And followed one of his greatest passions to change people’s lives through bikes.

How Chris Washburn founded Ari Bicycles (fka Fezzari Bicycles)

And followed one of his greatest passions to change people’s lives through bikes.

The Founder Series is a column by and about Utah founders and how they got to where they are today. Click here to read past articles in the series.

In a rapidly changing world where technology is evolving further and faster than ever before, bikes are here to keep us grounded — a technology that helps us escape technology. They help us to be in the moment and enjoy the “now.” That’s the philosophy driving us here at Ari Bicycles, formerly known as Fezzari.

From the beginning, I wanted to do things differently and think outside the box. The traditional methods of manufacturing and selling bikes were ripe for change. There was an opportunity to pass on more savings to customers, provide better quality and guarantees, make the ordering process even more personal, and build world-class bikes. From the inception of the brand of Fezzari to its current evolution of simply “Ari,” we believe in constantly innovating and evolving. This was never just a business endeavor but a profound commitment to transforming lives through biking by creating exceptional experiences, one rider at a time. 

The beginning: My personal dilemma

My journey into the biking realm finds its roots in a poignant personal dilemma. A demanding job that kept me away from family for around 40-50 weeks each year became a catalyst for change. The guilt of missing precious family moments fueled a desire to break free from the corporate grind. One day, as I stepped across the threshold of another plane, I decided, “I can’t do this anymore. Something has to change.”

But why bikes? I wanted to create something entrepreneurial and different that would impact the world positively. Having left my corporate job at Nissan Motor Corporation in California after law and MBA school, I was lured by the vision of Lee Iacocca — the former president of Ford Motor Company and Chrysler — to build a new venture around light electric vehicles, including electric bikes. This passion for innovation propelled me through various startup ventures and a rigorous travel schedule.

The initiation of a bike company wasn’t merely a career shift; it was a life-altering decision that my wife and I made. We decided we’d go all-in on and bootstrapped the company. Initially, I was driven by the idea of offering better bikes at lower prices, so we experimented with distribution models. As the brand climbed the value chain, discussions with dealers about custom setup bikes were met with skepticism due to perceived difficulties and inventory challenges. I set out to prove the model, leading to the inception of a business model where Ari could control the entire process.

And followed one of his greatest passions to change people’s lives through bikes.

In the mid-2000s, we found ourselves in uncharted waters, facing skepticism and challenges from suppliers and customers alike. Convincing people to buy expensive items over the internet was a monumental task. We found success not in persuasion but in removing barriers. Initiatives like the “Love It or Return It” guarantee, lifetime warranty and a 23-Point Custom Setup — coupled with personal interactions that build trust — still define our approach to this day. Today, customers purchasing online without direct communication receive a call from one of our experts to confirm the build process. These personal interactions are critical. 

Our initial phase was about survival, but I found solace in the fact that the challenges of entrepreneurship were still preferable to a life of constant travel. As Ari expanded and attracted more employees and customers, I realized the endeavor transcended my personal journey. Employees invested blood, sweat, tears and time. Customers invested their trust and money. The risks inherent in any business became more significant, prompting calculated measures to ensure our success in the long term.

Today, my focus has shifted to creating and mentoring teams that create exceptional products and experiences. I try to share perspectives and ideas with teams facing challenges, and we often draw parallels between overcoming business challenges and conquering steep mountain trails. There’s a certain thrill in working hard, solving problems and experiencing the journey. The analogy is also useful when biking, where focusing on the task at hand, being in the moment and breaking challenges into manageable segments mirror the tenets of business.

Changing the bike industry, one pedal stroke at a time

As I began this journey back in 2005, I often got the same question: “Why bikes?” The core purpose of Ari is rooted in a desire to improve people’s lives through biking. By ensuring key aspects such as bike fit through Ari’s 23-Point Custom Setup, for example, riders are not only inclined to ride more frequently but also for longer durations. The ripple effect of consistent exercise, especially outdoors on a bike, offers a cascade of benefits: stress release, increased fitness, enhanced focus and a clearer thought process. Beyond individual gains, biking fosters socialization, a connection with nature and a reliance on sustainable energy sources. I’ve personally experienced many of these benefits from biking, and it’s one of my greatest joys to help pass that on to others.

Navigating the challenge of creating exceptional experiences for riders on a large scale is tricky, but it’s the bedrock of our secret sauce. Our team at Ari firmly believes that we are not just making bicycles; we are helping create experiences that become an integral part of an individual’s life. The commitment goes beyond merely providing acceptable experiences. Here at Ari, we aspire to deliver exceptional ones.

Scaling this commitment from a small-scale operation to catering to thousands poses a formidable challenge. Creating the right culture at Ari was critical. Equipping our team with the tools and principles is essential for creating exceptional experiences. Required reading lists, quick daily staff meetings focusing on successes and principles, ingrained systems, personalized notes in every shipped bike, and an open culture that encourages questioning and idea-centric thinking are the cornerstones of what I think makes our culture so fun and unique. 

Of course, doing all of this is tough. But we love it. We possess the unique ability to control our own destiny, from conceptualizing and designing bikes to manufacturing, marketing and supporting our customers after the sale. It’s a lot of work. We recognize that falling short might be inevitable at times, but our team adheres to the principle of putting “one pedal stroke in front of the other.” In other words, we keep pushing ahead, and we try to break things down into small steps to continually move forward.

“We’re the same company, same team, same ownership — just simplifying as we plan for the future.”

The evolution from Fezzari to simply ‘Ari’

Dropping “Fezz” from Fezzari and evolving into Ari seamlessly aligns with our core ethos of “Be in the Moment” because one of the meanings of the name Ari means “to exist or to be.” The name also carries positive meanings globally and is easy to pronounce in virtually any language.

As a company, we’ve been fortunate to have won several Bike of the Year awards, racing championships and world records, as well as hold the bike industry’s highest customer satisfaction rating at an impressive 4.9 out of 5 stars. We really do have a special team. 

Ari is and will continue to be built upon the DNA of Fezzari, and you will continue to see it in every detail. Our business model centers on in-house design, custom-fit bikes, top-tier quality and savings to every rider through our direct-to-consumer approach, and we will continue that under the name Ari.

We also realized we don’t need to cater to every individual’s whims. By focusing on core bikes with the goal of making them the best in their given class, we’re able to enhance our efficiency and effectiveness. 

We really believe that honesty and treating customers how we wish to be treated fosters customer loyalty and accounts for a significant part of our success. There’s a stark difference in customer acquisition cost (CAC) between new and existing customers. Over two-thirds of our sales are repeat and referral business, and we hope to continue to grow that. 

As we shortened our name from Fezzari to simply Ari, we wanted to make sure our brand simplification wasn’t just a change in name or that we were leaving anything from the past behind. We’re the same company, same team, same ownership — just simplifying as we plan for the future. We are proud of everything we’ve been able to achieve as Fezzari and are excited for this new chapter under the Ari banner. Because the word “Ari” embodies the essence of “Be in the Moment,” it helps remind us of our commitment to help others use biking as a means to escape, experience flow and focus on the present. 

We will launch multiple all-new bike models in 2024 and continue to innovate with the same “Bike of the Year” caliber products we created under the name Fezzari. We hope everyone can get out and experience the life-changing effects that cycling can have.

And followed one of his greatest passions to change people’s lives through bikes.

Born in Orem, UT, Chris Washburn graduated from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Japanese and English, then earned his Juris Doctor and MBA degrees from BYU. He practiced corporate law and worked in the finance and planning divisions at Nissan Motor Corporation. He later joined EV Global Motors, a company started by Lee Iacocca. He became president of the company and later helped Iacocca sell it. He then joined Wavecrest Laboratories as VP and general manager, which was led by four-star General Wesley Clark and focused on advanced mobility technologies for commercial and military markets. After two years of extensive travel, Chris decided to start his own company, Fezzari — now shortened to Ari — and follow one of his greatest passions: biking.