Like it or not, e-bike are quickly becoming a key sector in the industry, and that isn’t going to change any time soon. I sat down with Haibike’s Gareth Davies to discuss how the image of the e-bike has changed, and where Haibike’s place in the future of the industry lies.
There was a time when the concept of e-bikes was cheapened by low-quality Chinese factory exports, what do you think were the major progress points in changing that image?
True electrical giants came to the party. Panasonic, Bosch, Yamaha all made fantastic in-roads with product that had a true lifespan. All e-bikes are immediately fun, but those brands recognized that quality still needs to be in the product in three years, five years, ten years… The next step of course was implementing that technology, the birth of the Xduro in 2010 has spawned a huge e-mtb element to the e-bike industry.
How is business for you at the moment? What feedback are you receiving from customers?
Great, we’ve been heavily involved in e-bikes for many years now to the extent we are seeing sales from both repeat and second generation purchasers. Customers really appreciate the innovation we bring to the market – this isn’t just through the use of the latest Yamaha and Bosch systems but also with the likes of our Modular Rail System for MY18 which allows various accessories such as a second battery, a lock, a carry pack or water bottles to be attached to the bike both quickly and easily.
Do you think more dealers should concentrate on stocking e-bikes?
Yes. E-bikes equal new customers. One of the key things has been watching stores that, by their own admission, had become stale, take on such an exciting new lease of life with e-bikes. Having said that, it’s not just about stocking, the successful dealers are getting out and attracting new customers, never has demo and good product knowledge had such a huge impact on sales. The really good dealers have realized these new customers expect a different type of experience when purchasing an e-bike and many have elevated their levels of sales, service and after-care.
E-bikes are the fastest growing sector of the cycling industry. Is that something you think will be sustained indefinitely?
Ultimately everything has a ceiling limit, but really we are a very, long way from finding that – as in decades. Our sister companies across Europe are still annually reporting good growth in e-bikes. After-all, e-bikes are a product that can turn virtually any non-cyclist into an enthusiast!
Obviously technology will always evolve, but what major developments are still on the cards in terms of innovation?
Immediately it really is about refinement; we’ll see more manufacturers, and non-electric parts suppliers alike, looking to tweak and perfect some of the givens around the technology used.
A great example will be smart phone connectivity brought to bear in terms of real world use; I’m not convinced consumers need the levels of assistance flexibility we’re seeing from some systems suppliers, it can just be muddled and confusing much like suspension with five or six points of damping adjustment.
Are there any emerging technologies that you foresee making a big splash in the industry in the near future?
That would be telling – so watch this space!
A lot of lifelong mountain bikers are struggling to embrace electric assistance, what would you say to someone who until now has shunned it?
I’m not sure it matters; no one should be forced to partake in something they don’t want to do! If we talk about negative attitude towards e-bikes/e-bikers in general though, I’d ask those people to take a minute to think about all their friends and loved ones, 95 per cent of whom don’t ride bikes at all, and imagine how cool it would be to have more of them going out for bike rides.
The number of opinions that we’ve seen change once someone has experienced an e-mtb out on the trail is significant. If we look at mainland Europe, the UK Cycle Industry is still clearly behind on e-mtb acceptance – at the Roc D’Azur event, at the start of October, the sheer number of e-mtbs being used and demoed was astronomical. The change we are seeing is relative though and we continue to see this as an exciting opportunity; our demo and event support program is perpetually booked out by our dealers with hundreds of e-bikes demoed every week.
It must be hard to keep up with the innovations in the field, how do you as a brand futureproof against that?
Two things predominantly – we always think about the consumer and anything goes with e-bikes. We never tire of exploring niches, nine times out of ten adding a motor system opens up a whole segment of riding potential to an audience you couldn’t have dreamt of. If we have even the slightest inkling that a user may exist then they probably do. Then we try to concentrate on that end user. Of course it helps that we’re those users too!
What bikes are selling the most at the moment?
This is where we are fortunate – as our portfolio is so thorough and varied we see regular sales in all categories from Sduro Trekkings to Xduro Nduro long travel bikes, the increasing popularity of our women’s and adventure models and also across both Yamaha and Bosch equipped platforms. E-bikes also have the ability to buck seasonality trends too – which is always good!
Where do you think the e-bike industry is heading in the near future?
Cycling isn’t a mainstream activity. E-bikes inevitably are and we’re ready for that.
Where is your place in that?
We’re not so much creating cycles as creating cyclists, which is a pretty good place to be!