Let’s play a quick game. I’m going to throw some numbers at you. Stop me when you spot the common thread.
- 30% – Increase in French electric bike sales in 2016
- 34% – Increase in Swedish electric bike sales in 2016
- 152,000 – E-bikes sold in the US in 2016
- 200 million – E-bikes currently in use on Chinese roadways
- $24.3 billion – Global estimated market value for electric bike sales by 2025
By now you’ve obviously realized that we’re talking about electric bicycles, arguably the most revolutionary development in cycling since the high-wheeler went obsolete. But did you notice the rather surprising stat tucked in the middle?
While the United States enjoys a healthy interest in e-bikes, its saturation rate is nowhere near that of foreign markets. According to the LA Times, that 152,000 figure we quoted above would have to be closer to 5 million to be on par with cyclists in Western Europe; a pretty sizeable gap to make up.
When you consider the booming popularity the electric bike is enjoying worldwide, this disparity can only mean one of two things: either the US is immune to the trend, or it’s simply slower to catch on. And if you’re an American bike shop owner trying to decide whether or not to get in on the pedal-assist action, it’s a question you’d probably like answered soon.
So let’s look at the datapoints.
Earlier this year, Netherlands-based Pon Holdings made waves by opening a Gazelle Bikes office in Santa Cruz. The move, they said, is designed to “change the cycling habit of Californians” by focusing on e-bike sales. Seeing as Pon may soon become the single largest cycling company in the world, it’s hard not to interpret their strategy as a strong indication of the overall health and potential of the US electric bicycle market.
But does the availability of more e-bikes actually translate into more rides and riders? According to our statistics, yes.
Combing through Spinlister’s database of thousands of weekly rentals, we noticed a surprising contrast: the number of electric bicycles requested during the first four months of the year jumped nearly 1500% between 2016 and 2017.
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This increase reflects developments on both sides of the rental spectrum. First, there are a growing number of shops and individuals offering pedal-assist bike rentals through the Spinlister platform. Included on this list are half a dozen Pedego outlets, named 2016’s #1 electric bike brand by Navigant Research. Secondly, there’s simply a burgeoning public interest in seeing what these bikes can do.
So then if cyclists aren’t averse to a little electric lovin’, and suppliers are moving quickly to provide it, what seems to be the holdup? In a word, bureaucracy. Many state and local legislatures simply aren’t adapting quickly enough to this technology. To date, there is no universally agreed-upon classification system for e-bikes in the US, which technically renders them illegal in some states.
But on that front too, thankfully, swift progress is being made. As of April, California, Utah, Tennessee, Colorado and Arkansas had already passed bills that standardize regulation of the electric bike industry. More are likely to follow suit throughout the year, thanks to the robust efforts of groups like People for Bikes and the BPSA.
Which brings us back around to you, the Americian bike shop owner. It’s safe to say that the market for your services has been a bit…turbulent…since the turn of the 21st century. Just in the first quarter of 2017 alone, supply shipments to the US dropped by about 15% according to Bike EU. This, of course, stands in stark contrast to e-bike shipments, which rose 88% during the same time period.
Given their popularity with bike distributors, buyers, and renters alike, and a US legislative climate poised to become more conducive to their widespread use, one can’t help wonder: is the electric bike the silver bullet that US bicycle shops have long been searching for? Because if the answer is yes, it would seem there’s no better time than this proverbial calm before the storm to jump into the fray.