In the U.S. electric bicycles, scooters and motorcycles have been the in the realm of fanatic aficionado’s for a long time. They’ve been available either by building your own or purchase through one of the few dealers. However they won’t make much effect on greening transportation until they’re widely available and are being used widely. In some areas, notably Europe and China, electric bicycles and scooters are popular and widely available (Time, June 14, 2009, “Last year, Chinese bought 21 million e-bikes, compared with 9.4 million autos. While China now has about 25 million cars on the road, it has four times as many e-bikes.“). Indeed most of the commercial electric bicycles and scooters available in the U.S. are made in China.
The electronics retailer Best Buy recently announced plans to begin selling electric bicycles, scooters and motorcycles through selected stores. A few of their stores today are selling electric bicycles and scooters, and sales of the Enertia motorcycle (made by Brammo) will wait until at least the July 5 launch of that bike.
It’s not clear how to determine which Best Buy locations have these vehicles. A conveniently large banner at their San Carlos CA store was a clue that store had them in stock. Unfortunately a visit to this store, on a Sunday afternoon, was a little disappointing.
The bikes and scooters were easily found within the store, and had a sizable chunk of floor space for display. The selection is very good with highly regarded bicycles and scooters. They have been selling Segway scooters in some stores for nearly a year, and this store had two models. The A2B bicycle from Ultra Motor is a very ruggedly built bicycle with a great reputation. Currie has been on the market selling electric bicycles and scooters for over 10 years, and are held in high regard. Good choices all which indicates Best Buy took some care in choosing good quality products rather than simply importing a selection of cheap bikes from China.
The disappointing part was the activity, or lack thereof, around this display. After hanging around for over 10 minutes no sales people were to be seen. Then after wandering away for awhile and returning there were a covey of sales people next to the display, but they dispersed upon this writers approach.
It is a largely unknown fact, to the general public, that with some planning one can use an electric bicycle or scooter for a large portion of around town travel or shopping. This writer has done so for years, including grocery shopping, with an electric bicycle hauling a trailer. Therefore wider adoption of electric bicycles or scooters will mean educating the public about their potential. The Best Buy display had no such information, instead it was simply products on display with minimal product description and specifications.
One remaining question is whether shoppers at Best Buy will be able to test ride the bikes. This Best Buy didn’t have an obvious place for test rides and for that matter the display bikes did not have batteries installed.
The final remaining question is whether Best Buy will be handling service and support. On PlugBike.com it’s noted that Brammo has been training the Geek Squad in motorcycle maintenance, but no indication whether any lessons in Zen are included. Also the Brammo CEO noted to this writer (a.k.a. @visforvoltage) on Twitter: We have a plan on service and warranty that is disruptive and will be revealed over the coming months.
It’s a bit of a head scratcher what these vehicles are doing at Best Buy. They are known for home and car electronics and related gizmos, not for transportation products. Is this as Joel Makower notes a foray into the Smart Grid future? That remains to be seen, and in any case it is an interesting move which bears watching over time.
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