Global sales of electric bicycles (eBikes) reached nearly 40 million units in 2014. Experts spectate that this trend will stop before it reaches the United States, but a changing bike culture is proving them wrong. As Americans begin doing away with their cars, the international eBike industry is gearing for an uptick. Widespread appeal, global efforts toward climate change reduction, and emerging niche markets are pushing eBikes into a more recognizable category for American consumers.
Ebike Design is Getting a Makeover
Traditional eBikes look like mopeds—a sometimes bulky and outdated style of transportation. Attempts to modernize the bikes have tended to look like a bloated version of a regular bike, and feature a host of issues such as poor handling when driven without their power turned on. A design-thinking approach to eBikes is the only way to revive the eBike’s cool factor, so major bicycle manufacturers and newcomers alike are working to do just that.
Many traditional bike shops in the US are no longer carrying the old style eBikes, and have been reluctant to carry newer styles until the arrival of high-end options. That time is now. Huge bicycle brands such as Cannondale and Trek have developed eBikes for urban mobility. The idea has even expanded into sport cycling, as show by the HNF Heisenberg and BMW mountain bike collaboration.
Design teams are focusing on upgrading current bicycles with batteries, instead of the other way around. What looks like a modern, clean road bike, may very well pack a powerful punch. Other obstacles, such weight and performance are being overcome in large strides. Electric bicycles are getting every lighter, quicker, and easier to ride.
A Changing Bicycle Culture
As electric automobiles have begun to go mainstream so has the desire to bring electric models to everything from mass transportation to cycling, and the timing couldn’t be better. Baby boomers and young, “green” professionals alike are purchasing eBikes. Baby boomers enjoy the thrill of being able to ride a bike again without the physical stress experienced by big hills or long rides. Young professionals in urban areas are commuting longer—and higher—distances without worrying about perspiration embarrassment. The appeal is clearly widespread.
Not only are consumers asking for these bikes, but cities are providing more and more infrastructure to the cycling community in an attempt to decrease traffic congestion. Putting in bike lanes rarely cost much and improves traffic flow for a relatively low cost in comparison to building large infrastructure. The number of protected bike lane projects in the United States quadrupled from 2010 to 2014, and the progress doesn’t seem to be slowing.
With many states looking at current legislation, the legal obstacles associated with eBikes are also being overcome. Our government is making strides in determining the difference between electric bikes (that generally travel under 20 mph) and gas powered mopeds that can travel much faster. State legislatures are embracing eBikes as the next wave of urban transportation.
The Luxury eBike Market
With better designs and technology, comes the opportunity for niche markets to emerge. Low-cost options are already available, but luxury versions are just beginning to take off. New, high-end eBikes are appealing to customers who want the absolute best technology and components. These bikes can sell from $3000 to well over $10,000, and are becoming a luxury item for wealthy customers with a much different lifestyle than the everyday commuter.
Luxury eBikes are portable enough to stow away on a yacht, but powerful enough to give a rider the means to get off at any port and ride in style. They also offer a level of comfort and capabilities that entry-level bikes simply do not have. Leather seats, wood-grain in-lays, color LCD displays and other luxury upgrades give these bikes a fashion sense beyond their purpose—a bicycle like no other.
Ebike Innovation is Leaping Forward
While sales are slow in the United States today, experts must remember one critical capability of new technology: its ability to utterly disrupt the flow of progress and leapfrog into an entirely new way of thinking. When the iPhone came out, the idea of a connected device designed with the user in mind became the new norm for the cell phone industry. It showed the world what could truly be done inside a phone. Forget listening to music or sending an email, you can watch videos, surf the web, harness the power of a personal assistant, take quality photos and have access to an amazing array of apps. The revolution that was the iPhone is most certainly a possibility for eBikes in the North American market and well beyond.