The thought of an electric bicycle that just goes by itself could be the stuff of a teenager’s daydream, and yet the market (in the UK at least) has been invested in the 50-plus bracket.
There is evidence that in bike dealerships the majority of E-bikes sold are to more mature customers. A critical point to understand is that most bike shops can use electric bikes to tap into a new market of older riders rather than the usual sub-30 users.
Stuart Woodmansey, GM of Bob’s Bikes in Hull, for instance, noticed a real trend in those buying Powabykes and said: “We are going to try and convince the younger market but the most popular market is the older generation…”
Powabyke ran a competition with Saga magazine – which targets the 50-plus reader – and the response has been phenomenal. One reader, Jo Groves, said: “I have gazed at these bikes so often and how I wish to be able to get up a quarry hill on the coast of North Wales.”
But there is still confusion on just how accessible these bikes are. One reader asked whether recharge places are easy to find in the UK, oblivious to the fact that E-bikes can be charged from the home plug socket. Whereas some still believe that a specialised infrastructure is missing for electric vehicles, when it comes to e-bikes it is already in place in the form of household electricity supply.
The ‘grey market’ has an obvious interest in a bicycle that can climb hills and travel long roads without the need for pedal pounding, but there is a clear business case for broadening the target market for a form of transport that can get you to work or the shops in good time and on its own power, saving you from exertion. Powabyke’s customer survey found 38 per cent of users replaced their car with the bike for travelling a few miles.
So is a wider uptake reliant on image? The original E-bikes looked like bad sci-fi film props – heavy and designed for the style-conscious may not have made the grade. But now the bikes have transformed into something quite different. Powabyke’s X-byke range, for example, look like regular road bikes on first glance because the technology for power delivery has been seamlessly integrated into the design, and they are now relatively light at 21kg. On first glance you’d only know an X-byke was electric through the lack of pedalling.
This translates to an opportunity to appeal to generations younger than the traditional age group. Whilst the 20-something market is yet to be cracked there are clear indications that the over 30s are adopting E-bikes. Jamie Gingell of Bristol recently turned 40 and said: “I bought a Powabyke because it saved money on the car for going to work in the summer and it was a good way to get fit.” This sentiment epitomises the reasons for adoption in this new phase and wider target market.
When considering the future it is worth studying China, where they embraced E-bikes as transport for the masses, rather than specific target groups. In 2009 there were four times as many E-bikes on the road compared to cars, only a decade after the first E-bikes appeared. China’s industrialisation and over-reliance on the car is adding momentum to a transport revolution.
China may well provide us with a crystal ball for foreseeing this necessary transformation in other countries, when globally we face the same problems with traffic congestion, challenging family economics and also the same threats from our reliance on petrol and our need to be greener.