Power to the Peo­ple e-Bike Revolution in Canada

E-bike Revolution in Canada

Pedal Magazine - - Contents - by Chris Keam

In coun­tries where cy­cling is a trans­porta­tion main­stay, elec­tric-as­sist bi­cy­cles are gath­er­ing plenty of fans, boost­ing re­tail­ers’ bot­tom line and even find­ing sup­port from gov­ern­ment. While the Cana­dian mar­ket is slower to em­brace the “ped­elec,” as power-as­sisted bi­cy­cles are com­monly called, e-bikes are grad­u­ally build­ing mar­ket share here among com­muters, recreational road rid­ers and even moun­tain bik­ers.

In coun­tries where cy­cling is a trans­porta­tion main­stay, elec­tric-as­sist bi­cy­cles are gath­er­ing plenty of fans, boost­ing re­tail­ers’ bot­tom line and even find­ing sup­port from gov­ern­ment. While the Cana­dian mar­ket is slower to em­brace the “ped­elec,” as power-as­sisted bi­cy­cles are com­monly called, e-bikes are grad­u­ally build­ing mar­ket share here among com­muters, recreational road rid­ers and even moun­tain bik­ers.

It’s es­ti­mated that 35 mil­lion elec­tric bi­cy­cles were sold around the world in 2016. But only 300,000 units are at­trib­uted to the North American mar­ket. Con­sider the pop­u­la­tion dif­fer­ence be­tween the U.S. and Canada, and even with­out of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics to ref­er­ence, it’s clear that the e-bike re­mains a niche prod­uct in both coun­tries from a global stand­point, but some feel that could change rapidly in the not-so-dis­tant fu­ture.

An as­tute ob­server will eas­ily no­tice more e-bikes cur­rently on the road. That’s good news for re­tail­ers and dis­trib­u­tors, who welcome e-bikes in their prod­uct line-ups be­cause they ap­peal to a new breed of cy­clist. Of­fer­ing time­sav­ing ben­e­fits for daily cy­cle com­muters, an eas­ier ride for oc­ca­sional users and an al­ter­na­tive to the mini­van for par­ents loathe to give up their bike to get the kids to school, e-bikes ex­pand the cus­tomer base for bike stores be­yond the iron-thighed en­thu­si­ast.

“We re­al­ized this is a whole new seg­ment for us,” notes Kevin Se­nior, owner of Bow Cy­cles in Cal­gary, Alta. and pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian In­de­pen­dent Bi­cy­cle Re­tail­ers As­so­ci­a­tion [CIBRA]. “Most of the peo­ple cur­rently on e-bikes are 40+ [years]. Some who used to ride, but haven’t been on a bike for sev­eral years.”

That de­mo­graphic ob­ser­va­tion is sup­ported by mar­ket re­search, ac­cord­ing to Clau­dia Wasko, busi­ness unit leader of Bosch eBike Sys­tems Amer­i­cas.

“We re­cently con­ducted a sur­vey in North America with con­sumers, but also deal­ers and bike man­u­fac­tur­ers. Cur­rently, the strong­est e-bike con­sumer group in the U.S. and Canada are the Baby Boomers, defin­ing ‘bet­ter health’ and ‘fun’ as their main rea­sons to ride e-bikes. The ma­jor­ity uses them for recre­ation and ex­er­cise (34%) and ‘com­mut­ing’ (20%), whereas ‘trail/moun­tain bik­ing’ was stated less (9%).”

The ad­vent of e-bikes is also bring­ing new play­ers to the cy­cling world and fos­ter­ing innovation among es­tab­lished brands such as cy­cling pow­er­house Shi­mano, which of­fers the au­to­matic-shift­ing STEPS e-bike driv­e­train so­lu­tion.

“Shi­mano STEPS pro­vides ac­ces­si­bil­ity in a few dif­fer­ent ways,” says David Blon­del, Shi­mano Canada’s mar­ket­ing man­ager – bi­cy­cle com­po­nents and ac­ces­sories divi­sion. “We see it in the rider who hasn’t been on a bike in years, maybe in part due to an in­jury or age, who can re­ally ben­e­fit from the pedal-as­sist that Shi­mano STEPS of­fers. It con­tin­ues with the rider who has a lengthy com­mute to work, who wants to ride, but doesn’t want to show up sweaty. Lastly, we have seen rid­ers go far­ther, ex­pend less en­ergy and re­ally ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent parts of their cities, parks or trail sys­tems from atop a bi­cy­cle. It’s a won­der­ful thing.”

Cana­dian e-bike sup­plier BionX was one of the first com­pa­nies to of­fer a qual­ity level of power-as­sist prod­ucts far su­pe­rior to the low-cost (and low-qual­ity) Chi­nese im­ports that marked the first wave of e-bikes. Its af­ter­mar­ket kit quickly be­came a pre­ferred up­grade for cy­clists wish­ing to con­vert their regular bi­cy­cle into an e-bike. It also found favour with bike man­u­fac­tur­ers seek­ing a plug-and-play OEM so­lu­tion for adding ped­elecs to their mar­que.

To­day, BionX con­tin­ues to sup­ply both mar­kets, with more than 20 brands us­ing the com­pany as an OEM (Orig­i­nal Equip­ment Man­u­fac­turer) sup­plier and count­less bikes trans­formed from strictly hu­man-pow­ered to e-as­sist with one of its hub-drive sys­tems. The com­pany’s fo­cus has been on-road cy­cling, but Paul Gingl, CEO for BionX In­ter­na­tional, is sup­port­ive of the grow­ing in­ter­est in e-MTBs.

“We see the com­mut­ing/ca­sual to be the big­gest sec­tor for us. Hub-drives are great for “on-road” ap­pli­ca­tions and highly ef­fi­cient. We are glad to see off-road e-bikes now in the mix along with fat­bikes. The ap­pli­ca­tion of e-bike tech­nol­ogy is open­ing doors and of­fer­ing ac­cess to old and new rid­ers never seen before.”

Bosch, in busi­ness since the late 1800’s, has long been known for its elec­tron­ics, es­pe­cially in the world of au­to­mo­biles. To­day, the brand has also be­come syn­ony­mous with e-bikes. The Bosch mid-drive sys­tem is stan­dard equip-

ment on more than 70 e-bike brands, and is ac­tively pro­mot­ing elec­tric-as­sist for off-road cy­cling ap­pli­ca­tions.

“We see a huge po­ten­tial in off-road use, as the user group will get younger – a phe­nom­e­non which we have seen in Europe, where the fastest grow­ing seg­ment is e-MTB,” notes Wasko. “Creating a more favourable reg­u­la­tory or pol­icy en­vi­ron­ment for pedal-as­sist trail ac­cess is key for the pro­lif­er­a­tion of off-road use.”

Key to the growth of e-MTBs has been the de­sign of the mid-drive sys­tem, which in­cor­po­rates the mo­tor into the bot­tom bracket and crankset – thus po­si­tion­ing the added weight in the mid­dle of the bike and closer to the ground. Both fac­tors make off-road rid­ing with power-as­sist a closer equiv­a­lent to tra­di­tional moun­tain bik­ing, while sit­u­at­ing the ad­di­tional weight where sus­pen­sion per­for­mance isn’t im­pacted, ver­sus a hub mo­tor ei­ther on a front fork or rear tri­an­gle. Cou­pled with bat­tery place­ment on the down­tube, the ex­pe­ri­ence of rid­ing a power-as­sisted moun­tain bike is de­scribed by most re­view­ers as a trade-off that de­liv­ers a dif­fer­ent rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence (im­proved climb­ing, less agility on de­scents).

While the pop­u­lar­ity of e-bikes is cer­tainly grow­ing in North America, what are some of the chal­lenges fac­ing the in­dus­try that could lead to an e-bike revolution, whether it’s on the streets or in the woods? With traf­fic con­ges­tion grow­ing and tran­sit sys­tems be­ing typ­i­cally un­der­fi­nanced or nearly non-ex­is­tent in many Cana­dian towns, plus a grow­ing net­work of cy­cling in­fra­struc­ture in ma­jor cities, it’s sur­pris­ing that more peo­ple aren’t adopt­ing e-bikes as a trans­porta­tion al­ter­na­tive. The vast net­work of trails and wilder­ness-ac­cess roads also of­fer fer­tile ground for putting more peo­ple on ped­elecs, yet e-bikes are rarely spot­ted. In­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives say rules and reg­u­la­tions are part of the blame.

“The by­laws both on- and off-road are the big­gest chal­lenges,” says Gingl. “On-road and bike paths are eas­ier to work with right now than off-road ac­cep­tance.”

Se­nior notes that in his city of Cal­gary they re­cently had some re­cent suc­cess, with e-bikes now al­lowed on the city’s net­work of bike paths, but ob­sta­cles re­main, such as the Al­berta law man­dat­ing mo­tor­cy­cle-style hel­mets to op­er­ate a power-as­sisted bi­cy­cle on streets and high­ways. “Some of the laws are a hin­drance,” ad­des Se­nior, “be­cause they are out­dated.”

Wasko also sees out­dated rules as a chal­lenge, but notes there are other fac­tors to con­sider: “One big bar­rier is defini­tively the reg­u­la­tory sit­u­a­tion . . . where out­dated laws cre­ate un­cer­tainty for both deal­ers and end con­sumers.

The re­sis­tance of land man­age­ment and the core MTB community to­wards e-MTB cre­ates lim­ited ac­cess for e-MTBs on pub­lic lands. Fur­ther­more, we still ob­serve a huge hes­i­ta­tion by many re­tail­ers who ei­ther have had bad ex­pe­ri­ences with low-qual­ity prod­ucts from China, [or] are pure-bike en­thu­si­asts who don’t want to sell prod­ucts they are not pas­sion­ate about, or are just not will­ing to in­vest in this cat­e­gory [in­ven­tory, train­ing, tools].”

That perspective is echoed by Ray­mond Du­til, pres­i­dent and CEO of Groupe Pro­cy­cle, the par­ent com­pany of Rocky Moun­tain, Miele and eVox (their e-bike brand). He also thinks ed­u­cat­ing con­sumers about the ben­e­fits of e-bikes is a big part of the so­lu­tion to stim­u­late growth.

“The first prob­lem in Canada is dealer-net­work ac­cep­tance. Some are wor­ried about [sell­ing] elec­tronic de­vices [such as] e-bikes. Also, the con­sumer ac­cep­tance of com­mut­ing by bi­cy­cle is far from the level of the Euro­pean mar­ket.”

Du­til notes that its eVox line rep­re­sents a sec­ond launch for Pro­cy­cle’s e-bike am­bi­tions.

“We at Pro­cy­cle in­tro­duced our first e-bike in the ’90s. It was too early and we only did it for two sea­sons. But five years ago, we restarted our e-bike project [eVox] with the devel­op­ment of our own elec­tric mo­tor. We strongly be­lieve in the e-bike mar­ket in North America; it will be smaller than the Euro­pean mar­ket and will take more time to get ac­cep­tance, but the con­sumers who try it love it.”

“Ed­u­ca­tion is key,” agrees Blon­del. “We can talk about e-bikes, how­ever, peo­ple need to ex­pe­ri­ence a ride on an [e-bike]. I have yet to see any­one ride a STEPS bike with­out smil­ing. It’s a fun ex­pe­ri­ence!”

An­other rea­son Cana­dian e-bike sales may be slow to grow – a lack of gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives. Some Euro­pean cities now of­fer sub­si­dies of as much as 2,000 Euros to e-bike buy­ers (Mu­nich) or $1,200 for an elec­tric cargo-bike (Oslo), while in Canada about the best a prospec­tive e-bike buyer can hope for is a few hun­dred dol­lars in re­bates if they get rid of their car through pro­grams such as Bri­tish Columbia’s LiveS­mart trans­porta­tion in­cen­tive pro­gram.

With qual­ity e-bikes typ­i­cally cost­ing any­where from $2,000 and up, cy­cling con­sumers might be ex­cused for think­ing that their adop­tion of greener trans­porta­tion so­lu­tions goes largely un­rec­og­nized by gov­ern­ment, es­pe­cially when the pur­chase of an elec­tric or hy­brid au­to­mo­bile can trigger thou­sands of dol­lars in sim­i­lar gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives.

There’s good rea­son to pre­sume that im­prov­ing in­cen­tive pack­ages for prospec­tive cus­tomers could help in­crease sales. Oslo’s elec­tric-cargo-bike subsidy pro­gram men­tioned ear­lier was launched due to the suc­cess of a pre­vi­ous ini­tia­tive of­fer­ing up to $600 for the pur­chase of a regular e-bike. Un­sur­pris­ingly, free money to make eco-friendly choices will at­tract cus­tomers.

De­spite out­dated rules, min­i­mal po­lit­i­cal sup­port and ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams for con­sumers sup­pli­ers re­main com­mit­ted, and the ad­vent of all e-bike re­tail stores is adding fuel to the “revolution.” Can the mar­ket sus­tain e-bike-spe­cific shops amidst tra­di­tional cy­cling stores alike?

“There def­i­nitely are e-bike-spe­cific re­tail stores pop­ping up,” notes Se­nior. “And there’s clearly an op­por­tu­nity for more shops to sell e-bikes. [But] I think typ­i­cal bike stores will re­main the key out­let for cy­cling.”

Shi­mano’s Blon­del be­lieves there’s room in the mar­ket­place for both ap­proaches: “Shi­mano has a long his­tory of work­ing along­side re­tail­ers, build­ing up our Shi­mano Ser­vice Cen­tre net­work and in­vest­ing in tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion for all re­tail­ers. Of course, as the e-bike mar­ket con­tin­ues to grow and more e-bike-spe­cific re­tail­ers ap­pear, Shi­mano will pro­vide dealer sup­port and ed­u­ca­tion to that chan­nel as well.”

Bosch’s Wasko re­it­er­ates the ob­ser­va­tion that the e-bike con­sumer is also a new breed of rider, dis­tinct from tra­di­tional cy­cling en­thu­si­asts: “The fact of the mat­ter is that e-bikes have made cy­cling ac­ces­si­ble to all sorts of peo­ple – a lot of these peo­ple have a lack of cy­cling back­ground in the re­cent past and need a dif­fer­ent ap­proach than the typ­i­cal bike cus­tomer.

“We see a bright fu­ture for bi­cy­cle re­tail­ers to be ex­tremely suc­cess­ful in the e-bike busi­ness if they are will­ing to se­ri­ously com­mit to this cat­e­gory,” added Wasko.

As cy­cling con­tin­ues to evolve as a life­style prod­uct, the e-bike will con­tinue to grow in pop­u­lar­ity, and with more sup­port from gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try will un­doubt­edly ex­pe­ri­ence its own power surge.

Shi­mano’s STEPS e-bike driv­e­train so­lu­tion

Cana­dian-based BionX In­ter­na­tional was one of the first com­pa­nies to of­fer qual­ity e-bike prod­ucts.

Bosch of au­to­mo­tive fame is now syn­ony­mous with e-bikes.

Canada’s Pro­cy­cle Group has re-launched their eVox brand.

Count­less bikes have been trans­formed to e-as­sist with BionX In­ter­na­tional’s hub-drive af­ter­mar­ket kits.

Bosch’s cen­tre-drive sys­tem is stan­dard equip­ment on more than 70 e-bike brands.

Elby by BionX In­ter­na­tional

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