‘You either love e-bikes, or you haven’t ridden one yet’

Founders of Hertfordshire-based e-bike brand Estarli, Alex and Oliver Francis, are hoping to bring affordable bikes to a new audience. Alex Ballinger travelled to Estarli HQ to test out the brand’s offerings

This piece first appeared in the October edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

“We’re constantly iterating and changing stuff,” said Alex Francis, co-founder of British e-bike brand Estarli. “We’re always challenging what we do.” Estarli, based in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, is a relatively new and nimble bike builder, targeting new cyclists with its range of affordable e-bikes, ranging from small-wheel folding bikes to hybrids.

Founded in 2020 by brothers Alex and Oli Francis, Estarli now works with a network of 20 dealers in the UK, but is looking to expand its retailer network for the future. Alex, a former software engineer and bike lover, is responsible for much of the design work for the brand, while Oliver is a former marketing and advertising specialist, taking on that side of the Estarli business.

With five staff and a freelance community of specialist bike builders, Estarli is supported by a band of bicycle enthusiasts, who hand-assemble the bikes on site. The brand name comes from James Starley, a 19th century inventor based in Coventry, who built the first electric cycles 150 years ago.

The range
One of the unique selling points for Estarli is its range of models, which include two folding bikes, and a 28-inch wheel hybrid, with more iterations on the way. On my visit to the new Estarli HQ, in an industrial estate just outside the centre of Berkhamsted, I had the opportunity to test a number of variations, including the e20 folding bike, the e28 hybrid, and a new and exciting prototype.

The cheapest model in the range is the 16-inch wheel folding bike the e16, which retails for £1,095 for the basic version, up to £1,595 for the e28 hybrid. Alex, a former software engineer, discussed the reason for offering a variety of different styles of bike: “It’s often driven by demand and what people are asking us to do. It’s also so we can diversify ourselves in the market a little bit.

“We hope that people will see our bikes on the street and not know that they’re e-bikes, so the look is important. We also didn’t want to make the bikes unappealingly expensive. They’re functional, but they look cool.”

The network
While working with its network of around 20 UK bike dealers, Estarli is able to react and adapt quickly, with bikes hand-assembled at its HQ. The bikes are also designed with dealers in mind, as Oliver explained: “Part of our lean engineering and open circuit ethos is that these are bikes that can go into any bike shop for repair and maintenance.

“It’s not a closed system, so we’re stress free for them. They can talk directly to the guys who make it. They know they get honest and frank answers. We’re local so we can get stuff to people easily. As one of our dealers said, people go out for a test ride and they love it, and then they find out the price is way less than they thought. I think that’s why we’ve found our place in bike shops, and long may that continue.”

Estarli is now hoping to expand its network, with geography being a key detail for new partner stores, as the brand hopes to expand in bigger cities, the south west, the midlands and also the north west.

Alex said: “In terms of what we offer dealers, because we’re UK-based it’s very easy to deal with us. We stock all spares and we’ve got a great knowledge base here. They can just pick up the phone, we’ll talk them through it, we’ll simulate the issue, and they really appreciate that.”

What’s next?
Alongside the plans for expanding its dealer network, Estarli also has new product lines in the works. First up for early 2023 is a new BMX-inspired e20, unofficially dubbed the e20 Play – a 20-inch folding bike with rugged tyres and front suspension, making it slightly more versatile than the current e20 model.

Alex added: “Cargo is a space we’re keen to look at and get into, but that’s in the future and we haven’t got a firm plan yet. A mountain bike offering would be really cool, something that we’re definitely keen to have.”

Underpinning the philosophy at Estarli is an idea that Oliver recently heard from another source: You either love e-bikes, or you haven’t ridden one yet. Oliver added: “If more people ride, then there’s more cycle paths, more rights for cyclists, and it’s a good thing for everyone.”

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