what could be the future of mobility, digging in on what design features make EVs unique, and challenging our ideas of ‘what is a car or motorcycle?’

Storm Sondors, while born in Latvia, has made his fortune in the USA, first in toy manufacturing, and now in electric vehicles with his company SONDORS.  His vision was to build affordable e-Bikes, and got his start via the second-most successful Indiegogo fundraiser in history, which exceeded its goal by 7000%.  SONDORS is now one of the largest e-Bike manufacturers in the USA, and is distributed in 42 countries.   More recently, he turned his attention to disrupting the e-Moto scene by revealing the dramatic Metacycle, with a futuristic cast-aluminum chassis and an industry-beating low price tag. Vintagent Profiles Editor Greg Williams interviewed Storm for this story, and shares the back story on the creation of SONDORS.

Storm Sondors at his factory in Southern California. SONDORS is now the largest distributor of e-Bikes in the USA. [SONDORS]
As an inquisitive youngster, Storm Sondors filled some of his time constructing simple toy vehicles using a small DC electric motor, a battery, a rubber band and some wheels. Put all together, he’d experiment varying the tension on the rubber band and observe the effects. “That’s what I found fascinating,” the man behind SONDORS Electric Bikes explains, and continues, “I just loved the simplicity of it, and wondered how changing the rubber band’s tension would cause it to slow down or speed up.” That simplicity is something Storm continues to value, and it’s evident in every product the Malibu, California designer of SONDORS two-wheel electric mobility products brings to market.

The SONDORS Rockstar emtb, capable of 28mph without pedaling, or more. [SONDORS]
Born and raised in Latvia, Storm’s other passion were bicycles. With very little money to afford anything ‘brand name,’ he made do with whatever fell his way and always enjoyed the ride. “I spent a lot of time on a bike, that was my mode of transportation,” Storm says. “Two-wheelers took me further than I could walk, and as long as I had a pump, I was happy; I hated to ride soft tires. And I always paid attention to the chain because that’s super critical on a bike.” Attending an art-focused high school, Storm sat regular classes in the morning. Then, during the afternoon and evening, he’d study design and sculpture. College was never an option he considered, and today, he takes great pride in that. “I think further education would have ruined me,” Storm declares. “I had enough skill set to be pretty good from early days in that space because I had a passion for it; once you have a passion, where does the learning begin, and your lifestyle continue? It just blended together and with all that continuous learning, it’s been ‘What’s the next target? What’s the next target?’ ever since and I always have something to look forward to instead of waking up and being miserable in something I don’t enjoy doing.”

Storm with crates of SONDORS e-Bikes ready for shipping. There is no middleman, all bikes are direct to consumer; a significant method of reducing costs to consumers. [SONDORS]
At age 19, Storm moved to Chicago. He very briefly dallied with fashion design before completing an internship at a company specializing in building prototypes for model and die cast kit maker ERTL. By the time he was in his early 20s, Storm was working at Rehkemper Invention & Design, a firm dedicated to conceiving toys and other consumer products. In this bustling Illinois metropolis, his bicycling continued, and he often commuted to work an hour each way. Storm says he was not a gearhead; while he admired good-looking vehicles and motorcycles, he would be a fraud, he explains, if he claimed to occupy any of that design territory. At Rehkemper, his creative and innovative personality blossomed. It’s also where he got his first taste of fast paced design, for example, one day working on a project for Nike soles, the next a toy for Mattel. He says the number and variety of design projects taken from concept to pre-production prototype “really propelled me to start on a lifelong journey of innovation, that evolution aspect of never really stopping, that was embedded there,” he says, and adds, “I give those guys credit. It’s where I learned and got practical real life experience being surrounded by people who are better at doing something than you are.” While there he worked on projects for McDonald’s, and later became a contractor for the fast-food giant doing prototyping for the company’s Happy Meal toys. That experience took him frequently to China, where he evolved and started his own toy company in Hong Kong. “I worked there for about 10 years and our customers in that business were Walmart and Target, that’s where you could buy our toys.” The toys? They were radio controlled flying ships, and everything was electronics-based.

The SONDORS Cruiser, available at Costco. How do you sell a lot of e-Bikes? … [SONDORS]
Storm moved to California approximately 15 years ago, and says it wasn’t long after that he saw his first electric bike. Ridden by a friend, the machine was moving at a high rate of speed, and Storm was impressed. “What fascinated me about it was you could see something so familiar, but the way it performed was just so foreign. It was so cool because it made no sense. You go through the check list — it’s got pedal assist not gears. It’s got a tiny hub motor in a wheel. And here’s a battery pack.” Put together by an old-school mechanical engineer, the electric bicycle had been garage built but looked and performed like a factory machine. “That’s what really caught my attention,” Storm says, and continues, “Here’s something really interesting and undervalued, at least at that point. We were all just excited about looking at Cadillac Escalades and Ford F-150s, and I was thinking, ‘I have to fix that,’ you know what I mean? That’s what caught my attention the most, the ability to transform such a prevalent item like a bicycle into an (improved mode of) transportation.” When he got home, he Googled electric bikes. “That’s when my moment of truth came around – I can’t afford this. The reality kicked in, and wow, this sounds familiar. Even now as a grown up, I can’t reach something because it’s out of my price point and that’s when my head started to move, and I saw an opportunity to create something.”

The SONDORS Fold X, the ultimate in convenience when traveling. [SONDORS]
It started for himself, but Storm’s mindset has always been to create for scale production. “I never did any garage prototypes, I did more refined components and whatever needed to be done was done with soft tool molds — the idea was to see if it could be executed at scale production. It’s relatively easy to put something together once, but it’s really difficult to see a gazillion pieces come together at the production level. So, right from the start, I was thinking, ‘How I could scale this?’” It was, essentially, a passion project and Storm simply wanted to democratize the electric bike industry that had been pushing exclusivity. There was no business plan. There were no five year expectations. To create his vision, Storm visited many factories in China before selecting suppliers. The challenge wasn’t so much sourcing the hardware, such as the Bafang motor; it was the battery. Storm didn’t want to use generic cells and finding the correct sized cells in optimized packaging wasn’t easy. Rather organically, however, Storm’s concept became a reality with the first model SONDORS e-bike.

Fat tires were the original concept for SONDORS electric bicycles, but their model line is more varied now. Utility in snow and wet conditions was always important to Storm. [SONDORS]
Getting the details right from the start helped bring the big picture together. When the first SONDORS model launched, the 67-pound e-bike had fat all-terrain tires, a top speed of 20 mph, and could be ridden some 25 to 40 miles. But how to get it to market? With his past working relationships, Storm could have approached Walmart or Target and pitched buyers, but he didn’t enjoy that process. That’s when he considered crowdfunding, which was still in its early stages. “(Crowdfunding seemed to fit) what I was about to do, with an audience who might be hungry for this type of product, and that’s literally how SONDORS was born. It went on Indiegogo in 2015 and never looked back. That campaign was extremely successful.” The SONDORS campaign, at that point, was the second-most successful mounted on Indiegogo — between Kickstarter and Indiegogo, $12 million was raised. And right from that start, the price point of the product was extremely important. Storm says, “It’s what we’re dealing with right now in the motorcycle space. If you’re going to offer people something they’ve never seen and expect they’re going to pay premium, you’re in for a failure.” SONDORS first bikes were a tremendous success, with deliveries of 7,000 bikes shipping to 47 countries.

“We’re not going after bicycle riders, we’re going after every person in this country who has not ridden their bicycle in 20 years.” [SONDORS]
With the first model SONDORS, Storm says, people didn’t perceive the electric bike as something they knew, rather, they perceived it as something they wanted to experience. “I was at my first demo event in Santa Monica when an older gentleman put a leg over the bike and whispered in my ear, ‘I don’t know how to ride a bicycle.’ That was an a-ha moment for me. My revelation was we’re not going after bicycle riders, we’re going after every person in this country who has not ridden their bicycle in 20 years. That single event taught me we weren’t going after people who are riding pedal bikes right now.” SONDORS sold direct-to-consumer, and a WordPress page was set up for the company’s first website. Storm was basically a one-man operation in the earliest days looking after everything from shipping to logistics to customer support. If a purchaser had a problem or a question, they left a message and it was Storm calling the buyer back, working to troubleshoot the issue. Because the bikes were designed with simplicity in mind, every component was, and still is, a plug-and-play proposition. Problem with the controller? Unplug it, take it off the bike, and a new one is shipped out to take its place.

Storm with the original SONDORS X, produced after one of the most successful Indiegogo campaigns ever. [SONDORS]
Feedback on the early bikes led to further development, including the Fold X – a foldable bike with a forged frame to allow for easy transportation. When it launched, on its first day of sales, more than $1 million worth of Fold X machines sold. This kind of popularity increased challenges for Storm because approximately 30 forged frames were being produced per day. “In reality, we needed to be producing 300 frames a day,” he says. “We would get there, but we wanted to take things slow and get things right so we could scale. I want the product to be epic. I don’t want it to be so-so. That model was an extreme success, and then it just snowballed. Originally, I wanted to keep very few models on the electric bike side but then I changed my strategy. The space was growing, and the experience requirements were growing as well. Customer’s developed a taste, and I decided we couldn’t be stuck here.” Currently, SONDORS is preparing to launch 12 new models, including the Metacycle – a machine that moves SONDORS into the realm of the electric motorcycle. Weighing close to 300 pounds, the Metacycle employs a weld-free cast aluminum ‘exo-frame’ that surrounds a 4,000 watt hour battery. At 8 x 4 x 3 inches and just 7 pounds, the removable and transportable battery will charge in 3 hours and 45 minutes using a 110-volt U.S. home outlet — able to take the Metacycle up to 80 miles per charge with a top speed of 80 mph.

First production versions of the MetaCycle will start shipping in a few months: it’s the most eagerly awaited electric motorcycle in history, and a potential game-changer for the industry, with its low price and useful performance. [SONDORS]
“This is very similar to the e-bike mindset, where we are shying away from motorcycle riders,” Storm explains. “I don’t personally believe that motorcyclists are the right people to embrace what we’re creating at SONDORS. What we want to do, we want a mass market audience. We’d like California to be like Bali, where one lane is just scooters and motorcycles.” Storm came to embrace the idea of a more powerful, motorcycle-like machine because he felt that market was somewhat neglected. “We didn’t come in here to compete with motorcycle companies, they’ve done their work, but once you go electric it really democratizes the space. Right now, its price driven and experiential. Is the machine narrow enough? Is it light enough? Is it scary? If it’s scary, it’s not going to work for most people and that’s what drives us. I don’t view this so much as a motorcycle space, but as a two wheeler space as a viable alternative to (internal-combustion) vehicles. I think we’re on the verge of real growth here as long as we stay away from what the average person perceives as a motorcycle. We’re not here following; we want to create new riders who will get their motorcycle license to ride something that’s a legitimate alternative to their car.”

Ever cast an aluminum chassis? Getting it done without porosity issues is a vexing process, but Storm thinks he’s got suppliers who can do it right at the right price. [SONDORS]
At the start of SONDORS, Storm says, “It was so crazy busy back then, once I got into production, I was more excited to be in the present and less worried about what the future was going to look like. I was in my element. I was in the factory, on the creative side, on the testing side. There was so much going on at that point that I kind of felt complete. Money has never been my motivation, and I wasn’t calling venture capitalists looking for investment,” and he concludes, “I didn’t feel I set out to participate in an industry. I simply set out to create a new option for people wanting to go electric.”



Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He’s a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics
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