In the mid-90s, Currie joined flamboyant auto entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin (he brought America the Yugo) as a partner in Electric Bicycle Co. Started at the Burbank-based incubator of Calstart (now Weststart/Calstart), the company marketed the EV Warrior electric bike through auto dealerships.
By 1997, the company was bankrupt, but the failure didn't deter Currie's faith in electric bikes.
During his time with the company, Currie had become acquainted with Mayer, a dedicated environmentalist.
"I want my 13-year-old son to have clean air when he grows up," said Mayer, a Valencia resident.
Mayer's day job was teaching, but he also had a side venture, Electric Car Co. of America, which built environmentally correct autos, selling at $15,000 to $20,000. In their off hours, Mayer and Currie began building a hybrid electric truck.
Currie knew electric autos would be too great a challenge.
"I concluded the capital would be very, very high, and it was premature from a marketing point of view," Currie said. But electric bikes? Start-up costs wouldn't be so much, and the two were willing to gamble that the public might respond.
So Currie and Mayer put in some of their own money and secured $500,000 in venture capital to start Currie Technologies.
Part of Currie Technologies' backing comes from Schwinn/GT, the Boulder, Colo.-based company whose brand resonates with baby boomers. Around six months ago, Schwinn/GT took a 9% to 10% stake. That interest could grow to a 15% share, according to the agreement.
"There's clearly going to be a market out there [for electric bikes]," said Schwinn/GT President and Chief Executive Tom Mason.
Currie Technologies' strategy is simple: The company wants to offer a high-quality electric bike at affordable prices--in the $500 to $700 range--below the price tag of some rivals.
Currie's publicity materials say Malcolm Currie aspires to be the Henry Ford of electric bikes. The company's approach is to sell well-engineered, utilitarian electric bikes at prices suitable for mass acceptance. Currie bikes are selling at bike dealers and Sports Chalet, but also at selected Sam's Clubs and Kmarts.
"The Currie system is simple, sturdy. It has excellent performance and it's designed to do those things at minimal cost," said Ed Benjamin, an analyst who operates an electric bicycle consulting firm based in Pocatello, Idaho. "Comparing the Currie bike to the Model T is pretty sensible."
Currie Technologies isn't alone in its belief in the potential of electric bikes in the U.S. Despite modest sales totals to date, there are many companies in the field. Key U.S. firms include Zapworld.com (formerly Zap Power Systems) of Sebastopol in Northern California, the North America unit volume leader; and EV Global Motors, the company led by former Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee Iacocca, based in Westwood.
Electric Transportation Co., based in Santa Barbara, also competes in the niche.
The U.S. is several years behind international markets, where 90% of the electric bicycle sales currently take place. Industry consultant Benjamin estimates there were 500,000 unit sales of electric bikes worldwide in 1999, 450,000 outside the U.S.
Some of the biggest names in transportation, such as Honda, DaimlerChrysler and Yamaha, compete around the globe successfully, particularly in Asia and Europe.
Currie recognizes the vast potential for business overseas, but for now, Currie Technologies is focusing on the American market.
Benjamin believes the U.S. public may respond because of product improvements.
"1999 was the first year the American consumer had models worth calling a real product," he said.