Some links may be affiliate links. We may get paid if you buy something or take an action after clicking one of these.
From Mountain Bike Pioneer to E-Bike Innovator: a Conversation With Gary Fisher
Apr 19, 2023
Gary Fisher was one of the originators of the mountain bike, in Marin County, back in the 1970s. In addition to making the first production mountain bike and helping to popularize the sport, Fisher can be credited with many of mountain biking’s greatest technical advances—everything from bigger wheels to four-bar-linkage suspension. For many years, Fisher Mountain Bikes were where new ideas got laughed at … before everyone adopted them.
Trek Bikes purchased Fisher and for many years Fisher worked with Trek to continue improving mountain bikes before he decided it was time to part ways with the company. Even before his departure, Fisher saw the promise the e-bikes offered. While many might assume that the former racer (he raced against Greg LeMond back in the day) would tout the health benefits of riding an e-bike, Fisher’s emphasis has been on the ability of e-bikes to transform cities, making them more livable, simplifying transportation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In March of 2023, Fisher announced a new venture, the e-bike company Morelle, which will be a division of the battery technology company Ionblox. Until now, Ionblox’s batteries have been used in ultra-high-end electric aircraft. Fisher has said that Ionblox’s batteries will be smaller, lighter, offer greater range and will fully charge in a half hour. We visited him at his home in Marin County to chat about his company named for the tasty mushroom.
When people talk mountain bikes and OG, your name is one of the first mentioned. Given your history in the sport, why shift your focus from the fun of mountain bikes to the practicality of e-bikes? (He has spoken of wanting to do more with bikes to help communities and the planet. He has young kids.)
Gary Fisher: Well because I’ve got something there, and I know it. In the mountain bike world, a lot of [the technology] has moved on, and honestly, I’m happy with that, because I think e-bikes are the greatest need right now. One is entertainment and a lot of self-satisfaction. The other is the whole family of humans—we need this.
Even before you and Trek parted ways you had begun speaking at micromobility conferences and at symposia on e-bikes. If we rewind two or three years, where did you think you were headed?
I wasn’t thinking about my own personal moves. I was just really excited about something with so much momentum, with so much power.
Tell us about Morelle. What made you decide to get involved with Ionblox?
There are two principals; they had this battery company, and it was really a breakthrough, and yet they weren’t happy with what they were doing; they wanted to do something more. They were already bike guys and they love bikes. And they said, ‘Hey, we can bring this to e-bikes.’ And I recognized, man, these guys are smart! And they developed a technology that would be wasted if we didn’t put it on bikes.
Why did you decide to get involved in making bikes again?
I asked these guys, ‘Well, do you want to sell it to another company, like a Bosch?’ And they said, ‘No. We want to do a whole bike because we know if you sell just a battery, it’s such an incremental part of the whole thing—we want to be bigger than that.’ And I said, ‘Okay! Wow you want to bite off the big thing.’ Well I’ve done that before. The complete bike! Oh boy! I know what a complicated thing it is; I appreciate it, and I’m ready to go.
Will you sell your bikes as well, or will you predicate the operation on the subscription model? You’ve talked about the first bike being fairly expensive.
Well, it’s not super-cheap. Let’s put it that way. Because I know that cheapness is a really poor approach because you wind up having something that’s completely unreliable. This is a way of giving something to somebody that is completely reliable, that you can trust and it’s called really building that trust. That’s what we want to build—something that’s indispensable and not just inexpensive.
In our previous conversations you’ve commented on how you want to see higher-quality e-bikes made, ones that use better materials, offer better features, improved durability and more. But given that the hot price point in e-bikes sits between $1000 and $2000, how do you propose to get people over sticker shock with your e-bikes? You’ve suggested possibly offering a subscription of $100 or $200 per month. What’s the business model here? Is this a lease or is it ultimately to own?
That’s a good question. I’m not sure what we’re going to do on that. To be honest, we’ve just been gathering all our competitors’ information, what they’re doing and what would be possible. People want options; they want to at least be able to buy if they can. We haven’t made up our minds on exactly what we’re going to do.
In terms of getting these e-bikes out into the world, are you thinking direct-to-consumer, or are you thinking of an IBD network?
It’s more direct-to-consumer, and it would be using people who are already out there when we can. There are a number of people who do mobile repair. We will partner with some of those folks. We’re still looking at different possibilities. Of course, in order to scale, you set up a system; we contact people who are already doing this in some way. I want to have the human touch involved; people want to have someone look them over and say, ‘Hey, this is what you need; this is what you’ve got going and everything.’ Of course there’s always the option of going with something that’s totally neutral; that’s what a chatbot is. These days you want to have every option available.
Will Morelle create jobs here in the US or will most of your workforce be overseas?
We’re going to create a workforce wherever we are. We’re going to start in the US for sure. That’s one of the reasons I want to get into 3D printing more. That can bring your goods anywhere. I like skilled workers; I like to be able to teach the skills, too.
How long before we start seeing Morelles?
It’s gonna be a year [laughs] it’s gonna be a little while. To be honest—
A year sounds pretty quick to me.
It is pretty quick—it’s really quick. It’s going to be one simple first model; it’s not gonna be a cargo bike or something like that. The technology for the battery is very unique; I think a lot of our ideas are pretty unique, too. I’m not worried about that; I’m rather comfortable saying this is going to take awhile; go out and buy another bike today, okay? And ride a bike and be happy. Cuz we’ll be along, but I’m sorry, I won’t be able to take care of you in 30 days or 60 days and I’m not going to make promises I can’t keep.
It’s really pleasing to get the press; it’s really nice and everything, but to be honest, I’m a little bit shocked.
*Please help support our efforts at Electric Bike Report. We work hard to provide the highest quality content, news, and reviews for our readers – and our sponsors make all of this possible. Please visit our sponsors from their ads on our website and let them know that you appreciate what they do for the e-bike industry and Electric Bike Report