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