Probably the most exciting model in the Optibike lineup is the new SIMBB 29er. The
steel-framed bike is host to the compact Super Integrated Motorized Bottom Bracket
(SIMBB), which is housed in a beautifully machined aluminum casing. The $5700 SIMBB
has a range of 27 miles and a top speed of 26 mph.
In 1990 I decided to quit racing and
went to school, where I got a degree in
applied science in mechanical engineering. Funny thing; besides my brother
being in the bike industry, my grandpa
was a professor in electrical engineering
EBA: Oh yeah, about your broth-
er Paul; in a nutshell, what was he
Jim: In 1987 he and Steve Simons
invented the RockShox suspension fork,
which pretty much changed the sport
forever. I think electric bikes are going
through the same type of revolutionary
phase that motocross did in the ’70s
and that mountain bikes did in the ’90s.
In both those instances, just look at how
new technology helped the sports grow.
Right now, e-bikes are in the early stages of disturbing the marketplace, and
it’s really exciting.
EBA: So what came after racing
Jim: I went to work for Ford and
worked on some electrical suspension
projects, but left in 1990 to ride my
bike around the world. Unfortunately
that trip, which was supposed to take a
year, ended after five months. I got a job
working for a semi-conductor company
and didn’t think about bikes much until
1996 when I bought a Zap electric bike.
I used it for tooling around Boulder,
but quickly realized that when it came
to climbing hills, the thing just didn’t
have enough power. At the same time,
I saw what Paul was doing and how
successful he was with RockShox, so I
started to think about starting an e-bike
company. For me, the electric bike was
the perfect fit, because it was based on
everything I’d ever cared about: motorcycles, bicycles and electronics.
EBA: That was about when you
started your own e-bike designs.
Jim: Yes, that’s when Optibike was
first started. I was a fan of the hub
motor design, and at first I had an outside designer help me out, but after he
looked it over, he came back and said
a hub motor was stupid. I was let down
because I really thought hub motors
were the way to go. Then, one day I was
riding my pedal bike up a hill when it
occurred to me: here’s this two-wheeled
vehicle with its own gears that had
already been optimized for human legs
to operate it. Why mess with a system
that had proven itself so efficient for
the last hundred years? It was like a
flash moment; why not have the motor
installed at the bottom bracket?
The range for these full-suspension bikes is 55 miles, and they range in price from
$7995–$11,990. As with the SIMBB, these bikes are all manufactured in America.
EBA: And is that when Lee Iacocca
entered the picture?
Jim: This was back in 1998. I had
built a prototype of the Optibike when
a friend said we should talk to [former
Chrysler CEO] Lee Iacocca, who
himself had become an advocate of
e-bikes in his post-auto career and was
developing his own bike. I got invited
to show the bike to Mr. Iacocca at his
house in Beverly Hills, and as we stood
in his driveway talking about the bikes,
he commented that the problem with
e-bikes was that they weren’t powerful
enough to climb hills. I told him while
that may have been true with his bike,
it wasn’t true with mine. So he got on it
and then started running alongside it
with his whole entourage running after
him. That was pretty funny. He was
impressed and said he wanted to buy
my company. As you can imagine, I
was pretty thrilled at the idea, and so
we wrote up a contract. But then, a little
while later, a new guy at his company
stepped in and killed the deal. I guess
not even Lee Iacocca could raise
enough money for an e-bike company.
The money just wasn’t there yet.
EBA: Where was the technology at
Jim: This was still the late ’90s, and
at the time there wasn’t a lot of e-bike
technology available like there is now.