I visited Ride1Up’s e-bike factory to find the secret behind good quality, low-cost e-bikes

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I’ve been riding Ride1Up e-bikes since just about their first model. Over the many years since I first threw a leg over that bike, I’ve watched the company roll out an ever-increasing lineup of diverse e-bikes that all shared one common trend: great bang for your buck.

So when I was recently touring Asia to visit micromobility factories for a peek behind the curtain, I knew Ride1Up’s factory would be high on my list. They invited me out to join the company’s founder, Kevin Dugger, on a tour of the factory so I could see just how Ride1Up goes about ensuring they can keep the quality high and the prices low.

Like nearly every other e-bike company in the US, their bikes are produced in China. But you can get a wide range of quality across such a large country with vast manufacturing facilities. If you cheap out, you get cheap products. But if you design a production system with triple and quadruple quality-assurance inspections, you get well-made products that treat their owners right for years to come.

That’s the calculation Ride1Up made, and it’s paying dividends for the company in reducing customer issues and thus, customer complaints. And when you have as generous of a return policy as Ride1Up, you darn well better make sure people get their bikes in good shape and that those bikes last as long as riders expect them to.

My tour of Ride1Up’s factory took me straight onto the factory floor where parallel production lines were busy cranking out Ride1Up’s ultra-affordable $995 Portola folding e-bike on one side of the factory, and the company’s budget-priced $2,295 CF Racer1 carbon fiber road/gravel e-bike. And yes, when it comes to carbon fiber road and gravel e-bikes, 2 g’s is crazy low-priced.

To see a tour of the factory and learn the secrets behind making high-quality e-bikes, check out my video below. And don’t forget to keep reading below for even more detail!

Before parts get to either of those lines though, they first go through pre-check. Wheels are built up around motors and front hubs using automated lacing machines that then feed into automated checking robots to ensure they’re properly laced and tensioned.

Any wheel that doesn’t come out exactly right is shunted off to a side chute where a human inspector can evaluate it and send it back for reworking until it’s perfect.

The process combines both manual and automated tasks, drawing from the best of both types of resources.

Frames are inspected at this point too, having been sent in from another off-site welding and painting building (as Ride1Up’s factory is located in a lower-emissions area).

The frames are inspected for any paint knicks or imperfections, and any frames with issues are marked for repair before being sent off for assembly.

The rest of the frames move on to the assembly line.

Those pre-inspected frames are hoisted off to the initial assembly area by an elevated conveyor, where initial assembly will begin.

On the other side of the conveyer, a worker receives the frame and sets it up at its first station so that lights can be installed on the rear rack and internally run cables can be passed through the frame tubes.

Controllers are then installed into the frames, but only after being scanned into an intelligent management system that digitally pairs each component with the bike frame. This is used for accountability in the future. If a component is ever found to be defective, such as if a controller manufacturer reports back that a certain batch of 20 controllers has an issue, Ride1Up can instantly know which bikes may be affected and can trace that exact bike and controller to its owner, even months or years later.

The controllers are potted to make them waterproof

For the Portola folding e-bikes, the frames are then ready to be loaded on the assembly line’s conveyor system, which slowly moves down the line to each worker’s station.

The first step is to install the pedal drivetrain, which includes the bottom bracket, chainring, cranks, and pedals. Next the folding hardware is installed, followed by the kickstand and the rear wheel with the motor. Each component is held on using specially treated hardware designed for corrosion resistance, with bolts having thread locker compound applied to ensure they don’t shake loose.

The handlebars are then mounted to the frames along with the front fork. With the handlebars mounted, the wiring, shifter cable, and brake hoses can all be routed up to the bars. Wire wraps are applied to make the wiring hardness look neat and tidy, and then a battery is installed. Just like the controller, major parts like the motor and battery are also scanned and recorded so that documentation exists for each e-bike to maintain a record of its entire parts list.

The tools used in each step are also regularly calibrated using sophisticated electronic tools, ensuring that if a bolt requires 10 Nm of torque to be applied, the torque wrench is truly outputting 10 Nm of torque.

Reaching the end of the automated conveyor system, the e-bikes are flipped onto their wheels and rolled over to a finishing station, where another worker indexes the shifter, calibrating it so that all of the gears shift crisply and without jumping.

On this day, the parallel line was assembling the carbon fiber CF Racer1 e-bike. Only the most experienced workers are put on this assembly line due to the higher tolerances of carbon fiber bike work. There also aren’t any power tools used on this line; all of the assembly steps are performed using precision hand tools to avoid applying too much stress to the carbon fiber frame.

The general steps are similar to those seen on the first assembly line, but performed with an even higher level of sophistication. Frames are first visually inspected to weed out any imperfections before being hoisted along a hanging conveyor system to the assembly line. From there, workers install the controllers, batteries, wheels, handlebars, shifter, pedal drivetrain, and any other hardware.

After reaching the end of the assembly line, the bikes are rolled off to their own finishing area, where the brake lines are bled and the shifter is calibrated.

Once fully-assembled, both bike models are rolled off into their own corrals, where they await visual inspection. Quality testers go over the bike to inspect dozens of points and ensure they are assembled correctly.

Any issues are marked and the bikes are rolled off into a side corral for remediation. The intelligent tracking system also correlates the issue to the worker who performed that task, allowing the factory to root out systematic issues by immediately addressing any mistakes that a worker might make. Workers with few or no mistakes also get monetary bonuses to their salary, providing further incentive for the bikes to be assembled perfectly the first time.

The approved bikes are then passed onto the next stage of ride testing.

At this point, none of the e-bikes have any saddles. That’s because they’re all ride-tested to ensure all functions are working properly, and these workers use the same seats that are switched from bike to bike. The actual saddle that ships with the e-bike is added just before packaging, ensuring that when a customer eventually opens their e-bike, theirs are the first cheeks to grace that saddle.

Once the bikes pass their ride testing, they are considered complete, though they aren’t yet ready for packaging.

Before the e-bikes can be packed up, they first must go through a series of third-party inspections. These outside contracted inspectors aren’t Ride1Up’s factory employees, but actually work somewhat antagonistically with them. Their job is to redo all of the inspections and find anything that was missed in the several previous rounds of inspections.

Because they are technically not Ride1Up’s factory employees and instead come from an outside inspection agency, they approach the inspections differently and are better positioned to find any issues that could have slipped through the previous several rounds of in-house inspections.

Only once the e-bikes pass third-party inspections are they considered ready for boxing up. At that point, they head to the last conveyor belt of their journey, which sends them along a packaging routine that has been meticulously refined by Ride1Up over several years. The company has applied the experience of shipping tens of thousands of e-bikes to find ways to best protect the bikes while also minimizing the amount of plastic and foam used in the process.

As I looked through the packaging steps, I couldn’t find any foam traditionally used in bicycle packaging, and the only plastic I saw were the cable ties and a single piece of soft plastic used to protect the fork.

Interestingly, there was still one final inspection point applied even after boxing up the e-bikes. The entire box is precision weighed, which ensures it comes out to the exact right weight.

If a single component or piece of packaging was forgotten, the box would be too light and the factory would know there was an issue.

It’s just the cherry on top of an entire system full of redundant safety and quality inspections performed before, during, and after the assembly process.

I’ve seen a lot of e-bike factories in my years covering the industry, but it’s rare to see this many spot checks and quality assurances built into so many different areas of the production and assembly process.

The tour was a fascinating look behind the curtain of how Ride1Up builds its e-bikes, and helps answer the question of how they can offer so much value.

As a direct-to-consumer company, they have to offer e-bikes that work well right out of the box. These e-bikes are being shipped largely to private customers, not bike shops and professional assemblers. So they have to be ready to roll, without the need for repairs, right from day one. Anything else would result in a costly return process for Ride1Up.

Over the years, they have refined their system for building quality e-bikes that are built to last while still offering a reasonable price point for riders.

I’ve long touted the company’s quality and performance from my own testing of their various e-bike models. But that was always merely the end of the story – riding the finished product. Now, having seen the assembly and quality inspections firsthand, I can finally vouch for their professionalism from the very start of the process.

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