As we near the end of 2016, the sentiment from dealers about the British electric bike market has leant toward uncertainty.
Given the latest impressive statistics which state that the e-bike market is the largest-growing area of the cycling industry, now is be the ideal time to invest in emerging e-tech. The question on the lips of e-bike specialists is, why not? With the likes of GOcycle and – as we’ve learned in recent months – Brompton, releasing cutting edge folding e-bikes to fuel the commuter markets, we must turn our attention to the e-MTB sector to account for what is potentially a gaping hole in sales.
“I wish I could just get all the people criticising e-MTBs on our bike,” says Guy Wheeler, Ducati’s brand representative in the UK. “I was on a train after a serious ride and a man launched into a lecture on how electric assistance was cheating. I looked down at the brand new running shoes on his feet and said to him ‘Your new running shoes, aren’t those cheating?’ There’s such a misconception that riding [a e-bike] is somehow not playing by the rules. It’s absurd!”
Experiences like Wheeler’s ring true for many in a similar position when facing cycling puritans. I meet him in the middle of Richmond Park in on a misty morning in November to talk about e-MTBs and the sleek new Ducati offering. As we talk, hoardes of road riders fly by in unison as Wheeler sums up his feelings on the controversy surrounding e-MTBs, “You see these guys riding around here all week long. Always in unison with their heads two foot from the bumper of a truck, I just want to say ‘Guys, have a go on this, don’t you want to have some fun?’ Whilst they’re staring at the pavement, we’re flying down hills, or zipping up steep, muddy climbs having the times of our lives!”
The other main concern from the perspective of dealers seems to be very fresh memories of the poorly built and dangerous contraptions that flooded the market several years ago, cobbled together in the factories of China. These bikes almost irreparably damaged the image of e-bikes by reducing the idea to a gimmick. Wheeler states that the investment, which went into the new Ducati E-400 MTB, is set to change that.
“Obviously people are already going to know the name Ducati, which will go a long way to reassure people that the quality of the parts will be high. But we’ve also got an amazing frame made exclusively for us by Bianchi, and a 250-watt Bosch engine with a 400-watt-per-hour battery. People outside of the cycling world may not know the rich history behind the Bianchi name, but Bosch is a universally recognisable, strong brand.”
So where is the future heading for the e-MTB market? “The investment in the market is there, but at the moment it’s important that people know that you’re going to have a bike which will last. It’s a big upfront cost, but really, you’re probably never going to have to replace it. Bosch has suggested that the 2017 range will still centre on the amazing Bosch Performance Speed assist unit, so the batteries may upgrade, but this is a futureproof unit.”