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ORBEA PART 4: Gain Brains

Words/Images: James Startt

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For the hard-core racing cyclist, motors in bikes have a bad rap due to suspicion of their use in competition. But while Orbea has long produced racing bikes at the professional level, the Basque bicycle manufacturer prides itself on the diversity of its products. With mountain bikes, urban bikes and children’s bikes also in its catalogue, Orbea understood the rising interest in e-bikes and has produced a unique response: the Gain road e-bike. First released in July 2017, this sleek aluminum road bike met with instant success and is available now in the US market.

While even Orbea is astounded by the success of its new avant-garde road bike, this historic Spanish bike builder was in many ways the perfect company to take on the challenge of an e-bike for real road cyclists. After all, anyone that has ever visited the northern Basque Country remembers it for its incessant and uncannily steep hills. There is little flat terrain in this lush, ever-rolling countryside. And while the scenery is inspiring, the climbs will put any rider to the test. Orbea understands that not every cyclist has the fitness level of the pros who race the Tour of the Basque Country. For some riders, a real road bike with an electronic option is ideal.

The Gain is foremost a road bike, with road geometry, a road look and road feel. It is a bike that requires a cyclist to ride. But while the Gain looks like many road bikes, a battery pack and electronic assistance are elegantly hidden in the down tube and rear hub and only a discreet light on the top tube gives away the fact that there’s a motor inside. It is here where a cyclist can push lightly to access the motor, with a different colored light signifying the amount of assistance the bike is offering, allowing the rider to go farther, and perhaps even harder, on any given day.

We caught up with the company’s urban and e-bikes product manager Jon Gantxegi at Orbea’s home in Mallabia, Spain. Gantxegi is passionate about how e-bike technology can change cycling and attract thousands of newcomers to the sport of cycling.

PELOTON Magazine: Jon, you have been with Orbea for over a decade. How did you get involved in the e-bike program?

Jon Gantxegi: Well, I was working in the quality department. Then I worked in product management. Already there I started thinking about e-bikes as I just sensed that they would become an increasingly important part of the market. So when we decided to really start developing e-bikes I wanted to be part of that. I started experimenting and in November 2016 I had my first prototype. I went out for a ride with it and it just blew me away. It was so much fun!

PELOTON: That’s amazing, because you came out with the Gain at the end of last year so essentially in less than 12 months you went from prototype to full production of the road e-bike.

Gantxegi: Absolutely. I don’t think we would have been able to do it without our long history in cycling, and in many ways Orbea was the perfect company to do something like this. You know Orbea is a medium-size player in the bike industry, and for something like developing an e-bike we are perhaps the perfect size. We are big enough to have the experience and know-how to develop a new kind of bike, and yet we are small enough that we could mobilize quickly and devote the resources needed to get the Gain into production quickly.

PELOTON: What was the biggest challenge in designing an affordable electric road bike at a reasonable weight for a road cyclist?

Gantxegi: The biggest challenge was finding the right partner in e-bike technology. When I shared my thoughts with different potential partners, everybody seemed to be thinking that bigger was better—the bigger the battery, the better. The more torque, the better, etcetera. I was thinking the opposite, that less is more. For road cyclists, for example, they don’t want this huge kick once the electronic assistance is engaged. They just want a smooth transition that enhances their ride. So for me the toughest part was to find the right partner, but I found it in E-Bike Motion that has just been perfect, a natural partner.

They are close to Madrid and because of their background in the automotive industry we knew that they would provide the quality and performance we needed. It is really perfect, because they have all of this electronic experience. It’s funny, because I thought I knew something about electronics. But when I talk with them I understand that they are real electronic specialists. They, on the other hand, thought that they knew something about bicycles, but they understand now that we are the bike specialists.

PELOTON: Your first full-on road e-bike has an aluminum frame. I know that you still produce a lot of aluminum bikes at Orbea, but why did you opt for aluminum for the Gain?

Gantxegi: We decided on aluminum first, because, well, it was a big bet. Okay, we were very confident about the product, but we did not know how the market would accept it. The investment in carbon is higher and also it takes longer. Going with alloy allowed us to get into the market much quicker and also get a sense of how the market would react. And the success was just overwhelming. We launched it in September of last year and already in March of this year all of our production for 2018 was sold! We’ve sold over 2,000 so far and there is a waiting list for more.

PELOTON: Well, you were more than impressed with the initial success of the Gain, both on the final product you have produced as well as the success it has had in the market. So I think it is safe to say that now a carbon version is more than realistic. And it might not take three years to develop?

Gantxegi: Absolutely. I think it will be much closer to three months rather than three years before you see a carbon version of the Gain.

PELOTON: Whenever I talk to people in the industry outside of the racing world, I often hear them say that one of the absolutely fastest growing sectors in the industry is with e-bikes. How big do you think they can become? Do you think that e-bike growth will plateau or do you think we are only just seeing the beginning of a whole new kind of cycling?

Gantxegi: Well, what we do know is that the cycling is changing. And I am not just talking about racing. Essentially, more and more people in cycling want to have fun. Okay, for a professional cyclist, fun and comfort on a bike are not their top priority. Pro racing is very hard. But a lot of people today don’t have the time to train like a pro and get in shape like a pro. They just don’t have the time to spend so many hours on a bike, but they want to be able to get on a bike and have fun. They want to have the joy and sensation of riding easily and we believe that these kinds of bikes are perfect for a lot of people because they are still very much road bikes and you still have to pedal plenty. You will sweat plenty, but you can have a little assistance on some of the hardest parts of a ride. So we feel that for a lot of people this is a perfect bike. If you are not in great shape but still want to go up a beautiful climb, well the Gain gives you the possibility.