Electric bikes or e-bikes are a convenient way to commute with the triple benefit of getting the desired exercise while cycling or letting the machine partially assist when you are out of breath, and doing your bit for the planet. But, one cannot ignore the fear of rash traffic. So, is there a way one can travel safely, sustainably, and quickly?
“Yes!” says Mumbai-based entrepreneur Nilesh R Bothra. The 27-year-old is the co-founder of Calamus, a manufacturer of smart and safe electric bicycles. Nilesh informs us that Calamus’ Ultra e-bike is the ‘world’s safest e-bike’.
And, what really makes it safe?
“The biggest feature that ensures the safety of the rider is the Blindspot Assist System that has been integrated into the bike. Every time a speeding vehicle comes your way while you are, perhaps, changing the lane, the cycle handlebar gives the rider haptic feedback along with a warning on the 4-inch LCD touchscreen,” informs Nilesh.
Also known as kinaesthetic communication or 3D touch, Haptic technology creates an experience of touch with the application of force, vibration, or motion to the user.
The ergonomic e-bike comes with other features like a fingerprint lock and anti-theft tracking system and has a mileage of 20 km in 30 minutes charging time.
The e-bike was launched for sale in August 2019 and since then, the Calamus has had 250 orders including orders from 27 countries most notably the US, Germany, UK and Switzerland.
In conversation with The Better India (TBI), co-founder Nilesh discusses the uniquely safe Calamus bike and the work that was put behind it so it could see the light of day.
From College Students to Entrepreneurs
Nilesh and Huzaifa were college roommates at Singhad College of Engineering in Pune before they decided to found a venture together. While Nilesh was pursuing his degree in Production Engineering, Huzaifa was studying Computer Science Engineering.
The dream to first start a venture began in college. “Back in college, I was really passionate about automobiles. At that time, I was part of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) team in college where we were designing and fabricating Formula SAE racing car prototypes. In fact, I was also a part of the racing team,” informs Nilesh, who ultimately led the team at an international racing event in Japan.
While in college, he co-founded a startup called 12C, which designed, and developed high-performance carbon fibre and glass fibre parts for racing cars. However, as college got over in 2016 he left the startup and it shut shop in 2017. Post his graduation he joined Rolls Royce Motor Cars as an engineer in training for a few months.
Fresh out of college, Nilesh and Huzaifa had already worked towards developing their first prototype. “It was only a two-member team then and we were working out of my living room which served as our workshop,” he informs.
He also adds that it wasn’t easy financially.
Gradually, the workshop moved out of the living room to a rented workspace shared with two other companies. The co-founders developed the first prototype by late 2017 and also got incubated by thinQbate, an incubator and accelerator-based out of Mumbai who discovered their prototype and loved it.
The journey towards commercial production began here on and so did refining the Ultrabike which was launched in 2019.
Smart, Safe and Sustainable Ultra E-bike
Conventionally, homegrown companies start out by strengthening their presence in the market at home before going global. But Calamus decided to take a different approach.
“Our idea was to create a niche for ourselves in the international market. This was because after following all the regulations in Europe and other international markets, adhering to the market compliances here wouldn’t be a challenge because the industry is still at a nascent stage here. Besides, so many international buyers is a sort of validation for our bikes,” he informs.
The increasing number of orders is due to the many features of the Calamus e-bike. The frame of the e-bike has been crafted from aircraft-grade aluminium and in a single charge, it can travel up to 80 km. The safety measures like the Blindspot Assist System and the fingerprint lock stand out.
The bike also has inbuilt alarms and can be tracked on the phone app for over two weeks without alerting the thief.
While other features like a 360-degree lighting system ensure safety on the roads by keeping the path well illuminated, the bike also has an SOS button for accidents or other emergencies. The button sends out an immediate alert to the closest contacts of the rider. The contacts can then track the location of the rider and pick them up from the site in case of emergencies.
One can use the e-bike for touring as well as riding on Indian streets. There is a screen for navigation and at 21 kg, the bike is relatively lighter than other bikes in the market that weighs anywhere between 25 to 30 kg.
Currently, there are two models for the bike — Calamus One-25 and Calamus One-75.
The production of the bike, for the most part, is taking place in Thailand while the partial assembly is done in Mumbai. Some of the parts have also been sourced from Japan, Europe and Taiwan.
Customers have been happy with the Calamus e-bike so far.
Take 56-year-old Thomas Kraft for example. The quality analyst based out of the US discovered the bike online and was immediately attracted to the features.
“I did not have a high tech e-bike and the Ultrabike struck me not only as a technological wonder but also a work of art. Compare this to almost any other electric bike and the choice is clear. No other bike I know has so many features at such a price,” he says.
He adds that features like the 360 Lighting system, Blindspot assist, and Multi-layered theft protection were the most appealing features. “Especially, Blind-spot assist which has never been used by any other bike and is so important for road- safety!” he says.
The interesting features also helped Calamus gain the attention of entrepreneurs like Pranav Marwah, co-founder of thinQbate. His initial interest in the bike developed as a customer and later, he decided to offer Calamus the offer of incubation. In fact, he has himself purchased the bike and speaks about the features that stand out for him.
“Safety and security are huge concerns on Indian roads. The integrated features like the anti-theft, blind spot are great to counter this problem. There is a lot of value to it. Even the tracking system is quite efficient along with the good hardware. They have really embodied that less is more,” he says.
Challenges and Looking Ahead
After having overcome the initial challenges, Calamus has also been trying to deal with hurdles that have come into existence with the pandemic. The co-founders often travel to Thailand to oversee the manufacturing processes while visiting Europe and the US to explore the markets but it all has been put on hold.
“Currently, we are trying to deal with the new normal. The supply chain is badly hit and because we cater to demands across the globe, the production and delivery chain is delayed. But we are trying to make peace with that. However, in terms of sales, we have seen that in the past few months, we have gotten more inquiries and that makes us happy,” says Nilesh.
Nilesh informs that they are constantly working on improving the features of the bike while making the safety technology available for other players in the industry. They are also looking to launch a cargo focussed e-bike next year if things go according to plan. He also shares that in the near future, they want to come up with a folding bike for which R and D has already begun. They also want to create India’s first hypercar one day, he shares.
“We are not just an e-bike company but want to create vehicles that inspire. We want to build this company to showcase the prowess of Indian automotive on a global scale,” says Nilesh.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)