September, 2012

Part III in a dispatch series from Eurobike, by Brett Thurber of The New Wheel Electric Bike Shop.

Passing through the San Francisco international terminal a week ago, a particularly well put together exhibit caught my eye. Along two long walls at the back of terminal, behind tall glass panes, was a line-up of mountain bikes in exquisite condition. On one end was the very earliest example, a Schwinn with motorcycle tires, and on the other, the most cutting edge carbon fibre, full suspension twenty-niner.

Mountain bike history exhibit at San Francisco International Airport

The mountain bike is legendary in the bicycle industry. It upended everything, taking what was once a staid, largely winded business with flat sales, and making it fresh and innovative. As was clear from the history display, and is recounted often by industry veterans, the mountain bike made brands, toppled others, and generally made cycling interesting again for millions of people. The exhibit, showing the evolution over 40 years of a now ubiquitous machine from it’s humble beginnings in Northern California until today, seemed to me to be a prophetic send off.

In 2005, Mike DeVisser of Ohm Cycle’s recounted to me, they were one of probably a handful of brands displaying electric bicycles at Eurobike. A sales manager for Currie Technologies told a similar story of Eurobike obscurity, with their booth being placed by organizers at the furthest reaches of the convention, the Zeppelin Hanger (yes, right next to a Zeppelin aircraft).

Today all that has changed. The comparison I heard over and over was between the current electric bike craze and that of the mountain bike explosion in the 80’s. But this time, everyone I talked to assured me, the electric bike will be even bigger. Perhaps the best hint at how monumental the electric bicycle is for the bike industry is this: when mountain bikes came onto the market, how many car companies developed a mountain bike for mass production? Plans for developing electric bikes are underway at VWAudiBMWPeugeot, and Ford, to name a few, and Daimler has already brought a bike to market with the Smart ebike. The reason for so much interest by some of the largest manufacturers on earth? The electric bike is already revolutionizing the way people get around, not just the way they spend their free time.

 

The Smart ebike. Belt drive, Bionx, and Beautiful.

 

Every major European brand had at least one electric bike on offer. Many brands displayed and promoted their electric bike models almost exclusively. And all of this makes sense, when you consider how electric bikes have already changed the idea of a bicycle among consumers. While the average selling price of a bicycle is around 500 Euro in Germany, an electric bike often sells for at least triple that.

For a machine that can offer unprecedented mobility and convenience, people are willing to spend much more, not just on a quality motor system, but also on quality components that make the bike a joy to ride. Not just that, but a bike that is used more often to do more things also encourages riders to spend more on maintenance. This in turn supports a vibrant retail sector with high quality service and well paid staff. It is a virtuous circle.

 

M-Way Electric Bicycle Shop. Zurich, Switzerland

 

It appears that the virtuous circle may soon be stateside. The most exciting news from Eurobike is that the Europeans are ready to make a big push for the electric bike in North America. Already Grace has announced their entrance into the U.S. market, and will display at this years Interbike show in Las Vegas. Currie Technologies, recently bought by the Dutch electric bike giant Accell group, is preparing a number of big announcements for Interbike as well. And Stromer, recently purchased by BMC Switzerland, is readying a relaunch of the brand in the U.S. market after a rocky first few years under a distributor. These are but a few of the exciting developments in the slumbering North American ebike market.

 

The Grace One electric bike at Eurobike

 

We call ourselves at The New Wheel “an optimistic bike shop.” We are often asked what exactly our motto means. The motto is meant just as much as an affirmation as it is meant as a statement about the business we are in selling a product that we believe can make for a better future. Optimism has been required as we have sought to build a sustainable business on integrity, quality, and service in an industry that has often lacked those qualities. Going to Eurobike and seeing the existence of so many quality companies offering quality product has helped to renew my optimism. And now the Europeans are going to export their product and approach to North America. It appears that 2013 could well be the mountain bike moment for the electric bike in the United States.