We've put together an exclusive interview from the original inventor of the Hydrobike waterbike, Ray Buresch. The HydroBike is the worldwide premier waterbike. We've been the world's leader in water bike sales since it was invented in 1989. Since Ray's initial prototype, 11,000 Hydrobikes have been sold worldwide and many locations have exploded for Hydrobike rental opportunities.
What was your driving force for inventing a product like the Hydrobike?
I was put in touch with an Aeronautical Engineering Professor at the University of Minnesota where I have my degree in Aeronautical Engineering in early 1989. He was working on human powered watercraft propulsion system, and had come up with a highly efficient propeller - theoretically, over 90% efficient.
With the concept of the propeller in my head, I began thinking about how it would be possible to design a bicycle for use on water. With the propeller design, it was possible to overcome the greatest barrier for water bike designers: The extreme loss of energy when converting the pedal motion to useful thrust when using a paddle wheel or oars. These very old devices are extremely inefficient. They can only convert nothing more than 20% to 30% of the energy, even for the most capable person operating them.
Knowing that I was ahead of the game with the propeller and propulsion system, I started the wheels spinning to create the first Hydrobike prototype. By the time we were finished I had 11 design and mechanical patents covering all the unique features of the watercraft.
What was your main objective with your design?
As stated above to be able to bike on water, emulate the bicycle. A bicycle is the most efficient way to travel on land, under your own power. I wanted to make that the case for a watercraft that would, in essence, be the most practical and efficient way for people to travel on water. I also felt that this would represent a great potential opportunity for a business. It was not too difficult to convince others of the commercial possibilities, so raising money to fund the venture was completely viable.
What did you use as your model? Was there a model?
We didn't model the bike off of anything; we began with a series of original prototypes and commissioned a canoe designer to design the efficient hulls for the catamaran, as a twin-hull craft. We tried close to 10 iterations before finalizing the design you see today. We tested the drive unit for 1,000 hours running continuously in a water tank with 5 times the maximum designed load.
How different is your first prototype to the one that is on the market today?
We have not changed the basic design, but we have made many improvements to the structural integrity as they became apparent through many years of constant use by rental operations all over the world. For example, we've improved the design to cover even the most severe operational conditions, such as a salt water ocean environment.
Where did you do the testing?
Most of the testing was done on lakes around the Minneapolis area, although some of the later experience was gained in Florida and Hawaii. The latter gave us most of our practical experience because those were the places where we had year-round rental operations. We also ran a huge field test on the Hydrobike from the Gulf of Mexico to St. Cloud Minnesota.
When were you sure the Hydrobike was going to be a success?
I was pretty sure the first year, but at that time I didn't realize how important marketing would be for a product without an outright competitor in it's price range. We were competing with canoes, kayaks and paddle boats, and all of them had models, at that time, priced in the $200 to $400 range. During that time, we were priced at $1,899.00, plus shipping. Even high-end bicycles were less than $1,000.
So, our biggest challenge has been to bring down the price and make the public aware of the benefits you get when owning a Hydrobike. When we started, the Internet as we know it today did not even exist. We had to rely on print media, trade shows and word of mouth exclusively for the first 10 or so years with a minor portion of our sales coming from our website. We could not afford effective marketing and we weren't able to build an inventory of bikes.
This delima led us to the licensing of our tooling and patents to one of our major suppliers, thus freeing up capital to fund internet marketing programs.
What are your future goals for the Hydrobike?
I believe we can double and triple our sales annually over the next 5 years by effective online exposure to the millions of people around the world who already can relate to the recreational, social, fitness, and sporting benefits and the just plain enjoyment of the owning a Hydrobike, but don't have a clue that we exist.
I'm confident due to the market momentum from the 11,000 bikes on the water and what is evidenced by the number of referrals, sales and sales from people who rented a bike on vacation or who saw one and took the name off the bike and looked us up on the internet. This represents 70 to 80% of our sales today. With gas prices climbing (we are a green machine), emphasis on fitness by those early retirees, the future could not be brighter. On top of this is myself and my business partner, Steve Anderson (he rode the bike over 1,100 miles for 68 days UP the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico to St Cloud, Minnesota in 1994). We have more enthusiasm for the bike than ever before because we believe in it.
We've heard the first-hand stories of people who have owned them for years without a single repair or ever buying one pint of gas! These are people, like Bob Barrett of the Seattle Washington area, who have commuted to work for the past 5 years for a total of 6,000 miles! He's saved the price of his bike many, many times over, but that's not his biggest benefit; he says it's his attitude and his physical fitness as a result of riding his Hydrobikes almost every day of the week for up to 5 hours.