Where is the North American E-bike Boom?

Electric bike use is on a steady incline in cities that support everyday cycling.

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In 2013, approximately 100,000 electric bikes (e-bikes) made their way from specialty shops and independent bicycle retailers to the homes of proud owners in the US. While e-bike sales are still just a fraction of total bike sales – in comparison more than 18 million bicycles were sold in 2012 – the e-bike market in North America is growing.

“The strongest markets for commuting electric bicycles are cities that have the best cycling infrastructure and are the most populous,” said Larry Pizzi, President of Currie Technologies, a company with multiple lines of electric bikes for daily use, recreation, and sport. “Let’s face it, North Americans are looking for transportation alternatives and when there is safe infrastructure on which to ride, urban dwellers are considering bicycles and electric bikes because they make so much sense.”

“The US is almost universal in regarding a bicycle as a device for sport, fitness, and recreation,” said Claudia Wasko of Bosch eBike Systems, a European leader in e-bike systems that recently opened an office in California. “But for most e-bike buyers, transportation is the primary intended use.” The company sees their premium e-bike systems catching on where there has been a significant increase in bicycle infrastructure spending by governments.

Pedelec systems, e-bikes that require the use of pedal-power to initiate the electric assist, are the mandated standard in Europe and the e-assist of choice for Dean Keyek-Franssen of Pete’s Electric Bikes. “At the core it still has to be a bicycle,” said Keyek-Franssen. Many of his customers, who range in age from 20 to 98-years-old, have turned to e-bikes to overcome challenges, whether physical or due to terrain. For Keyek-Franssen, the e-bike industry is the driving force behind innovation in bicycle mobility. This combination of utility and technology holds broad appeal to the smartphone generation.

Lorenzo Martone, the founder of Martone Cycling Co., is introducing an electric model to his bicycle line this year and he too is eyeing urban markets with growing infrastructure as well as fashion and technology-focused potential riders. “Many of our clients are young professionals who have to arrive at work in impeccable style, but don’t mind pedaling on the way home,” said Martone. “The Martone e-bike is a solution for this crowd, they can use the pedal-assist on the way to work and arrive as if fresh out of the shower.”

As cities try to catch up to the growing demand for better bicycle infrastructure, e-bike brands are also looking to gain ground on existing sport and recreation bicycle markets in North America. In 2015, Felt Electric will launch in North America with introductory models for mountain biking and recreation built around the Bosch system. The company has already made gains in the competitive European market. According to Felt Electric’s US Brand Manager, Zach Krapfl, the company is aiming at a younger US market than the one in Europe.

With products reaching the level of reliability and durability found in Europe, e-bike brands are also looking for growth in independent bike shops that may still be wary of the technology and its price tags. Already, e-bike buyers spend more than previously thought, an average of $2,500 each according to Currie Technologies’ Larry Pizzi, as there is a willingness to spend on reliable, more versatile e-bikes. “It’s my hope that the proliferation of electric-assist bicycles will help grow the bicycling community significantly in North America,” said Pizzi.

5 Comments

  • Kylee

    The problem with the USA ebike market is that the bike shops are trying to sell ebikes to existing bicyclists. This is the wrong market, especially in the USA where most bike shops sell primarily to recreational bicyclists. They should be selling them to people who currently commute to work by car. This is a much bigger market that will gain much more from ebikes. If you look at the ebike users in Europe and Asia, these are mostly not sport bicyclists, just people commuting to work.

  • Jon Spangler, LCI #3175

    I see no overall advantage to using an e-bike over a “normal” (human-powered-only) bike. I need the exercise, and can’t afford the (relatively) high cost of an e-bike, and I do not want to haul around all that dead weight when I have to board a BART train or take a bike up some stairs. If I don’t want to sweat, i can drive my Prius or take transit–or even walk at a more moderate pace. For the amount of $$$ spent for an e-bike of low or just moderate quality, I can get a MUCH better road bike–or two or three!

    • Judi

      I bought an E bike for two reasons: I live in a very hilly city (Vancouver, BC) and I often haul my adult son’s special needs trailer. But then I decided to try to ride it to work. Mainly uphill, and a trip which needed to be completed in 28 minutes or less. I had been riding the express bus ( packed, hot, full of students all year) but that was taking me longer and I arrived at work stressed out. I can ride to work faster, fresher and ready to face my day, then come home and ,on a fine evening, take my son for a ride. I did keep my old Norco for days I just want to “go for a bike ride”.

    • Bob Jones

      You don’t see the point of an eBike but you own a Prius. A battery supplemented car. For the cost of a Prius I could have bought a MUCH better 1980’s muscle car with a V8 – or two or three! Plus my car doesn’t have to haul around that dead weight hybrid system and it prone to electrical failures. Just burn gas and it goes fast. Now thats a car. Not your fancy pants, latte grabbing, eco-friendly sparky car.

      You see my point? What you see as a pointless eBike, I see as a highly functional, utility bike that can carry 20 lbs of commuting gear at 20 mph. I’d love to see a dainty carbon fiber road bike carry that much cargo and go that fast. Trust me, I own a carbon fiber road bike and I can go just that fast but it wont haul anything and it’s not built for 5 day a week commuting duties. Good luck biking a hybrid or mountain bike that fast. It’s not about not sweating or being lazy. It’s about wanting to riding a bike and save time. I save 30 minutes on my 20 mile one commuter every day on my eBike. Nuff said.

    • Allan Harmsworth

      All the studies show ebikes allow a more range of people to go further and more often. Pedal bikes are okay for the young and fit, and those lucky few able to age without a disability, joint or heart problems. Ebikes give people options. Many people are able to replace a car for short commutes and shopping trips. One more ebike on the road is one less car, which can only be a good thing.

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