Words by Paul Stanforth
I should declare my interests early. As the managing director of one of the major UK e-bike distributors I am obviously going to talk the sector up. That said, I have been in the bike industry for well over a quarter of a century and many in the trade who know me will testify that I am not one for hyperbole and I say what I think. So here’s my state of the nation address on e-bikes.
When Saracen was sold in 2008 we already had our eye on the e-bike market. The European figures have been talked about again and again (probably too much) but – even if we don’t follow the same pattern as the Germans, etc – it definitely shows e-bikes have a strong position and there is an entirely new customer group out there who need an e-bike. This new customer group could represent the next leap forward for the cycle trade as other sectors approach saturation and begin to slow.
However, the sector is not growing as fast as some people had hoped for, myself included, and although strong momentum is being gained there are two barriers that as an industry we need to bring down. Cycle-specialist retailers need to capitalise on this market soon or be in danger of losing out to other sectors and be left wondering why they didn’t act sooner.
Modern e-bikes, with lighter, more efficient reliable motors and smaller high-capacity batteries are virtually unrecognisable from what
many people think when e-bikes are mentioned. So the first problem is educating the public, hardly a new issue, but one of our major hurdles. When a customer expresses an interest in e-bikes in a bike shop we know they are often asked the question; “why on earth would you want an e-bike?” However, with fuel prices on the rise, the need for an alternative to commuting by car or public transport and the modern e-bike offering an efficient, fun and reliable way to get about the question should be; “why on earth would you not want an e-bike?”
The second barrier is lack of understanding of the sector and customers. E-bikes are not all the same, and just as different cyclists have a variety of needs, so will a potential e-bike rider. So a store needs to understand its customer base and be ready to encourage an entirely new customer group. We have seen the emerging e-bike market begin to grow and segment into three clear groups. This growth is fuelled by new customers joining the traditional grey-market, which continues for e-bike sales. Firstly there is the ‘commuter’ or value end. This customer may or may not be using the C2W scheme, but they are certainly on a similar budget. They require leading edge technology, solid design, but perhaps no-frills as they are very much a utilitarian user.
Secondly, there is the ‘enthusiast’ who will be looking for performance with cutting edge tech. Finally there is the ‘style-conscious’ with design at the forefront of their needs. They will be looking for something with drop dead gorgeous looks. Both enthusiast and style customers will be prepared to pay for either of these ‘traits’ but they rarely combine the two needs.
We are so confident that we have these segments right we’ve built our range around it. EBCO (our ‘house brand’) offers great value for money, the TranzX system works well, the bikes are reliable and comfortable. Great for utilitarian riders. AVE all feature Bosch centre-drive motor (recognised as leading the field) and the range includes models that can cope with on and off-road. This is the enthusiast’s bike. Finally Solex, developed by Pininfarina (think Ferrari and Maserati) has the looks that will turn heads. If it’s aesthetics a rider is after, we’ve got the best available.
All these brands are backed up with solid marketing, a UK-based reliable service centre and good after-sales support. This is comforting for the customer and imperative for the dealer.
So, want to know where the e-bike sector is? Stop looking to the continent and look who’s outside your front door. The e-bike market has matured into a serious sector and needs to be taken seriously. A well thought out and targeted strategy for e-bikes will deliver significant sales, as some of our retailers can testify to already.