Trade org spat risks making e-bikes a cowboy category

ETRA's criticisms of the European Parliament and fellow bicycle trade organisations doesn't bode well for e-harmony
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[BIKEBIZ MAG COLUMN, Jan issue].

If ETRA is to be believed, those who sell electrically assisted bicycles could be in for a nasty shock some time soon. On November 20th, an overwhelming majority of naughty MEPs ignored ETRA's 'type approval' warnings and voted to stick with the status quo. November 20th should henceforth be known as a "black day" for European bicycle dealers, ETRA surmised.

The European Parliament's slap in the mush for those lobbying to change the rules so higher powered e-bikes could be street legal came as a surprise to Brussels-based ETRA. But the European Two Wheel Retailers' Association was alone in its attack on the MEP's vote: Britain's Bicycle Association, the European Cyclists' Federation and trade orgs COLIBI and COLIPED were all pleased to see e-bike rules kept as is. 

In a press release, ETRA's Annick Roetnynk didn't disguise her displeasure of what she called the "cheering" of these trade organisations. She said they were ignoring a "ticking time bomb."

Her stiffly-worded criticism of fellow cycle trade organisations - not voiced in the heat of the moment but a week after the European Parliament vote - was not terribly diplomatic and doesn't bode well for trade org cooperation in the future. But she may be right about the unintended consequences of the vote. Manufacturers, she warns, will increasingly flout the now "dangerous" and "confused" e-bike rules.

If so, these would be rogue manufacturers, even if they are as mainstream as Roetnynk claims. Clearly, this trade org spat has more impact on the Continent than in the UK. We still have different - and not yet harmonised - e-bike rules and the demand for e-bikes is much lower in the UK than in, say, the Netherlands where e-bikes now make up a large and profitable part of bike shop sales. Some major players in pedal-powered bicycles have withdrawn from the UK's e-bike market and, aside from Giant, it's specialist suppliers which dominate, which is different to the situation in mainland Europe.

What will consumers make of the MEP's vote? In the UK, they likely won't notice any difference. Muddy waters will still be muddy. But rule breaking by manufacturers and retailers - having fun with the so-called "off-road" power-boost setting, for instance - may increase. This will do little to boost the image of e-bikes in the UK. In perception terms it remains a cowboy category for many UK dealers and, with its most recent public pronouncements, ETRA has done nothing to change this perception.

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