Written June 2013 by Ron/Spinningmagnets
The vast majority of electric bike parts are made in China, and most of the type that are exported to North America are made around the city of Shenzhen (near Hong Kong in a special business zone), and also around the large port city of Shanghai. One of the biggest manufacturers of E-bikes in the world is Geoby. Part of the reason you may not have heard of them, is that the majority of their products are sold to wholesalers who brand them as their own.
In the past, this allowed Geoby to concentrate on making E-bikes and growing, and also letting the middle-men handle the complex distribution network that was spread across 20 languages and very diverse cultures that are sometimes hard to understand.
Recently Geoby has begun cutting out the middle-man…and selling E-bikes in the US under their own name, which is what interested me enough to begin researching them.
It is not hard to find 2,000 E-bike exporters based in China (on Alibaba.com and Aliexpress.com) who will happily sell you 100 E-bikes at wholesale prices that are shipped in a steel container to the US under their brand name. However, the majority of them are actually ordered from a large manufacturer like Geoby and then shipped to you, with the middle-man marking it up a few percent for their “customer service” and marketing savvy. This explains why you can find the same exact frame from a variety of suppliers.
Below is a pic of a frame style that is becoming very common among generic China-bike retailers. You can specify front or rear hub-motor, large or small hub-motor, battery size and type, disc or V-brake, etc. It would be very hard to compete on price with a high-volume E-bike maker.
Professional bicycle mechanics who prefer to retail high-quality bicycles from globally-recognized name brands sometimes refer to these as BSO’s …meaning Bicycle Shaped Objects.
The Juiced Rider ODK-II is made in China, but owner and designer Tora Harris traveled to China in person (He speaks fluent Chinese) to make certain his bikes were made to a specific level of quality. Many generic E-bikes are only made a to an “acceptable” level of mass-production quality, in order to keep the wholesale price down, as requested by many US Importers.
Beverly Cycles in Massachusetts is a US retailer who has begun carrying Geoby-branded E-bikes. They can order any bike from the Geoby catalog (which is very large, because Geoby actually makes them for hundreds of wholesalers). There are several popular styles that Beverly Cycles keeps in stock, to sell or to rent. Below is a pic of Geoby’s 20-inch wheeled city cargobike called the Volt Tour.
You can see the very wide selection of E-bike frame styles that they have available by clicking on their web-catalog, and then clicking on the “Export Style” tab on the left column.
If you think the 20-inch Volt-Tour model above looks a little like the Juiced Riders ODK-II, I agree. There may be minor variations, but…it is a fact of life that whenever any E-bike suddenly gets any publicity and public interest, it will be loosely copied immediately. For the record, since Tora Harris warrantees the ODK-II, his batteries are sourced from the highest quality suppliers. And rather than specify a low C-rate generic cell, he specifies name-brand cells and bundles them in a larger-than-average 15-Ah pack. This lowers the stress on each cell, so the pack will not get hot (by pulling high amps from a small pack) and will last a long time.
The “Steven” (pic below) looks a lot like one of my favorite frames, the Electra Townie. At first glance it’s just another generic Cruiser frame, but…the feet-forward placement of the Bottom-Bracket (BB, pedal-axle), the more aggressively sloped seat-tube, and other aspects of the layout are VERY similar to the Townie (although, again…it’s not an exact copy, and certainly not made to the quality of an authentic Townie).
You don’t have to squint your eyes too hard to see that the Geoby “Easy Bike MTB” (below) is VERY similar to the high-quality Stromer-ST1, with both of them using a battery that’s hidden inside a rectangular downtube…
What about Mid drives?
The latest trend in the global E-bike market has been the boom in mid-drives, in order to give the European and Asian 250W power-limited E-bikes the widest range of performance from their small motors. Geoby has come late to the game (a common Chinese business strategy), and they are now carrying models with a mid-drive system from their European partner, Sachs. The model they are promoting at the next Eurobike is called the I-speed.
There are other large manufacturers of E-bikes in Shenzhen, so…how big is Geoby? Their new expanded battery facility in Qiandeng (near the large port city of Shanghai) will soon be capable of making 500-million Lithium-ion battery watt-hours a year. That adds up to over 4-million 10-Ah batteries…per month.
So…if this information has hit you as a revelation, and you think you might want to become the first E-bike retailer in your region…there’s a few things you need to be warned about. To get the best price, you have to order in quantity, plan on paying up front for 100+ bikes as a minimum order. They will be coming by cargo ship and cargo train to a major shipping hub near you.
You may have to wait a month or two (ships are slow)…AFTER the order finally arrives from the factory to the Chinese docks. Then you have to rent a big truck to pick them up (two or three trips?) and then you have to find a place to store 100+ bikes while they are prepped for sale or re-shipment.
The reason this is a big problem is that…spring and summer is the big E-bike selling season everywhere, so if you want to have product to sell in the spring, you have to actually buy them in the fall/winter. If you are enjoying some success, you might eagerly place another order during the summer crush for 100 more bikes, and they will tell you that they can get your product to you very quickly…as long as you pay up front. Then…you wrestle with a series of phone calls and frantic emails to find out what the most recent delay is, but…let’s be honest. You KNEW there would be delays for any order placed in the summer, and their biggest customers always get served first.
When you finally get your 100 generic E-bikes stacked up in a storage facility, it doesn’t end there. Plan on ten-percent of the bikes having shipping damage. Bent parts and scratched paint. That’s when the fun really begins. Are you good at trouble-shooting electronics and soldering-in repairs? At a minimum, you will need a ten-percent overstock of spare motors, controllers, and throttles (at least in the beginning). A small business lives and dies by reputation, and having just a handful of unhappy customers your first year can sink you financially.
Some customers feel like they are smart consumers when they shop around for the absolute cheapest deal, and then they complain about the seemingly endless series of problems, instead of having a reliable E-bike that is fun to ride. We care about price too, but…the reason chat forums and web-magazines on any given subject are important is: they provide consumers with feedback from owners and reviewers to help them make an informed decision.
If this story interests you, check back in a month or so, since I will be continuing to investigate and sort through the confusing mass of information, filled with self-serving ads. The available info is further blurred when you realize that the Chinese legal definition of E-bike allows a vehicle that is clearly a scooter with pedals, which seem to be quite popular there.
Here’s are blurbs I lifted from a Chinese blogs about industrial trends (some are a year or two old):
“…One market remains dominant in e-bicycle sales: China, which accounts for 92% of the global market…In China…the number of electric bicycles reached 120 million in 2010…”
“…More than 2,600 firms had permits to make electric bikes last year…Most started as conventional bicycle-makers; others have come from the motorcycle/scooter business. The biggest manufacturer, Jiangsu Xinri Electric Vehicle Co, produced 1.8-M[illion] E-bikes last year. Its lead is under threat from at least half a dozen other manufacturers. One rival, Tianjin Aima Science and Technology Co [near Shenzhen/Hong Kong], says it is gearing up to make more than 5-M bikes a year; Jiangsu Yadea Technical Development Co hopes to triple its sales to 3-M…”
“…The electric bicycle companies in Jiangsu (near Shanghai) mainly produce luxury electric bicycles , including Jiangsu Xinri, Jiangsu Yadea and Changzhou Supaq…”
“…Jiangsu Yadea, a famous electric bicycle producer in China, tops the ranking of China National Light Industry Council (CNLIC) electric bicycle industry for a consecutive three years…boasts annual capacity of nearly 6 million electric bicycles…”
“…Jiangsu Xinri is one of the leading electric bicycle producers and has rapidly expanded its capacity in the past two years….boasts annual capacity amounted to 6 million electric bicycles per year…AIMA Hi-tech is another leader in Chinese electric bicycle industry….[they have a] sales volume which reached 2.6 million…”
“The report…highlights the electric bicycle business of 28 domestic manufacturers including Jiangsu Yadea, Jiangsu Xinri, AIMA Hi-tech, Shanghai Lima and Shandong Bidewen, etc…”
“…According to a new Pike Pulse report published May 2012, two Chinese vendors, Luyuan Electric Vehicle and Jiangsu Xinri E-Vehicle are essentially competing head-to-head for the highest ranking, in terms of strategy and execution, in this emerging sector. They are closely followed by Dutch manufacturer Gazelle Bicycles…”
From Pike Research: http://www.navigantresearch.com/research/pike-pulse-report-electric-bicycles
Top 10 vendors in 2011 by production volume:
1. Luyuan Electric Vehicle, Shanghai, China
2. Jiangsu Xinri E-Vehicle, Shanghai, China
3. Gazelle Bicycles, Netherlands
4. Currie Technologies, Accel group, Netherlands
5. Shanghai CRANES Electric Vehicle Co., Shanghai, China
6. Sparta BV, Accel Group, Netherlands
7. Panasonic/Sanyo, Japan
8. Giant Bicycles, Taiwan
9. Trek Bicycles, Wisconsin, USA (manufacturing in Taiwan and China)
10. Yamaha Motor, Japan