Even before setting foot on his college campus, Andy Harris ’18 knew he needed a way to get around it; he was recovering from a knee injury and predicted the 35-minute walk to his 8 a.m. class would exhaust him.
He scoured the internet for his perfect solution, which turned out to be the relatively unknown Sur Ron electric dirt bike. Deciding to buy this particular bike would define his University of California, Berkeley
experience, ultimately inspiring him to launch a start-up and build the electric bike of his dreams, one that could redefine urban commuting and expand the sustainable transportation market.
“It really showed me there was a demand for an entry-level urban electric commuter vehicle that could replace a motorcycle or moped, but also be more functional than the classic e-bike,” Harris said. “I saw the niche and saw the need and wanted to see if there was some chance I could fill it. I think I have a good shot at it.”
Engineering solutions comes naturally to Harris; at St. Andrew’s, he was a founder and captain
of the FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Team
and one of the school’s first D!Lab
interns. When his Sur Ron arrived, he started to modify it to be road ready and, upon discovering there were no after-market parts that he could use, he manufactured them all himself.
“It was complicated, but I figured it out quickly. Then I said, ‘Okay, what else can I do to this thing?’” Harris said. “I could only drive myself plus one small person. Why can’t I have two people ride it?”
He fabricated the seat extension in his dorm room and shared each step of the project on social media. To his knowledge, Harris was the first person to have ever built a seat extension for a Sur Ron bike, and the response was enthusiastic.
“Everyone loved it and was asking, ‘How did I do it?’” Harris said. “I quickly realized people need more resources in terms of guidance and assistance with high-powered electric vehicles.”
To meet the demand for information and respond to the growing interest in electric vehicles, Harris launched a start-up, Sur Ron Pitstop
, where he sells plug-and-play parts and curates a knowledge base for riders looking to maintain and upgrade their ride.
Working on his own Sur Ron and manufacturing solutions helped him begin to envision what an even better electric bike could look like. Empowered by the success of Sur Ron Pitstop, as well as the skills he gained at St. Andrew’s and Cal Berkeley, Harris decided to take a leap of faith and take the spring semester off to focus on building his dream bike.
“I’m incredibly motivated. I live and breathe this. It makes me so happy and it makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning,” he said. “It’s not what I envisioned for second semester junior year, but it’s the best way to take advantage of the chaotic nature of the world.”
Over the next two months, Harris will be engineering a prototype bike, the EVO Cycle mk1, from the ground up, with the goal of designing a 100% American-made, high-powered, street-legal electric bike that can compete in both quality and cost with the Sur Ron. He sees the EVO Cycle mk1 as a great option for commuters, but also for park rangers who need a low-noise vehicle to ride around their grounds, or companies that want to provide their employees with a green transportation option.
“If you can get motorcycle form factor and performance, 100-mile range, 80-mile-per-hour top speed, carry two people and have storage on it, you have a winning product,” he said.
Harris will be seeking private investors to back the bike, hoping to raise more than $500,000 to jump start production. He recognizes this is a lofty goal. Riding his own bike, even for just a few minutes a day, motivates and invigorates him.
“I get a good picture of what this bike will feel like, handle like, accelerate like, and I’m incredibly excited about that. It’s a joy to ride. It puts the biggest smile on my face,” he said. “If I can bring a shred of that to the urban commuter, I think we will have happier people, but also people who are saving money and saving the environment.”
Harris asserts that none of this – neither his start-up nor his dream bike – would be possible without school. He credits St. Andrew’s with teaching him design methodology, leadership, and work ethic, naming science teachers Kim O’Shaughnessy and Kurt Sinclair, and his lacrosse coach Dane Smith
, as huge influencers.
“School is what enabled me to do this in the first place. I would not have been able to design and flesh out this idea from the ground up without all the classes I’ve taken,” he said. “Many classes covered design methodology; they make you think of a solution, first by observing the problem or the question and then coming up with a holistic solution.
“It’s one of the things St. Andrew’s really ingrained in my mind and is true to this day. When I’m looking at problems on my bike - a physics problem, anything – I ask, how can we do it smarter?”
To keep up with Harris and his start-up, follow Sur Ron Pitstop on Instagram