IRVINE, Calif. — Parker Pittman might just have the best job in Orange County. He gets paid to catch air, do donuts, pop wheelies, and otherwise attempt to break electric bicycles as the staff stunt rider for Irvine startup Super73.
“There was a wall here,” said Pittman, a professional motorcycle racer with the word “hooligan” tattooed across his knuckles, as he stood in the newly expanded Super73 warehouse. “They let me jump a bike through it.”
The reason the warehouse was expanded: A quadrupling of demand for Super73’s brand-new and distinctly un-bicycle-ish S2, R, and RX models, which intentionally blur the line between motorcycling and bicycling with a retro style that’s part dirt bike, part moped, and entirely eco.
Last year, Super73 had just 15 employees. Today, it has more than 50, and it’s continuing to add staff to fulfill thousands of orders.
“When we first started, the bicyclists didn’t want us, and the motorcyclists didn’t want us,” said Super73 co-founder Michael Cannavo. “I was laughed out of bike shops when I brought it in.”
That was four years ago. These days, Super73 is already sold out for six months, despite having just gone into production with its newest e-bike models over the summer.
Part of the reason Super73 is so successful is the pandemic. Stay-at-home orders have driven bicycle sales to unprecedented levels so far this year, with April and May both seeing sales topping $1 billion for the first time.
Then there’s the price. Super73s cost $1,260 to $3,245 depending on the model.
“The Super73s are flying off the floor,” said Tim Broadhead, founder and owner of the Indian San Diego motorcycle dealership, which started carrying the Orange County startup’s e-bikes late last summer.
“I have people buying it for their kids. I have people buying it for themselves. I get a lot of families buying them – two or three at a time for themselves and their kids,” said Broadhead, who also bought one for himself.
Super73 “hit a home run,” said Andrew Reisner, senior vice president for Bonnier Motorcycle Group, publisher of Cycle World and Motorcyclist magazines as well as CycleVolta.com, a website for electric two-wheelers. Younger riders in particular, “They want character, they want soul, they want personalization,” he said. “They don’t want what everyone else has.”
And that’s what Super73 delivers, having tapped into a Millennial enthusiasm for environmental preservation, easy-to-use technology, and ‘70s nostalgia. Super73s look nothing like other electric bicycles on the market, most of which are patterned after traditional bikes, only with motors and batteries. And many riders are customizing their bikes, with decals, mirrors, custom seats, pedals – you name it.
“We’re more from a motorcycle background, action sports – launching stuff off of home-made ramps,” said Cannavo, who co-founded Super73 four years ago with event entertainment planner Aaron P. Wong and battery guru LeGrand Crewse. After raising $500,000 with a Kickstarter campaign, the three of them worked during the day to build the business and toiled at night to build its first bikes by hand. Today, the bikes are still hand-built in Irvine, only with dedicated technicians.
“It’s a marriage of California cool and Silicon Valley tech,” Cannavo said. “It’s a marriage of what’s old and new on a platform that can evolve exponentially.”
Super73’s newest bikes look like a blast from the past, but they are infused with “smart” technology that lets them evolve with the rider. Similar to Tesla, which sends upgrades to its cars using over-the-air updates, Super73 can also push software upgrades to its e-bikes to improve performance. And there is also an app that pairs with the bike, so riders can switch between different riding modes and adjust the bike’s 28 mile-per-hour top speed to conform to local e-bike speed restrictions, which, in California is 20 mph.
Part of the appeal of an e-bike is the instant gratification. Unlike a gas-powered motorcycle or moped, Super73s do not need a special driver’s license, registration, or insurance because they are bicycles. Operated with a thumb throttle, the bikes also have pedals, but they don’t need to be used to propel the Super73.
“I’m definitely not a motorcyclist,” said Tristan Ervin, of Rancho Santa Margarita. “I grew up riding any kind of regular bike you could pedal, but something about Super73, I just love how the bikes look.”
A YouTube creator and fan, Ervin first saw the Super73s on a video three years ago, which prompted him to buy an S1, then an RX for himself, as well as a Z1 for his wife. He was so enamored with his new wheels that he started customizing them and making YouTube videos, then gathering together with friends for small group rides.
“The day after I got my first bike, in 2018, I went on a Halloween Group ride. There were four of us,” Ervin said. “The next group ride, we had eight. Literally, each time we did a group ride it would double,” said Ervin, who eventually did a ride in L.A. with 64 Super73 riders.
His notoriety within the community caught the attention of Super73 co-founder Cannavo, who now considers Ervin the brand’s unofficial community leader, tasked with putting together events, group rides, and making videos. Ervin’s most popular Super73 YouTube video has 90,000 views.
Social media has been a critical component of Super73’s success. Being a former star of the short-form video app Vine, Cannavo has partnered with popular YouTube creators since the earliest days of Super73 to get the word out. Most recently, the company has hired a full-time TikTok video creator “to continue to be on the forefront as these new platforms rise. It’s hard to stay young and hip in this industry,” said Cannavo, who, at 28, “feels old now.”
Cannavo considers Super73 a community as much as a brand. He said there are dozens of Super73 riders with tattoos of the company’s name, and others who have made their own Super73 T-shirts, jackets, and patches. Still, others have formed their own “super squads” to ride together, take photos, make videos, and post them online. All of this has inspired the company to hire an apparel team and launch a new app to solidify its community.
“It’s way more than an e-bike brand,” Cannavo said. “When you think Super73, we want you to think about T-shirts, riding gear, jackets, backpacks. All of that is coming out soon.”