Twenty-five years ago, two German men founded a company in Vista, hoping to sell California lifestyle apparel.
Instead, what Benno Banzinger and Jeano Erforth found is one of today's most popular bicycle companies. As the two men worked to sell the clothing, they created their first cruiser bike as a way to spark interest in their brand. The bicycle quickly gained a following.
Today, Electra Bicycle Company offers a wide range of modern cruiser bicycles, all designed at its Encinitas office, where the company found its home in the heart of downtown in 2015.
"It's pretty awesome to think that a company that started 25 years ago with just building a few cruiser bikes would really become the bike company that we are today, selling the No. 1 best-selling bike in all of America now for the last three years," said Kevin Cox, president of Electra.
In its first 10 years, the company made nothing but Cruiser bikes, Cox said. Then, in the early 2000s, mountain bikes gained a large following, even from people who just used them to get to destinations such as parks and beaches.
That mode of transportation didn't really make sense for all-around use, Cox noted, because mountain bike seats were notoriously uncomfortable and not ideal for everyday use.
Thus, Electra's Townie bike was born.
Cox said that bike, which has become the No. 1 best-selling bike in the country, "really put Electra on the map." The bicycle allows riders to sit straight up versus being hunched over. Riders can also put their feet flat on the ground, and the seats are adjustable.
"It allows you to get proper extension," Cox said. "With other bikes, you have to tippy-toe or jump off the seat and touch the ground to stop. That was really the secret sauce for us. And now, every bike we make, we use this technology. It inspires this confidence for people that maybe haven't ridden for a long time."
In 2014, the company took the Townie one step further with the advent of the Townie Go pedal-assist bicycle, which allows users to travel farther distances or uphill without having to use as much energy.
The bike includes a Bosch brand motor, a battery and an electronic component near the handrails with a power switch. Users can choose from four riding modes: eco, tourist, sport and turbo, each with different speed assistance up to 20 miles per hour.
Cyclists must still pedal in order for the bike to move, but the motor assistance gives an extra push to get users to their destinations, Cox said.
The Townie Go is the No. 2 selling e-bike in the U.S. and allotted for 25 percent of Electra's total sales last year, he said.
Cox said he sees pedal-assist bikes as the bikes of the future.
"I just don't see that decreasing over the next three-to-five years for sure," he said. "What you'll see from Electra is continued increase in the utilitarian purpose behind bikes. More and more people are looking at bikes now and seeing them as reliable transportation options. Our goal is for whenever someone wakes up and they go to where their keys are hanging, we want them to pick up their bike lock keys all the time."
Electra bikes are aimed at novice riders, rather than professionals, Cox said.
"The consumer we're chasing isn't a professional bike rider," he said. "It's someone who just wants to take a ride to the beach or it's the 47-year-old mother of two that hasn't been on a bike since she was in grade school who wants to ride with her kids."
Electra has also entered into a partnership with the City of Encinitas.
Last year, the company donated standard and electric bikes for city employees to use to pedal around town. The program was part of the city's climate action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
"Anything we can do here in Encinitas to be a good neighbor, we'll do," Cox said.
For more information, visit www.electrabike.com.