San Francisco-Assisi, first 50 years as Sister's Cities
From the little town of San Sepolcro to the Bay Area: the story of Simone and his e-bike starts from Tuscany, where he was born and raised, and goes on in Vallejo, thirty miles away from San Francisco. Simone Sassolini is the owner of Leonardo Cycles (http://leonardocycles.com), an electric bike manufacturing company. While he received a Bachelor in aerospace engineering at the University of Perugia, Simone works now as a Senior Associate Engineer at the Molecular Foundry, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Nevertheless, his passion for bikes took him to a new challenge. The interest goes back to his childhood: at the age of 7, he realized how much he loved technical stuff when his uncle bought him a small toolbox. After that, it took almost seven more years before he could put hands on real vehicles, which happened to be bikes first and “motorini” later. As everything started for fun, his dream to put a motor on a bike turned into reality only when he moved to America.
Tell us about where the idea comes from…
In San Sepolcro, there was a man who used to drive a bike with a small motor. He used to put his little nephew on top of it and to ride around. I was impressed because I had never seen anything similar before. I am sure he built the little engine himself. I grew up willing to do the same because, at that time, I could not have a motorino, so my hope was to find a way to put a motor on my bike.
From a little town to the United States. It must have been a long journey…
Before landing in America, I used to work for a company in Milan but, when economy got bad, I decided to move to Pennsylvania, where I could do some research at University. After one year, I found a job in the Bay Area and moved to Concorde, in the Bay Area. After some time in a start up, I joined the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
Why did you decide to launch your own business?
While I still work at the Lab, my passion eventually brought me to designing and building motorized bicycles in 2008. I have been devoting most of my life to technology advancements, that’s why I first worked on gas powered bikes, then switched to electric.
What’s the core of the project?
I believe that e-bikes and related lightweight vehicles will become a commodity soon. I am very keen on promoting the use of a more efficient and cost effective means of transportation for the 21st century. We all know how the world is changing: when the financial crisis broke up, I started thinking of a new model of living life, also in terms of transportation. My thought went back to my old days, when the bike was the most efficient and lightest form of transportation. When you work on cars, you realize how old ones were more efficient because they did not need oil.
How did your experience as engineer make a difference?
I wanted to bring my expertise in the bike arena but also to see a world where we don’t waste our resources. And this is where the e-bike can help: you can travel, commute at zero cost besides the cost of the bike itself. Although I am aware it is impossible to give up cars, we can still get rid of those which make lot of pollution.
Your company is called LeonardoCycle. Why?
I chose a name connected to Leonardo da Vinci. We are both originally from Tuscany and, while I am not pretending to be a genius like him, we can be both considered innovators. My bikes want to represent the future of biking and e-bike transportation. I am not only focused on a product which is durable, efficient, but I also want to study and create a technology for the future.
How is your business structured?
My idea is to create the best bikes in the market and pick the best components (battery, the motor, and the transmission). I want to keep the structure of old bikes with the best components and assemble them with the engine. My goal is to provide something with a local reference if help is needed.
What’s your next goal?
Back in January, I built a fleet of electric bikes for Palo Alto Research Center, for a research pilot project on transportation infrastructure. They were looking for electric bikes. We happened to know somebody there and let them try. Our bikes outperformed and they chose us, so they are still using our e-bikes for their employees. I want it to become a model for other companies.
Are you going to launch the business in Italy too?
I am confident it’s going to happen. I wanna be there when the e-bike market takes off. This way, I would be able to combine two worlds, the world of Italian design on small vehicles, and the quality of American products. I would love one day to develop a product which can be also sold in Italy.