Watch: Hydrofoil Bike maker Manta5 achieves Cook Strait first, triples sales

We know the pandemic has been bad for some industries, like tourism, and good for others, like home renovation.

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But what about manufacturing bikes that can be ridden on the water?

Brilliant, it turns out.

The last time the Herald checked in with Manta5 it was showing off its $12,990 Hydrofoiler XE-1 e-bike at the giant Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and a nearby lake. Global broadcasters queued up to cover it.

January just gone, CES was cancelled due to the pandemic – at least its real-life version – but Manta5, which launched its Hydrofoil Bike in 2018, is powering on.

“Covid was very kind to us in the watersport industry,” Manta5 marketing manager Louis Wilks says.

“Lack of travel, combined with a wellness and holiday-at-home trend played right into our bike’s appeal.”

Manta5 sold around 1200 bikes last year, equating to more than $10m in revenue. It then expanded its capacity in Taiwan to handle up to triple that number this year.

$4m was raised last financial year from private backers to fund the expansion, and increase staff numbers in Hamilton to 30. Now founder Guy Howard-Willis has begun discussions to raise another $10m.

Manta5 is also making good progress on talks with one of Europe’s largest sports retailers, who approached it about stocking the bikes in all its 1650 stores; Wilks says. The unnamed chain already has demo bikes.

Meanwhile, the ‘Tron startup continues to showcase the Manta5’s capabilities.

Earlier this year, we saw one of its Hydrofoil Bikes – which, like e-bikes on land, use a combination of electric and pedal power – used for a cheeky commute across Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour to the CBD.

But on Tuesday, Manta5 product manager Hayden Reeves gave a Hydrofoiler XE-1 a more thorough workout as he became the first person to pedal an e-bike across the 26km Cook Strait.

Reeves told the Herald he was “pretty nervous at the start”. For while he was accompanied by a support boat carrying an experienced navigator, he knew that one of two kite foilers doing the crossing over the weekend collided with a shark – throwing him off his board.

Things got tough for the final 7km as Reeves hit headwinds, but in the end he made it from the tip of the South Island to the tip of the North Island in a time of two hours and 28 minutes.

More, “I stayed dry. I stayed on the foils the whole time,” Reeves said – Manta5-speak for never falling off.

That’s no mean feat on such an epic ride. One of the company’s Hydrofoil Bikes can hit a top speed of around 21km an hour (or a snick under e-scooter speed, for a reference point) and cruising speed of 8km to 15km/hour. But, unlike an e-bike on land, you can’t stop pedalling for a breather more or less whenever you want. Gliding requires a flat sea. If there are waves, it’s a case of keep pedalling or go for a paddle.

Above the water the product is a waterproof electric bike with pedal-assisted technology that can be adjusted. Below the water, the bike is similar to a plane with hydrofoil wings and a propeller. On high-assist it will last one hour on the water and the detachable battery – which lasts up to 60 minutes – can be recharged in full in three hours.

The Hydrofoil Bike was first conceived by Howard-Willis in 2010.

The entrepreneur joined forces with bike designer Roland Alonzo in late 2011, who had the skills to turn his idea into reality.

For two years they developed the bike in secret, and early prototypes were tested at night in a public swimming pool in Tauranga, before later graduating to test-rides on Lake Karapiro.

The main source of initial funding came from Howard-Willis himself and his son Luke.

Manta5 was founded by Howard-Willis with his son Luke, who founded the outdoor goods website Torpedo7 and daily-deal site 1-Day – both of which were acquired by The Warehouse Group in 2016 in a $65m deal.

Today, the father and son own 60 per cent of Manta5’s parent company. Minority investors include the Furniss family, which made its fortune selling blueberry agritech company BBC Technologies to Norway’s Tomra for $67m in 2018 and Glenn Miller, who made his money as a Hamilton Pak’nSave franchisee.

How did a retailer like Howard-Willis come up with the idea of a Hydrofoil Bike?

The founder told the Herald it was literally dreamt up. He had a dream one night of pushing off from his pontoon in Pauanui and riding out on to the water on a bike-like object, riding next to dolphins. He woke up the next day and got started on making the vision a reality.

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