Q&A: Maker of a bicycle built for water

Name: Judah Schiller

Age: 44

City: Mill Valley

Position: Founder/CEO, Schiller Bikes



Judah Schiller on one of his water bikes

J.: You are the creator of the Schiller Water Bike, an aquatic bike on inflatable pontoons. Where did the idea come from?

Judah Schiller: Back in October 2013 I had the crazy idea to make the first-ever bike ride across the San Francisco Bay. Shortly before that I was doing a tour under the new span of the Bay Bridge and learned that there would be a bike lane that would stop halfway to San Francisco, at Treasure Island. I live in Marin and everyone bikes across the Golden Gate regularly, so I was pretty surprised no one was able to bike from Oakland to San Francisco.

You rode across the San Francisco Bay and the Hudson River, using an Italian-made kit attached to a land bike. What was that like?

The rides were fun, but it didn’t seem to me like a really good product, not one that I would want to buy. I thought to myself, I can gather a team of all-star engineers and designers and put together the world’s best water bike. Now we have about 300 water bikes in over 25 countries all over the world. It’s amazing to bike ride across the water, period. It’s the first bike ride in your life where you don’t have to worry about a car coming up beside you, you don’t have to wear a helmet, you’re in such a peaceful, aquatic environment. It’s this sublime immersion into nature that you don’t really have when you’re biking on the side of the road on asphalt.

How has the idea been received?

In the early days I had very few believers. People thought it was a crazy idea and nobody thought it would work. There are more than 1 billion bikes built for land on a planet that’s two-thirds water. Everybody loves to bike ride, so why not transfer the biking experience out onto the water?

A Schiller bike starts at $4,500. Are many people buying it?

Living in Marin, there is no shortage of $5,000 bikes. There are plenty of people around the world who love the bike and see the value. The consumer is getting something quite revolutionary.
Can anyone ride one, or does it take special skill?

The bike is designed for people of all ages and athletic abilities. I’ve had a 9-year-old on the bike and I’ve had an 80-year-old. I’ve had a woman who was seven months pregnant ride the bike safely. On the water it’s really soft and safe, and it’s really hard to fall off the bike, unlike on asphalt.

What was your initial vision for the bike’s design?

I had a very high bar — that it had to be really visually alluring and compelling, from a design perspective, and it had to feel like riding a bike, from an engineering perspective. It had to be a great and easy user experience; it had to go from car to water in under 10 minutes, everything is click and plug in and you’re off on the water. It had to be really compact. I can imagine down the road there will be a bike that you can surf with and bike down waves with. There is a lot of possibility here. It’s just the beginning of a new aquatic frontier in cycling.

You made aliyah in 2006 from Los Angeles and served in the Israel Defense Forces. What inspired that move?

My father’s side of the family has lived in Israel for close to 200 years, so I always grew up with a lot of family in Israel, who I’m still very close to. In my early 20s I … found this desire to be closer to Israel and make aliyah. I’m proud of my Jewish identity. I’d like to do more in terms of giving back. We really want to use the bikes to bring kids out on the water to educate and connect. And certainly in the developing parts of the world, the bikes would be really great for efficient, safe transportation.

“Talking with …” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to [email protected]

Dalia Jude

Dalia Jude was a J. intern in summer 2015.