Tired of feeling unfulfilled by their day jobs, inventors Philippe Lefrancq and Frederic Mertens set out on a mission to change continental commuting for the better, and find themselves along the way. We caught up with Lefrancq at Eurobike.
Tell us about what inspired you to create Ahooga
It all started with the first grey facial hair, and a lack of purpose in our previous jobs. Fred and I were working in the same company, and we both knew that we were in search for something more meaningful. Besides, we felt our home city was unhappy. Don’t get me wrong, Brussels is a super fun city to live in, in many ways. However, mobility wise, let’s just say there is room for improvement – as in most metropolises in Europe. Very much inspired by cities like Copenhagen and the work of contemporary urbanists such as Jan Gehl, Charles Montgomery, we strongly believe that the secret of the world’s happiest cities lies on pleasant commuting.
So we started Ahooga with the willingness to take an active role in this path to happiness. We felt we were onto something by bringing to life a bike that combines four never-seen-before characteristics: folding, comfort, electricity and hyperlight weight. For better cities, and better lives. That’s what our project is actually about, happy cities!
Now, about the brand name – AHOOGA is an onomatopoeic name. It’s the sound an antique automobile’s horn made in the 1920s. Just another milestone in the history of mobility. It was adopted by the movie industry as a sound effect symbolizing astonishment and excitement, amongst other emotions. In particular, it was used in the Tex Avery cartoons by the wolf who was crazy-in-love with the pretty lady dancer at the bar. Our folding mudguards are inspired by that cartoon.
What kind of buyer are you trying to attract?
With this bike, we are addressing a lot of actual and potential cyclists’ expectations or concerns. Fatigue, sweat, long distance, theft... to name a few. We want to attract that portion of people who still hesitate about leaving their car in the garage more often. We look for multimodality. This means we are aiming to convert non-cyclists, too.
Our customer-base is wide, ranging between 20 and 80 years old, with a fair split between male and female. They live in and around big cities, obviously.
What is different about Ahooga to everything else on the market?
First comes the weight. I believe we have the lightest e-bike on the planet at 13kg. Unlike most e-bikes when the assistance is off, the Ahooga remains a lightweight hybrid bicycle, easy and fun to ride, making the autonomy range a stretchable parameter.
Then comes the comfort. Although it’s a folding bike, you get a fantastic riding experience. It’s stiff, dynamic, efficient and it’s comparable to a full size geometry bike in many ways. Just try it and you’ll love it. Last but not least, for the sake of a better adoption, we believe that – like clothing – your bike is the extension of your personality and should resemble you. That’s why we made it available in no fewer than 215 colours. Actually, you can double that figure because we’re available in both glossy and matte finishes, too.
How is the company structured?
Most of our activities are gathered in one place in Brussels/Belgium: headquarters, main showroom, workshop, warehouse... We are structured into three different departments: operations, production/R&D and marketing. We work with both freelancers and employees, a happy cocktail .
What trends are you seeing right now, and how are you reacting to them?
We’re witnessing the electric bike market growing rapidly. It goes with more powerful motors each year, bigger batteries, and so on. We took the opposite path, aiming at the lightest electric assistance and our hybrid bike. Although we see all this growing offer, as a good thing, it explains why we work our asses off.
What did you use your time at the Eurobike show for?
Actually, we can now tell you that we launched the world premiere presentation of our new Kick-Ass at Eurobike. In a nutshell, this new release includes disc brakes, more off-the-shelf colours, and an increased battery range. We dedicate our time at Eurobike for meeting with retailers mainly. We don’t work with distributors for different reasons, one of them is to be able to sense and build a relationship with the shops we work with. Eurobike is that one opportunity for meeting with all our partners; we consolidate existing relationships and build new ones with those having shown interest in our brand. That direct to retailer approach takes more time, but we like it this way.