What's holding back e-bikes?

Jonathon Harker
What's holding back e-bikes?

What's been the biggest recent development in the world of e-bikes? New technology? Or greater acceptance in the cycle industry? BikeBiz asked e-bike players for their views: 

Paul Tolme, Media and PR, Gates Carbon Drive: “New technologies and better designs are helping to fuel the boom in e-bikes, combined with a growing consumer awareness of their health, environmental and convenience benefits. As a technology company, Gates is impressed with how far the designs have progressed. Brands such as Heisenberg and Grace and Kalkhoff and Biomega are making high-performance electric bikes with low-maintenance components such as Gates Carbon Drive and motor systems and batteries that are fully integrated into the bikes’ designs. These are e-bikes that people can feel proud to ride thanks to their improved aesthetics.

“In addition, performance technologies such as Bosch mid-drive motors and belt drives mean these modern electric bikes perform to top standards and function with the reliability of motos or automobiles. People who use electric bikes for commuting to work depend on reliability. Gates is likewise highly impressed by the launch of the UK brand Gtech’s e-bike.

“This is a hugely successful consumer electronics brand known for its vacuum cleaners. For this respected brand to launch an e-bike is a statement of confidence by a major UK manufacturer about the future growth potential of this category.”

Richard Dobney, Haibike Brand Manager, Raleigh: “There have been some great shifts in design in the last five years, significantly a move away from throwing a motor and battery at a regular bike, or shaving weight from a moped lookalike. We’re now seeing true e-bike archetypes enter the market, of course we’ll happily borrow the principles laid out by our none-powered and petrol based brethren, but where we take it, is its own path: an e-bike designed purposefully and specifically to be an e-bike.

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“We’ve also realised that some of those niche bikes, whether they be long travel or fat tyred benefit hugely from the extra power, no more compromises.

“E-bike system tech has been great for several years now, what’s different is the system-brands that are involved. Bosch, Yamaha etc. are infinitely more recognisable to the potential e-cyclist and promote a huge level of consumer confidence (and of course retailer confidence). With them comes knowledge and a back-up level that aspires towards a level consumers are already used-to from other industries.”

Mark Greshon, Shimano senior brand manager, Madison: “E-bikes had a bit of a false start six or seven years ago. There was good interest but at that time there were no serious or reliable manufacturers of motors, etc, that the industry could get behind and trust. Now with several large and well-known brands, especially Shimano and its STEPS system, getting behind the development of mid-ship motor designs, the acceptance, technology and reliability is much better. A clear definition of the bike categories e-bikes fall into and specific functions and features for these categories have also helped bike manufacturers produce a range of e-bikes, rather than just the odd model. However I think it’s important to realise that this is just the beginning of e-bikes and the potential is huge.”

Lyle Metcalfe, Volt Bikes: “The biggest change we’ve noticed has been the attitude of conventional bike dealers. In the last year we’ve seen a really positive move in bike shops embracing the technology of e-bikes, whereas historically the general norm was to shy away from them. I think it’s become apparent to conventional dealers that e-bikes are here to stay, and they fulfil a requirement  that sit comfortably alongside the range of non-electric bikes they already sell. With the technology on premium brands like ours now at a level which guarantees reliability and incredible performance, and demand in the UK skyrocketing, dealers are now seeing the positives of selling electric bikes.

"Shimano’s entrance into e-bike motor production was an exciting progression in the market, and now with the latest generation motors they’ve become, in our opinion, the strongest high-end motor contender. A manufacturer which has focused primarily on producing quality bike component since the 1920s has a lot to live up to when launching a new product like this. We were very happy to partner with Shimano in the production of some of our e-bike models, and we’ll be launching a number of new Shimano Steps models throughout 2016.

"As always we continue to push forward the boundaries of technology and this year we’ve launched a new drive system for our rear motor bikes which delivers the most intuitive electric cycling experience we’ve ever experienced."

Is there one factor that would speed up the adoption of e-bikes in the UK?

Paul Tolme, Media and PR, Gates Carbon Drive: “As a US-based company that is seeing its largest growth in European markets such as Germany, The Netherlands and Denmark, it is apparent that nations with good cycling infrastructure and laws and regulations that support cycling for transportation will remain on the leading edge of this trend. Countries like the UK and the USA where bikes are still primarily considered tools for recreation and fun and fitness rather than for daily transport could go a long way toward improving the efficiency of their transportation networks and speed up the adoption of electric bike use by supporting better cycling and e-biking infrastructure, bike lanes, urban bike parking and the like.”

Richard Dobney, Haibike Brand Manager, Raleigh: “The cycle industry is, of course, great at selling cycles to cyclists, but with e-bikes there’s a tremendous opportunity to extend that customer base and sell to people of all ages who haven’t necessarily been keen cyclists in the past. Every single person who buys an e-bike has a completely different and personal reasoning for doing so. When someone decides to get fit, leave the car at home or take up cycling as a hobby, that’s a very particular change in mind set. What e-bikes do is open that choice up to virtually everyone. Cycling is now easy, fun and attractive to the 95 per cent who shudder at the thought of struggling into a headwind or keeling over at the top of the first hill for the first time.

“I guess what I’m saying is the people who walk into your bike shop are already engaged in cycling, so what we need is to reach out to the people sitting at home and at Raleigh we’re here to help you to do just that.

“Once we set aside our preconceptions on regular bicycles and who buys them, we’re starting from scratch with a product that truly changes lives.

“When was the last time a consumer thanked you for improving their life? Sounds melodramatic? Speak to an e-bike dealer; they’ll have countless anecdotes that are genuinely heart-warming.”

Mark Greshon, Shimano senior brand manager, Madison: “The recent changes to bring UK legislation in line with the rest of Europe have helped but I think there is a lot of confusion between power assisted e-bikes and ‘twist and go’ bikes. Many people, including consumers, outside of the bike industry don’t really know what an e-bike is so it’s our job to help educate them. We need to get more focus on e-bikes in mainstream media while being clear of the benefits an e-bike provides. I think that test rides and demos are a must so consumers can get a genuine feel for what an e-bike can provide; I’ve yet to see someone try an e-bike for the first time and not smile. It’s also important not to pigeon hole e-bikes to a specific category or cause. We should let the consumer choose what they want an e-bike for which can be everything from mountain biking on technical Alpine trails to commuting to work each day to a weekend ride with family.

“As with any new technology, brands need to do as much as possible to give consumers and dealers confidence in the product. Shimano for example, has introduced an Express Warranty Service in the UK, which states to anyone that buys into Shimano STEPS that not only are we 100 per cent confident in the product, but if anything should fail, it is completely covered under the warranty. Once people experience e-bike technology, they will instantly see its appeal, so it’s a case of convincing them to take that first step.”

Lyle Metcalfe, Volt Bikes: “The market is growing rapidly at the moment, however we’re still well behind our friends on the continent. Ultimately growth seems to be very much based on public awareness, the more people using them the more people see them and take an interest themselves. Government investment in the cycling industry, including new cycle lanes, employee tax incentives etc have all helped to move the e-bike industry forward. Maybe the government could launch an employee battery replacement subsidy for e-bike buyers, or increase the tax free allowance for Cycle to Work Scheme to £2,000 for employers without a consumer credit licence.” 

Bosch: "E-bikes are conquering new audiences"

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Tags: distribution , e-bike , industry opinions , e-bikes

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