eRe­tail­ers on eRevo­lu­tion

In­no­va­tion and New Tech­nol­ogy In­spire New Rid­ers

Pedal Magazine - - ERetailers - BY RON JOHN­SON

Two el­derly gen­tle­men in their 70s re­cently strolled out of Gears Bike Shop in Toronto, Ont. with full-sus­pen­sion mountain e-bikes. Be­fore you get the wrong idea, they won’t be charg­ing down Kick­ing Horse Mountain any­time soon. Will they ever go off-road? Likely not, says Gears owner Kevin Wal­lace, but that’s hardly the point. “They were very ap­pre­cia­tive of the super-plush ride,” he says. “They greatly ap­pre­ci­ate com­fort and plush­ness of a full-sus­pen­sion, while not pay­ing a penalty on live­li­ness, range or speed.”

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.

With sto­ries such as th­ese, it is not sur­pris­ing that the No. 1 elec­tric ve­hi­cle on the planet isn’t a Tesla . . . it’s an e-bike. The e-rev­o­lu­tion has not sim­ply be­gun, it is grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially, so much so that new re­ports in­di­cate that at its peak, up­wards of 65% of the pedal-pow­ered mar­ket will be elec­tric.

And what’s not to love? The emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy is con­stantly be­ing im­proved and al­lows for all shapes and sizes to en­joy the joy and free­dom that the hum­ble bi­cy­cle has pro­vided so many.

The lat­est sta­tis­tics from south of the border show a 95% growth rate in sales over the 12-month pe­riod end­ing in July 2017. And with this con­sis­tent growth comes in­no­va­tion and evo­lu­tion as e-bike tech­nol­ogy be­comes smaller and lighter and con­tin­ues to make head­way in both mountain- and road-bik­ing seg­ments.

Vir­ginia Block, founder and CEO of Amego Elec­tric Ve­hi­cles Inc. in Toronto, came from the en­ergy in­dus­try and ap­proached the emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy from a dif­fer­ent an­gle. Block, an ar­dent en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, wanted to work with elec­tric ve­hi­cles and pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive to com­bus­tion en­gines and give peo­ple the free­dom found on an elec­tric bike.

That sen­ti­ment was echoed by nu­mer­ous other leading bike re­tail­ers as Pedal Mag­a­zine sur­veyed the e-bike land­scape across the coun­try.

Kevin Se­nior, owner of Cal­gary’s Bow Cy­cle, be­came in­ter­ested in the e-bike cat­e­gory af­ter at­tend­ing Euro­bike in 2014. “We re­al­ized e-bikes was an emerg­ing cat­e­gory in the bi­cy­cle in­dus­try and we needed to get on board,” says Se­nior. “In our store, it has been the best bike cat­e­gory for growth in the past three years.”

Wal­lace was first in­tro­duced to Pedel Elec­tric Bikes (Ped­elec) in 2006. “We im­me­di­ately saw the benefits this tech­nol­ogy could pro­vide both cy­cling en­thu­si­asts and non-cy­clists who may be in­spired to ex­pe­ri­ence a less ar­du­ous bike ride,” he says. “The tech­nol­ogy is giv­ing ac­cess to cy­cling to cus­tomers of all lev­els of abil­ity and age. It is a fun and mo­ti­vat­ing cat­e­gory to be a part of.”

For Marc-An­dre Le­beau, pres­i­dent of Bi­cy­cles Quil­i­cot, touted as the Que­bec’s old­est bike shop, he sim­ply felt the mar­ket was ready to ex­plode. Two years ago when he bought Velo-Branché, an e-bike store in Mon­treal, Quil­i­cot al­ready had four store lo­ca­tions up and run­ning.

“We are now com­mit­ted to this mar­ket,” he says. “We sell e-bikes in all of our bike shops.”

Al­though growth has been solid, the North Amer­i­can mar­ket has lagged be­hind Europe in em­brac­ing the tech­nol­ogy. But Wal­lace is con­fi­dent this will soon change. “The only rea­sons Cana­di­ans have been slow to adapt is be­cause the mar­ket is still mostly un­aware this tech­nol­ogy ex­ists,” says Wal­lace. “Now that the big three North Amer­i­can bike man­u­fac­tur­ers – Trek, Gi­ant and Spe­cial­ized – are all man­u­fac­tur­ing amaz­ing e-bikes, once they be­gin mar­ket­ing e-bikes, we will likely go from less than 5% aware­ness to dou­ble-digit mar­ket aware­ness and in­ter­est.”

Pedal asked th­ese re­tail­ers where the mar­ket growth will oc­cur, what the fu­ture holds for e-bikes and who is driv­ing in­no­va­tion.

MAR­KET GROWTH

“Growth is sim­i­lar to tra­di­tional bikes, which is driven by ge­og­ra­phy,” says Wal­lace. “In ur­ban cen­tres, we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing growth with recre­ation hy­brids, com­muter bikes and utility cargo bikes. Out­side of the GTA [Greater Toronto Area], elec­tric mountain bikes [e-MTB] are grow­ing where the ge­og­ra­phy lends it­self to off-road rid­ing.”

Tra­di­tion­ally, e-bikes have done well in the city, both in Europe where pedal­ing in to work is sec­ond na­ture and in North Amer­ica. And with more and more peo­ple em­brac­ing the benefits of bike com­mut­ing for ef­fi­ciency, cost and health, it is no sur­prise that e-bike use con­tin­ues to ex­pand as well.

For Block, growth is con­cen­trated in the ur­ban mar­ket. “As an ur­ban re­tailer, the largest growth we have seen is the city-com­mut­ing elec­tric bike,” he says. “Elec­tric bikes be­came pop­u­lar with baby-boomers and se­niors look­ing to re­gain pre­vi­ous fit­ness bik­ing lev­els for recre­ational use. We are sell­ing more bikes for a com­mut­ing or de­liv­ery pur­poses that save time and money. It has re­ally be­come more of a prac­ti­cal choice.”

Se­nior at Bow Cy­cle has seen sig­nif­i­cant growth in ur­ban bik­ing as well as a re­sult of sim­i­lar de­mo­graph­ics.

And it’s easy to see why e-bikes sit well with com­muters, who need to get to work quickly and af­ford­ably and don’t have to worry about pay­ing for park­ing, but they also gen­er­ally ar­rive to lit­tle or no bike fa­cil­i­ties in which to shower and change and ready them­selves for a day at the of­fice. “You use them of­ten and are never wor­ried about get­ting too tired,” says Block. “You can ar­rive with­out a sweat and can travel far­ther dis­tances.”

Of course, be­ing Canada, there is al­ways win­ter to con­tend with for the twowheeled set, and that does pose a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge. Block says e-bikes can

han­dle rain eas­ily, but when the snow flies and the salt trucks come out, that’s a dif­fer­ent story. “Salt is usu­ally the largest prob­lem, es­pe­cially if you are rid­ing with a mountain of slush where the con­nec­tions are,” she says.

WHAT ABOUT TECH IM­PROVE­MENTS?

Ac­cord­ing to Wal­lace, much of the growth is be­ing pushed by tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion, es­pe­cially e re­lated to smaller bat­ter­ies that are in­te­grated into the bike and are able to pro­vide more dis­tance/range,” he says. “Bat­ter­ies will be­come less ob­vi­ous and more in­te­grated while likely still in­creas­ing range, along with smaller mo­tors to min­i­mize weight and clear­ance at the bot­tom of the bike.” Wal­lace sees this tech­nol­ogy as a game-changer of epic pro­por­tions. “The tech­nol­ogy is truly amaz­ing, and it is sim­i­lar to switch­ing to colour tele­vi­sion af­ter watch­ing black-and-white,” he says.

Se­nior agrees that smaller bat­ter­ies in­te­grated into the frame are mak­ing a big dif­fer­ence, and he is con­fi­dent new tech­nol­ogy will con­tinue to im­prove the de­sign to en­sure e-bikes feel as much like a bi­cy­cle as pos­si­ble. He’s also hope­ful that bet­ter han­dle­bar dis­plays will be an im­por­tant part of the next phase of e-bike tech.

Le­beau cred­its the move to the mid-drive motor for pro­pel­ling growth even fur­ther. “It’s com­pletely changed the feel­ing of the rider and in­creased au­ton­omy,” he says.

WHERE WILL THE MOST IN­NO­VA­TION AND GROWTH OC­CUR?

De­sign in­no­va­tion has al­ways been paramount for the growth of e-bikes, and that trend will con­tinue mov­ing for­ward as road bikes and mountain bikes be­gin to em­brace new tech­nol­ogy. And ac­cord­ing to global in­for­ma­tion com­pany, The NPD Group, there has also been a mas­sive in­crease in sales of fat­tire e-bikes.

Le­beau sees a spike in road e-bike sales on the way. “With a smaller motor and bat­ter­ies, road e-bikes will, for sure, be the next in­no­va­tion,” he says. “Baby-boomers will use them to con­tinue rid­ing over time.”

Se­nior agrees road e-bikes will be­come much more preva­lent in the fu­ture, and that growth will, in turn, bring costs down.

“I be­lieve full-sus­pen­sion mountain bikes have the most un­tapped po­ten­tial,” says Wal­lace. “But cer­tainly road e-bikes with smaller mo­tors are com­ing.”

Le­beau agrees and sug­gests that mountain e-bikes are set to take off thanks to new im­proved tech­nol­ogy that is be­ing em­braced by some top rid­ers.

As for Block, she sees tech­nol­ogy for ur­ban com­muters push­ing in­no­va­tion and growth in e-bikes in cities as they be­come more in­te­grated with the dig­i­tal world. “I ex­pect with the IOT [In­ter­net Of Things], dig­i­tally con­nect­ing phys­i­cal de­vices such as bikes will lead to more af­ford­able de­vice-track­ing. You will also see smarter and safer fea­tures from var­i­ous sen­sor in­te­gra­tions. I see elec­tric-bike-shar­ing and city-com­mut­ing bikes be­com­ing a huge growth area,” says Block.

BRAND AWARE­NESS

Cur­rently, a mas­sive part of the e-bike mar­ket is ded­i­cated to im­ports, largely from China. Many of th­ese brands are not known to North Amer­i­cans, which has not helped for a quick adop­tion of the tech­nol­ogy, but now that landmark brands are heav­ily in­vested and driv­ing growth, ev­ery­thing is chang­ing and rapidly.

“Mostly all of the ma­jor bike man­u­fac­tur­ers are push­ing in­no­va­tion at the mo­ment,” says Wal­lace. “Large North Amer­i­can brands such as Spe­cial­ized and Trek were a bit be­hind large Euro­pean man­u­fac­tur­ers such as Haibike, Cube,

BH, Scott and Bulls. But now Trek and Spe­cial­ized are grow­ing this seg­ment, and likely will be of­fer­ing as many mod­els as the Euro­pean brands of­fer in the next few years.” Mean­while Gi­ant, rec­og­nized as the world’s largest bi­cy­cle man­u­fac­turer, es­tab­lished an E Ve­hi­cle di­vi­sion (GEV) more than 15 years ago, and with more horse­power, the seg­ment is start­ing to fly.

Le­beau cites the im­pres­sive gains made by Rocky Mountain in the mountain e-bike cat­e­gory. “Th­ese bikes ride ex­actly as a mountain bike be­cause the in­te­gra­tion is adapted to nor­mal ge­om­e­try,” he says.

Se­nior also gives much credit to Bosch and Spe­cial­ized for driv­ing in­no­va­tion.

With re­gard to city bik­ing and the in­te­gra­tion of dig­i­tal con­nec­tiv­ity, Block says Stromer is mak­ing big gains as the first to mar­ket with e-bike track­ing, phone-app cus­tomiza­tions as well as the 180-kilo­me­tre range from one re­mov­able bat­tery hidden in the frame. She also gives a nod to Bosch for ac­quir­ing con­nected-bik­ing start-up COBI, which she says will lead to af­ford­ably con­nect­ing your sys­tem to down­load up­dates, of­fer bet­ter map op­tions, pro­vide safety fea­tures with brak­ing and turn­ing, and more.

While the cur­rent av­er­age price point of $3,000 can still be a chal­lenge for many, growth and in­no­va­tion are bring­ing prices down while of­fer­ing a wider range of prod­ucts and price points, adding some lus­tre to e-bike’s shiny fu­ture. And that is at­tract­ing the type of com­pa­nies that will grow the seg­ment even fur­ther in the years to come.

“The bi­cy­cle mar­ket may be too small of an in­dus­try for Tesla to get in­volved, but we an­tic­i­pate the auto in­dus­try iden­ti­fy­ing the elec­tric bike as im­por­tant piece of the over­all mo­bil­ity puz­zle as cities be­come more con­gested. Uber just re­cently ac­quired an elec­tric-bike-share com­pany called ‘Jump,’ and Ford is also in­vest­ing in the elec­tric-bike cat­e­gory,” says Wal­lace. “Like it or not, e-bikes are here to stay, and will only pro­lif­er­ate in the com­ing years.”

Kevin Wal­lace from Gears Bike Shop wel­comes the new e-bike tech­nol­ogy, as it in­spires new rid­ers while pro­vid­ing ac­cess to cus­tomers of all lev­els of abil­ity and age, and it’s fun.

E-bikes have been the best bike cat­e­gory for growth at Cal­gary’s Bow Cy­cle over the past three years.

Amego, based in down­town Toronto, has seen the largest growth in city-com­mut­ing e-bikes.

Marc-An­dre Le­beau, pres­i­dent of Bi­cy­cles Quil­i­cot, bought an e-bike store in Mon­treal and now sells e-bikes in their four other bike shops.

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