Crowdfunding sites have been a mixed blessing for the cycling industry. Platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have allowed brands to gauge demand and fund products, but the funding model comes with inherent risk, for brands and backers alike. High-profile flops in recent years include the Knog Oi bell, which sold like hot cakes and then failed to impress in the real world, and the brand SpeedX – whose spectacularly sordid story you can read all about here.
In part because of SpeedX’s journey from crowdfunding darling to literal enemy of the state, I have a special fascination for what cycling industry innovations are making waves on crowdfunding sites. And folks, I’ve got news for you: there’s a new bike blowing up on Indiegogo, and it looks like an absolute doozy.
It’s called The Babymaker. (No, I’m not joking. Yes, I wish I was.)
The Babymaker campaign, with 20 days still to run, has raised a cool US$4.71 million and rising, blowing its modest US$20,000 target rather spectacularly out of the water by 23,595%. It’s the highest-funded Indiegogo project of 2020 thus far, with a dollar amount that puts it ahead of crowdfunding royalty like the SpeedX Leopard, and closing fast on 2016’s MATE e-bike, which raised over US$6.8 million and was one of the highest-funded projects in Indiegogo history at the time.
E-bikes are the hot new thing – as pretty much every cycling brand has discovered over the past few years – so naturally the Babymaker is an e-bike, mashed into one of the last great trends of seasons past: the urban singlespeed.
It is allegedly “the Worlds [sic] Sexiest eBike”, and comes to you from a company called FLX that is returning to the crowdfunding well. The brand’s previous effort, the self-proclaimed “BEST eBike on the planet”, netted US$1.7 million and allowed FLX to push three models into production.
FLX’s founding fathers are a pair of absolute bros from San Diego called Pete and Rob who are – and I quote – “2 speed freaks [ed. distance over time, not amphetamines] that met on Airbnb and started an electric bike company”. That confidence-inspiring introduction out of the way, I can also tell you that they seem to know their way around ickily skin-heavy YouTube thumbnails, and have a knack for social media campaigns and conscripting influencers.
If I’m being critical – which, to be clear, I am – I would argue that they’re not quite as gifted at bike design or naming of bike models. But 3,625 backers to date disagree with me, so what the hell do I know.
The Babymaker (… yup, still hate writing it, good to know) is available on Kickstarter for US$1,049 for the base model, with a ‘PRO’ model for US$1,337. Both feature the same geometry and many of the same features, including a 350-watt hub-drive motor, although the PRO gets an upgrade to hydraulic disc brakes and a belt drive; the base model features a conventional chain and “C-brakes” (standard road calipers; in this case a rather flex-happy Tektro model). You get to choose between bullhorn or drop bars, the latter with some absolutely terrifying lever placement.
As we’ve seen in previous crowdfunding successes of the cycling world, what determines the success of a project is often as much about how it’s sold rather than what it actually offers (or more to the point, how good it is). That means the Babymaker’s presentation is heavy on bright, bold colours with nonsense names like Blue Raspberry (aka blue), platitudinal phrases like “Be Bold. Be Beautiful. Be Free.”, snappy little GIFs of happy people riding their bikes, and very little in the way of actual substance.
But they sign off each of their consumer comms with ‘We love you’, so there’s that.
FLX, either out of ignorance or with intent, doesn’t include a spec sheet or geometry chart on the product’s webpage – which means that correct sizing is a bit of a shot in the dark. Even the video the brand itself produced of a 6’6” rider on a Babymaker doesn’t demonstrate much of substance, other than the fact everyone riding one of these bikes seems to have their seat too low, regardless of size or height, and that that bike’s definitely too small for him.
The vagueness on the tech front has some deep echoes in other Indiegogo and Kickstarter smashes, such as SpeedX, and the reason why is because neither brand is really selling to a cycling audience. These are style-over-substance bike-shaped objects that are distributed to people that may not know any better, given media boosts by tech-focused publications who regurgitate what they’re told by the seller’s page.
That’s only reinforced by the fact that the campaign’s been live for weeks and no one’s yet noticed or pointed out that the single sizing guide that FLX provides claims that the chainstay length is the bottom bracket height.
Predictably, the marketing blurbs on the Babymaker’s Indiegogo page are a combination of generous exaggeration and bombastic nonsense. The Babymaker has, we’re told, “the style of a road bike and the brains of a rocketship” – neither of which is remotely true. It also has the “power of an e-bike with nothing of the bulk”, half of which I would hope to be the case seeing as it is an e-bike, and half of which is a barefaced lie, seeing as it has quite a bit of the bulk at 14.5 kg. But don’t worry: “nobody knows it’s electric” *.
*we totally do.
FLX’s founders describe themselves as vegan environmentalists, which is great, but any idealism there is kind of lip service when it comes to low-cost electric bikes like the Babymaker. Hidden in that girthy downtube are lithium ion battery cells that will eventually leak into landfill – and it’s not as if there’s any great certainty as to how long it will take until that happens. FLX offers the Babymaker with just a one-year warranty, considerably lower than is commonplace in the cycling industry; an extra year can be added to this warranty for a stinging US$249 (37% off!) upcharge.
In a nutshell, that’s kinda why this matters – because if a non-cyclist is introduced to the activity through a bike that’s the wrong size, easily broken, or style over substance (although the ‘style’ bit may be debatable here), they’re unlikely to have a positive experience and then may well be lost to cycling forever. And at that point, a bike stops being a transformative tool for mobility and self-expression, and ends up being an expensive toy that was impulse-purchased on stimulus cheques, clogging up a garage.
It’s also grimly fascinating, because the bike industry produces many bikes that are better than this for the same money – it just hasn’t cracked the code of selling them to these consumers.
The Babymaker came onto our radar through its persistent appearance in social media advertising – that and the fact that a product name like ‘The Babymaker’ isn’t easily forgotten, as much as I’ve tried.¹ “We chose the name because it’s FUN and makes us smile, similar to the experience riding,” FLX says in its FAQs on the Indiegogo page, presumably through a flurry of fist-bumps and shakas. “Also like the bike it gets quite a bit of attention – which is something we feel electric ridables could use more of!”
Now that it’s the highest-crowdfunded project of the year, with a campaign duration that has just been extended by another month, you can expect to see the Babymaker getting a whole lot more attention over the coming weeks.
Whether the story ends up with a bunch of happy customers or a blaze of ignominy remains to be seen, but either way, I’ll be watching … mostly because I can’t look away.
¹ For what it’s worth, Urban Dictionary reckons that the phrase ‘babymaker’ could refer to either male or female genitalia, so at least it’s equal opportunity, but it’s also not that far off releasing a bike called ‘The Throbbing Member’.