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Factory Visit: RaptoBike

RaptoBike - Arnold Ligtvoet As I mentioned in my Optima-visit post, I have quite a lot to do in my feed-the-family-job. Therefore it became pretty quiet here on BentBlog.de Nevertheless, on our return from a four-day meeting in Noordwijkerhout (Netherlands) some weeks ago (yes, that long ago), I managed to plan the route in a way that I could visit two recumbent manufacturers with my colleague and boss Gisela. The second of them was RaptoBike.

When we arrived at his shop, Arnold Ligtvoet, the face behind RaptoBike, was busy providing advice to a customer and adjusting a bike for a test ride for him. Well, it is pretty clear that customers come first when I visit a manufacturer, so we waited. By the way, during our stay at the RaptoBike headquarters, three customers were provided with test bikes, and not a single one returned during our stay.

However, Arnold is a good host and did of course not forget to supply us with a good coffee. I used the time while Arnold talked to the test rider to have a look around in the shop. Frame parts, semi to fully assembled bikes and a row of test bikes are standing in the shop. I one corner a triathlon bike and a mountain bike in another are visible. The office is a desk with a computer in a corner next to the assemblage place and right next to his advert material corner, a small kitchen bench with a coffee machine is put in the very same and single room. While our last visited factory showed us about 12 different models, RaptoBike currently offers two different types, the low racer and the mid racer. RaptoBike - Frames

How did it happen that Arnold stepped into the recumbent business? He told us:

About five years ago, Arnold Ligtvoet hated to get wet on his low-rider recumbent, though he loved to ride fast. He was quite jealous of a pal from a recumbent group he used to ride with. This guy owned a Quest and did, obviously, not have the problem.
However, Arnold was a little astonished that though paying 6500 Euro for a bike, you have to wait about three years to finally receive it. Arnold is not an engineer, at this time he used to work as a project manager for a telecommunication firm. He wondered if there was additional demand for velomobiles on the market. While another man would have started to build one, and to check whether he could bring it to the market, Arnold thought about a market research to find out what he wanted to know.

It happened that he learned about a call for proposals from the Dutch government for doing market research on different kinds of transportation goods. Within a week, Arnold had to supply a proposal. Then he had to wait for the output of the “black box” he put his proposal in. Well, Gisela and I could tell him that this is not a black box but a sophisticated and well proven process (as it is our job to take care of governmental funding activities). Finally, he received a contract and suddenly had a second job: His research project.

This project and the final report was worth a blog post on his own – maybe I’ll write one once. For the moment I can only recommend you to contact Arnold if you are interested in a copy of the report.

RaptoBike - Low Racer The money that was granted for the research was used to start RaptoBike
Arnold felt that a velomobile is a too complex project to start it as a first product of a new, small part-time firm. So he first planned the low rider. Arnold wanted to reduce the technical aspects of his bikes to end up with a low customer price, feeling that a large number of people do not buy a recumbent due to the high prices. So he abandoned the suspension, avoided a complicated chain line and reduced the length of the heavy chain by constructing a bike with front wheel drive. Arnold made sketches of the parts he wanted to have and paid an engineer to make technical drawings of these and to calculate the forces and so on. The frame parts are built in Taiwan and Arnold tries not to re-invent the wheel and buy as much as possible from other firms, like the aero handle bar which he gets from HP-Velotechnik.

In 2007 he brought the low rider on the market and reduced his old job to four days a week to have more time for his business. This bike costs less than 1200 Euro in a low tech but rideable configuration. Arnold admitted openly that usually a customer leaves his shop with a bill of more than this as mudguards, light, bike computers and so on add up to more. A lot of different set-ups are possible and have already been sold.

Germany is still not RaptoBike’s main market. Arnold thinks that Germans are very keen on good quality and first want to see whether the bikes are stable. Arnold argued that maybe once the first positive experiences are published in German, this might change. When I mentioned that most Germans might miss the suspension, he agreed to some degree and mentioned that Mike Borroughs pointed him to the possibility of suspending the seat using a flexing carbon flat spring. He is thinking about offering something like that.

Last year, Arnold quit his job rented a new workshop and presented the second RaptoBike model. A dual 26 or 28” mid racer, again with front wheel drive but this time with fixed noseboom. The frame is adjusted to the rider’s height by lengthening or shortening the main frame tube (pushing the inner part further in or out of the other tube). This makes adjusting the bike to other riders way easier and the frame is separable for easier transport in a car. Asked why this frame is a little more expensive than the low rider’s frame, Arnold states that he made the price for the low racer very low to also attract people to his new brand. So the bike is and will be sponsored by the RaptoBike marketing department.

Asked for the origin of the name RaptoBike, Arnold explained that initially, he wanted to internationalize his name, Ligtvoet, which means lightfoot, but unfortunately, a recumbent firm with this name existed already. Skimming through a Latin dictionary, he somehow stopped at Raptors, fast predators which are moving forward close to the floor. After he checked that the domain is free and he received an O.K from the Dutch commercial authority, the name was set.

Well, now as RaptoBike offers two bikes and set up his business successfully, what about the velomobile? Arnold smiled and again answers very open on my questions. I admitted to not go too much into detail about how he wants to build the fairing; it will be special, and I am looking forward to present photos of the vm as the first on the net;-)

News I am allowed to spread is that first Arnold will bring a trike to the market which will later be the basis for the velomobile. It would dazzle the customers if it was not a front wheel driven bike and Arnold told me that it will be a tilting delta trike. The domain raptotrike.com is already registered.

At this point, I realized that time had run too fast and there was no time left for a test ride. Gisela did not show any sign of boredom, however I felt like it was too much of recumbents for one day for her and our homes and families waited for us. So I explained to Arnold that I was very sorry not to be able to test ride his bikes. He answered that once the bike-seasonal stress is over, he could send me a test bike for a couple of week, which I would enjoy a lot! Arnold, I will remind you of that;-)

Arnold is a very friendly and interesting person and I wish him all the best for his plans. And I am sure he will succeed. He is convinced of his ideas and presents them clear convinced but allows you to critically ask questions. He is the kind of guy you enjoy to meet in a bar and throw some darts with and it is fascinating to see that an idea can lead to a business that pays your living.

RaptoBike - Headquarters

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