Wal-Mart, Best Buy and REI have either already or will soon enter the electric bicycle market (as noted in an earlier Green Transportation article). In the U.S. electric bicycles are little known but in other countries (notably Europe and China) they are more popular and widely known. In the U.S. the electric bicycle market has long been the realm of small specialist shops rather than big business. It will be interesting to watch this market change to see if or how the existing electric bicycle dealers will survive in this new era. Remember what happened with other incursions by large corporations into business territory occupied by small specialist shops. Despite the ilk of Starbucks, Borders Books and Amazon.com there are still small independent coffee shops and bookstores, just not as many as before.
“An Overview of the US Electric Bike Market” is a marketing research paper describing the market and potential for electric bicycles. The electric bicycle market is properly seen as part of the broader Light Electric Vehicle (LEV) market. LEV’s range from small scooters, hybrid scooter-bicycles, and full sized scooters. While some of the small scooters are meant for children others are high quality adult transportation or recreational vehicles. A ‘scooter-bicycle’ has the plastic body and appearance of a full size scooter, but has pedals and a lower speed.
The study cites another (unpublished) study to claim 220,000 electric bicycles are sold in the U.S. per year, while stating that many in the industry think that number is too high. It’d be interesting to see the definitions used in the other study.
Long term electric bicycle riders (such as this writer) have had various reactions to our electric assist bicycles. Often the reaction is interest and praise, other times it’s resistance (“you’re cheating”) as suggested in the report. A crucial source of resistance are the independent bicycle dealers who cater to the extremely serious bicycle riders. As the report states bicycles are sold via several channels including independent bicycle dealers. It will help the adoption of electric bicycles for them to be widely available through those channels, which means gaining acceptance first by the stores. One trend which may help is the aging of the baby boomers who now have grandchildren with whom they may want to ride bicycles. An electric assist bicycle may help them do so which may lead the stores who today sell bicycles to begin selling electric bicycles.
Adding electric assist to a bicycle makes it a more practical tool for commuting, hauling cargo (such as groceries or laundry) and even recreation. Electric assist bicycles are highly energy efficient. For example a 10 mile each way commute can be accomplished with less electricity than leaving a lighbulb burning all day, plus the rider gets exercise and outdoors time to boot.
Past electric bicycles had quality and fit & finish issues that are being corrected by a new generation of conversion kits and purpose built bicycles. Also helping are higher energy density battery chemistries which lessen the impact of having an electric assist kit on the bicycle. Obviously electric bicycles cannot serve every transportation need, but there are many around town trips which are easily accomplished with them.
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