Just over two years ago, Dave Weiner quit his job as the CEO of a 285-person company to design a new kind of bicycle. The gamble paid off--the bike raised half a million dollars on Kickstarter, was named an Inc. Best in Class Design Awards winner, and sold over 10,000 models.
Now, Weiner and his startup, Priority Bicycles, are ready for the next iteration.
"We listened to what people had to say," Weiner says from his company headquarters in Lower Manhattan. A year ago, Priority was housed in a tiny back office. Now, the startup is a few floors up, in a roomy, sun-splashed space with white walls and basketball court-style hardwood floors. "A lot of our customers said they were using it as a beach bike. So we said, 'Why don't we design a bike that's specifically for the beach lifestyle?' "
The result: the Priority Coast, a lightweight, durable bike designed to traverse sand and resist salty, humid air. The aluminum frame and stainless steel bolts are rust-free, and the cartridge bearings in the center of the wheels are sealed to keep out sand and salt. Most important--as is Priority's signature--the bike doesn't have a chain. Instead, it uses a belt drive made of carbon fiber, making it low-maintenance, grease-free, and extra resistant to the elements. The company officially unveiled the $449 bike on March 15, and a Kickstarter campaign is underway--which, if last time is any indication, should blow through its $30,000 goal.
The design came partially from Weiner's own imagination. He grew up working in bike shops near San Francisco, and created the original Priority bike after hitting the streets of New York and studying what customizations people had made: switching out quick-release levers for theft-resistant bolts, adding kickstands and water bottle racks. Weiner decided to make these features standard on his first bike, the Priority Classic.
But to make the beach cruiser as close to perfect as possible, Weiner teamed up with Vann Alexandra, a New York City-based startup that manages crowdfunding campaigns. Founder Alex Daly and her team compiled a list of potential test riders: high-profile, coast-dwelling people with active lifestyles who might be willing to give the bike a whirl. The benefits would be twofold--feedback from users who fall in the target demographic, plus, if they liked it, some publicity from people with large social footprints.
After a preliminary roster of close to 1,000 candidates, the team whittled down the list to a few dozen and started reaching out. The eventual takers included Sam Calagione, founder and CEO of Dogsfish Head Brewery; Donavon Frankenreiter, a musician and surfer who pals around with Jack Johnson; Kimi Werner, a professional spearfisher; Doug Bowman, former creative director of Twitter; and a handful of journalists from health and fitness magazines.
"Every day I get emails from companies who want to send me products, and I usually turn them down just because I don't really need a lot more things in my life," says Werner, whose Hawaii-based spearfishing adventures have earned her 92,000 Instagram followers. "But when I saw the photo of the bike, I just fell in love with it."
The version of the Coast that the testers received is white with nearly impenetrable red tires, another Priority staple. The consumer version will also come in black, gray, and pink, with two different frame sizes.
"Unprompted, people come up and go, 'Cool bike, where'd you get that?' " says Calagione, who founded Dogfish Head in 1995. He lives within riding distance of Delaware's shore and hosts fireside chats at Dogfish Head's hotel, which has become a tourist attraction for beer and outdoor enthusiasts.
Calagione's main feedback: The handle grips, also in Priority's shade of red, were made of a leather material that didn't hold up as well as the rest of the bike in wet weather. Priority has since changed them to a high density foam. Calagione also had concerns about the seat, which has since been reshaped and filled with a gel insert.
Weiner also encouraged the testers to mount the bikes with a rack to hold surfboards and other beach equipment and to generally "treat the bikes like crap"--ride it on sand, store it outside, drop it without putting down the kickstand.
"I haven't abused it as much as they've encouraged me to, I'll be honest with you," says Calagione. "But just by virtue of putting the big-ass paddleboard on it and riding it to the beach, you're adding a lot of weight to it. So in that way I've been challenging it."
Werner, the spearfisher, took things a step further, taking the bike off-road into the Hawaiian brush and keeping it outside in the humid air overnight for a few months. "I would've expected to run it into the ground by now." But the bike has held up.
And an added bonus for the company: Werner's crazy popular Instagram feed now includes several photos of her riding the bike around the 50th state, groceries and diving gear in tow.
All this is thrilling to Weiner. Now he finds out if the efforts pay off. "We were lucky that our testers are relentless adventurers, and in completely different environments," he says. "I think we made the best beach bike we could."