After years of development and hard work, Waikato-based company Manta5 publically revealed the prototype of their innovative on-water hydrofoil e-bike, Hydrofoiler XE-1, at the Big Boys Toys expo in Auckland in November.
“We had huge amount of interest from the public,” says Manta5 marketing manager Louis Wilks. “People loved the design and a lot of them said they attended the expo just to see the bike. That gave us a lot of encouragement and validated what the team has spent so long working on.”
Thought to be the world’s first commercially viable hydrofoil e-bike, the Manta5 Hydrofoiler XE-1 has been designed to replicate the cycling experience on water, which means riders can plane over the surface of the water – whether a lake, river or ocean.
Despite strong interest from overseas, the production model will first be released to New Zealand customers only, as a limited-edition pre-order with a spring 2018 delivery date.
The current production prototype, seen by visitors to the Big Boys Toys Expo, is a pedal-assisted motorized electric bike designed for the recreational user. If a rider becomes tired of pedalling, they can change the level of motor assist and cruise.
“We can’t wait to see these in use on New Zealand lakes and beachfronts around the country,” says Mr Wilks. “They appeal to people as a cross training tool, for fitness, but there was also a lot of interest from people who want to use them for fun at their bach over summer.”
A unique feature of the bike is its ability to relaunch from a submerged state in the water – a world-first thanks to the company’s team of specialist designers and engineers.
To achieve this the bike has two carbon fibre hydrofoils, which are designed to provide enough lift to raise the body of the bike and rider out of the water.
At its top motorised speed the bike can reach up to 20 kilometres per hour (but this will likely increase with further research and development).
Suitable for use in the ocean as well as the lake, the bike’s design enables it to cut through choppy water and ride over gently rolling waves. The Hydrofoiler XE-1 can used in both fresh and salt water, and its waterproof battery can be removed and recharged on any standard power outlet.
Made from strong carbon fibre and aircraft grade aluminium, the bikes are light enough to carry (about 20 kilograms) and buoyant so they float in water. “People at the expo also told us they liked that the bike can be easily broken down for transportation on a car’s roof rack or in the back of a Ute or station wagon,” says Mr Wilks.
Torpedo7 founder Guy Howard-Willis came up with the concept for a commercial hydrofoil bike in 2010. A visionary, with the creativity and confidence to bring his dream to life, Howard-Willis had seen the advancement in hydrofoil technology, and saw a gap in the market for a bike that replicated the cycling experience on water, rather than land.
However it took several years of thinking and design-work to bring his hydrofoil bike to fruition.
As a business entrepreneur Howard-Willis had a passion for bringing big ideas to the market and could see the commercial potential for such a bike. He also enjoyed cycling and water sports, and realised it could not only be an outdoor training and fitness tool, but a recreational product for use on lakes and oceans.
Mr Howard-Willis joined forces with bike designer Roland Alonzo in late 2011, who had the skills to turn his idea into reality.
For two years they developed the bike in secret, and early prototypes were tested at night in a public swimming pool in Tauranga.
Various prototypes were designed, tweaked and improved on – with the hydrofoil and propeller providing the biggest challenges. The third prototype provided the ‘proof of concept’ they needed – a key aspect was launching the bike from underwater to the surface, and that it could plane on the water.
At that point, more space was required to further develop and commercialise the bike. The company moved operations closer to Lake Karapiro, near Cambridge in October 2015. It was the ideal place to continue testing the hydrofoil bike, and many of the town’s world-class rowers and cyclists helped test ride the bike.
Testing revealed that although an elite athlete was able to launch and ride the bike manually, it did require a level of exertion and sustained energy to keep peddling. That limited its market, so Alonzo and the Manta5’s growing team of engineers and designers got to work on developing an electronic prototype.
GETTING ADVICE AND FUNDING
For Manta5, part of the journey has involved getting business advice and financial support from external sources.
The Waikato Business Growth team, based at Waikato Innovation Park in Hamilton, has supported Manta5 to access government funding to grow its business.
The free service is funded by the Regional Business Partner Network which is supported by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) and Callaghan Innovation.
Manta5 applied to Callaghan Innovation for co-funding to support the cost of hiring an aeronautical engineering advisor.
Callaghan Innovation’s Project Grant provided 50 percent funding for the new hire. “That, in turn, allowed for us to create a step change in what we were doing with our design,” says Mr Johnston. “That made the rider experience became more manageable and it decreased the effort required making the submerged relaunch possible for non-athletes.”
More staff came on board, adding to the calibre of the team at Manta5. Research and design technician Jordan Engelsman was an important addition, not only for his technical skills but for his athletic prowess. “He was a surfer with amazing balance and quite fit, so his role became head test pilot,” says Johnston.
Businessman Phil Deason joined as the general manager of Manta5, focused on the commercial opportunities for the bike.
Later, Greg Johnston joined the company as business development manager, and later became general manager, while Deason moved into a GM role with FocusThree LP, a privately held investment company that supports Manta5 through its commercial property and investment dealings.
“In New Zealand it’s very hard to get early-stage funding from investors,” admits Johnston. “If New Zealand is going to keep up with the rest of the world we need more investment in new products and services and more backers in this space.”
Waikato Business Growth team manager Craig Purcell says Manta5 was a good example of a business that had been “strategic in hiring the right people”, and that’s been “a key factor in their success”.
“They have got a good mix of people in the company – with expertise in marketing, engineering and financial skills – and to hire top people also requires resources.”
Mr Purcell and his team meet with around 500 local businesses every year and regularly travel around the greater Waikato region to offer advice to start-ups and innovators. Once a month advisors travel to regional towns, including Thames, Paeroa, Tokoroa, Taupo, Raglan, Huntly and Tuakau, for client meetings.
Perfecting the aerodynamics and design was one thing, but ensuring the electronic motor was waterproof and not affected by salt water was another. “We tried at least four different motor companies internationally, and travelled to Germany, China and Taiwan to find the right one,” says Mr Johnston. “The housing of the motor needed to be completely waterproof for the e-bike.”
After a lot of travel, meetings and negotiations, they eventually found a Taiwanese company that could work with them to develop what was required.
SUCCESS AND NEXT STEPS
In October Manta5’s hydrofoil bike won gold in the 2017 New Zealand Best Design Awards, in the ‘concept’ category.
The bike is now in the commercialisation stage, and attracting external investment is a key part of the next stage as Manta5 prepares for production and, eventually, an international launch and worldwide distribution. The Manta5 Hydrofoiler XE-1 is not yet available to the international market, only in New Zealand as a pre-order.
“We have had more than 5000 registrations to buy from all over the world, and hundreds of distribution enquiries, and over 13 million views on social media,” says Wilks. “While this is great, we are dedicated to growing sustainably and delivery quality products before we scale up production for the international market. For that reason we are planning to release a small number of limited edition models for New Zealand only.”
Pricing has yet to be established internationally but for the initial pre-sale in New Zealand the bike is looking to be around $7495. Consumers will be able to secure their bike with a 10 percent deposit and pay in instalments prior to the bikes being delivered. With the amount of interest so far the Manta5 team are confident the first bikes will sell quickly.