Electric Bikes are Changing the World (Swiss Edition)

August 29, 2012

Part I of a dispatch from Eurobike by Brett Thurber of The New Wheel, San Francisco.

It’s nine in the morning, 70 degrees, and I’m cycling up a hill in the Alps on an electric bike. Welcome to Zurich, Switzerland. I’m not on vacation; this is all business. Truly. Zurich is the first stop on a business trip to Eurobike, the world’s largest bicycle convention. I have come half-way around the world from our electric bike shop in San Francisco to learn from the Europeans about the future of personal transportation. Zurich is the perfect first exposure to the mobility revolution underway.

The electric bike I’m riding is built in Switzerland by the Swiss brand Flyer. It is a bike share bike offered by the City of Zurich and run by recent immigrants and asylum seekers through a program designed to help along integration. The electric bike itself was provided by M-Way, another interesting story. M-Way is one of the largest electric bike retailers in Switzerland. It’s parent company is the large Swiss co-op Migros, with a range of businesses from supermarkets to gas stations.

Bike Share Station


Yes, electric bikes are in the mainstream in Switzerland. As a store clerk at City Cycles (a large bicycle retailer in Zurich) told me after I lamented about the dearth of quality electric bike brands available in the U.S., the problem in Switzerland isn’t a lack of manufacturers, it’s just the opposite: too many! But that doesn’t seem to be slowing things down much. The same associate estimated that over 30% of the sales of bicycles at her shop were electric, and she motioned exponentially upwards with her hand when talking about the trend of late. Walking around Zurich, that isn’t surprising. Everywhere you look there is an electric bike locked up, or zipping by.


City Cycles electric bike selection


It hasn’t always been this way though. Electric bikes began to take off in Europe about six years ago, and accelerated greatly in only the last three years or so. At Eurobike now, over half the show space for bicycles is dedicated to electric bikes, a sure sign of how bullish the industry is these days.

What this means for life in Zurich is quite clear. While urban cycling has wide participation, electric bikes are expanding the places traveled to and from, and the demographics of riders. A common sight are what are called “Speed Pedelecs” – abbreviated as s-pedelecs – distinguished by higher top speeds and required license plates affixed to their fenders. These speedy E-bikes allow easy and quick travel from the outskirts of the city to downtown, making cycling even more attractive to everyone from the weekday commuter to parents, who can often be seen with children in tow.

It’s an exciting time to be living in the Alps.


Eric has been involved in the electric bike industry since 2002 when he started a 6000 square foot brick and mortar Electric Bike store in downtown San Francisco. He is a true believer that small electric vehicles can change the way we operate and the way we think.


  1. Hi Brett Please come to the Zeppelin Hall to stand ZH-204 and ride the Falco e-Bike system. This is the latest creation from Rakesh Dhawan who was part of the design team responsible for Tidal Force and E+. Falco e-Motors has been working closely with UK based Team Hybrid for the last 3 years and now have a great E-Bike system at the moment based around the Montague Folding Bike. We look forward to meeting you, ask for Mark or Rakesh.

  2. There was a man in Sweden who wanted to test drive a Ford. His wife said he has to be moving and sporting and that the car is nothing good to him. She protested so hard that the man finally stopped thinking about the Ford after test driving it a few times. He tried the electric bike and he said to the magazine that the electric bikes are very much better than cars.

    People say driving an electric bike is like driving a car when you turn on the motor and drive even in uphills. This is actually wrong, it isn’t like driving a car where you sit relaxed with every muscle and the motor works that much. You move your legs, the motor works as much as it needs but it doesn’t work such a lot that the driver is just relaxed. Even when the motor is working the driver who also works is still training, especially on uphills.

    Once when I was going in the ninth class in Sweden (class 0-9 is everything the ground school in Sweden) my class wanted to bring their bikes and ride them to their teacher. I was in the same class and I also wanted to do it. The teacher lives around 23 km from Svenljunga where the school is. When I told my parents they protested against it. I told them all the time “I can ride the bike so stop protesting!” and when I was having a powerful pressure to them they agreed finally. But I “had to show” them I’ll make it. I wasn’t riding the bike that much yet but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t ride the bike yet. I could but they did just never believe it. I just wasn’t riding that far. Finally when my dad wanted to ride with me in a range of 5 km I also did it to “show” him I’ll make everything and that his protest isn’t true. I got to bring my bike to Svenljunga and I got there with all the class on the trip home to the teacher. When I returned to Svenljunga my mum was there with her car, she told me she’s surprised that I still made it all. I told her that previously that there’s no problem for me. This sport has fascinated me more and more and finally I bought the electric bike for 5000 crowns before I was riding from Överlida to Svenljunga. There are many hills and I also noticed that the motor saves 2 hours on 30 kilometres.

    Once I went down to the bus stop but I knew that my bus wasn’t going through the school so I had to go 200 metres more to the next bus stop. I knew I was going to wait to the bus a long time and I saw a white car coming closer and closer to me. That was my dad. He turned to the bus stop and I got in to the car to get home faster than with the bus. Dad told me that he was going to the swimming hall and I told him that we have to ride our bikes to get there. I took the bike from Överlida to Svenljunga and he took the car. It was 8 degrees outside the houses and cloudy. After I just finished 14 kilometres of all 31 I had to finish it started rain. It wasn’t raining that massively and my dad still wanted to bring me to Svenljunga but I told him the rain like that doesn’t even cause that you get a cold and that it will still stop raining after a few minutes. And it stopped raining. After this first trip I continued so in every friday when we were going to the swimming hall taking the bike instead of going by car if there was no rain before I started my trip. Once when I was going to Svenljunga it was a nice weather and warm, over 20 degrees out and no rain so I took my bike to Svenljunga and after I just passed Holsljunga it started rain more massive then. I still wanted to finish the trip and it has stopped raining when I was in Svenljunga so I had to finish 16 kilometres in rain.

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