- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 29 May 2013
In France in 2012, the e-bike segment of the bike market was the only segment to see any growth, and that growth was around 15% over the previous year. Germany showed surprisingly similar numbers for e-bike growth. Market research predicts that e-bike sales world-wide will come close to 500 million between 2010 and 2016. What all of this adds up to is a major boom in e-bike production and sales in Europe and Asia, but what about Australia? We’re far away from cycling inclusive cultures on our little island and we don’t have the population in the whole country that some major overseas cities have. What is the e-bike culture really like in Australia, and how can we improve it? As in Part 1 and Part 2 of this e-bike Round Table series, we asked our expert panel for their opinions.
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BNA: At the moment, who are your e-bike customers? What types of e-bikes are selling, and who are you selling them to? Why are they buying them?
[email protected]: Locally our brands are being purchased by a broad age group. Globally the trend is baby boomers, skewed female.
[email protected]: We’re in an area with a lot of commuting cyclists, so many of our customers are buying e-bikes to ride to work. The reasons for wanting to be on a bicycle are well known – exercise, fresh air, fun, cheap, convenient and the electric assist has made it more practical for many people as you can go a little quicker, wear what you want and not be put off by hills. Another big segment for us are families carrying young kids around – many people become car-bound once they have kids and they really miss the freedom and fun of a bike. Again, you could do this on a non-powered bike, but the assist makes it easier to carry loads and children around.
[email protected]: We have all sorts of customers these days, but the most popular demographic would be both men and women between 45 and 70. We mainly sell European style commuting bikes and folding bikes. Step throughs are always more popular.
Why are they buying them? A few examples are:
– sick of traffic
– driving is too expensive
– physical issues
– efficient form of commuting
– sweat free riding
– loss of licence
– lack of fitness
– interested in technology
– cheap/ sustainable
Baby Boomers are a significant consumer audience for e-bikes
[email protected]: Our main selling e-bike is the Gazelle Orange Plus XT. It is a classic Dutch City bike with an extra high power motor for hills. ‘Non cyclist’ (i.e. car drivers/regular people) types of people are our typical customer. People who are not so much interested in bikes, but rather a more sensible way to move in their local neighbourhood. Why are they buying them? They are buying the bike as a car replacement, mostly for shorter trips.
[email protected]: The market demographics include people that love getting out on a bike but can’t last the distance, people that need help getting up hills, and being able to feel free again, not worrying about getting worn out. Also, people that want to ride to work, commute hassle free, zipping through peak hour traffic, without breaking a sweat when arriving at work, and getting there faster than a regular bicycle. Eco friendly, no emissions alternative method of transport, no costly drivers license, rego, or petrol needed.
All types are selling, from 700C road commuting bicycles, mountain e-bikes for fun, and folding e-bikes for travelers.
BNA: Who should be buying e-bikes? What is the gap in the e-bike market and how do you think it can be plugged (pun unintended)?
[email protected]: e-Bikes offer different advantages to different people. As the products develop, so will the demographics. I think a big gap in the e-bike market is the reluctance for traditional bike shops to offer the product. They are missing out on a new untapped customer base.
[email protected]: Anyone who wants to leave the house from time to time should consider using an electric bicycle. It’s just another way to get around and almost everyone has some trips that could be done more happily for them and their community by electric bicycle that they’re currently doing another way.
I think the gap in the e-bike market at the moment is awareness among the public that e-bikes are for them. There seems to be a general assumption that e-bikes are for a particular type of person, but once people test ride them and talk to friends who are using them, that starts to change and that’s what I’m looking forward to.
E-Bikes are convenient, though many people are unaware of the potential
[email protected]: If you commute alone, and only commute between 10 to 25 km, I think an e-bike would be ideal. There are endless reasons why people should buy electric bikes.
I think more than ever there is a great variety of e-bikes in Australia. Maybe as technology gets better and more brands appear the prices will come down making the e-bike more of a household item.
PowerPed leisure bikes available in Australia through E-Bike Central
[email protected]: It’s not about “should”, anyone should buy an e-bike because they want one. It gives you the option to ride as a regular bicycle too, so it’s like buying a regular bicycle, with the added option of switching on electric if you want to.
I think the major gap is the price; an average normal bicycle is about $500, so anyone can afford one. Average electric bicycle cost is about $2000. So I think those numbers speak for themselves. If electric bikes could be made to sell under $500, then you would see a million of them sold. But that’s not going to happen, because quality electric parts are worth more than that.
We have seen a huge boom in the market from about 2 years ago. Back then, a lot of people didn’t really know what an electric bike actually was, but now a new market has emerged, and most Australians know what an electric bike is. There has been huge interest for those people that just don’t have what it takes to ride a regular bicycle, but they still want to get out on a bike, have fun, exercise at their own pace, and go longer distances, faster with less effort.
[email protected]: Anyone who does car trips of less than 10km (i.e. everybody). Anybody who likes riding bikes but is put off by the hills. I think there is a good mix of product on the market now to satisfy most requirements.
BNA: How does Australia compare to the rest of the world in terms of e-bike usage and culture?
[email protected]: In most markets, e-bike usage reflects bicycle usage in terms of numbers. This is basically because if there is good, safe bicycle infrastructure, then there is good, safe e-bike infrastructure, which is crucial to bike usage becoming mainstream.
Therefore, you’d have to concede that at least at this point in time, e-bike usage in Australia is very low compared to many other places because bicycle usage in Australia is very low. Sport cycling in Australia is relatively strong but they’re not typically the target market for e-bikes.
If I may generalise, I would make a distinction between those places that have strong city cycling infrastructure and those that don’t. Those that do tend to sell e-bikes through bicycle shops and market them as a bicycle with advantages for those who want a bit of help. They’re unlikely to focus on the things we’ve been talking about in previous questions, such as saving money on petrol, not getting stuck in traffic, getting there quicker etc., because all these things are obvious and, if you already ride a bike and are switching to an e-bike, you’re not going to save any money on petrol or park any easier than before. I’d include Japan, the Netherlands and most of Germany in these countries and they’re also the highest users of e-bikes among developed countries.
Cycling infrastructue in Australia is a comparatively new concept
The countries where cycling isn’t a big part of the city transport mix tend to sell e-bikes through specialised electric bike shops that aren’t part of the traditional bicycle industry. They use the selling points above about the advantages of bicycle travel (powered or otherwise) over car travel as their main pitch, and in some cases the advantage of e-bike travel over non-powered bicycle travel such as not arriving to work sweaty etc.
You could go into the many reasons why the e-bikes aren’t selling through bike shops in these countries, but a big factor is that with so few city riders, there aren’t very many suitable bicycle shops to cater to electric bicycles, and it’s hard for a sports cycling shop to understand and effectively sell electric bicycles.
Australia is definitely in the second category, and while that means our immediate market is small compared to our population, it also makes it’s a really exciting place to sell an electric bicycle as so many customers are just over the moon – they’re rediscovering the bicycle in their adult life, they’re seeing their city for the first time even after living in it for decades, and they’re getting regular exercise again. We’re often told with all earnestness that the e-bike was the best thing they’d ever bought (and Australians buy a lot of stuff!). Interestingly enough, saving money on petrol and parking is quite far from their minds after the sale – they’re mainly happy with the freedom and fun that the bike has brought them, not the financial gains.
[email protected]: Great response Maurice… your words match my thoughts exactly.
[email protected]: I would agree with everything Maurice has said. I haven’t yet had the chance to experience e-bike culture outside of Australia. One day!
Cycling in many European cities is integrated in society
[email protected]: Australia is a long way behind Europe, and to a lesser extent the US, in e-bike usage and culture. As Maurice has noted, therein lies the opportunity. There is substantial investment occurring in e-bike technology by the major brands. This can only be a good for product quality and innovation.
e-Bikes are still regarded as a niche product in Australia. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a recent article in Bike Europe states that 1 in 8 bikes sold in the Netherlands is an e-bike!
[email protected]: Australia does have an increase bicycle culture, as councils have been extending bike paths and infrastructure for our population to get onto bikes more. Australia’s population however is very small compared to other countries, such as the USA, China, Germany, France, Italy, and other European countries, so the cycling culture is only small in comparison, and therefore the electric bicycle sub-culture is in turn even smaller. European countries have had bicycling as a tradition embedded in their culture for over a hundred years, where as most cities in Australia have not been built up with bicycles in mind, until recent efforts in changing that. So Australia is way behind in cycling culture in general. Electric bicycle usage follows as a percentage of regular bicycle usage.
The good parts of the electric bicycle market in the USA is that they are not limited as much as we are, the USA can use 350W motors on roads with hand twist throttles, really giving the rider a load of power and acceleration, which would be useful in commuting.
The bad parts in Europe, they are only allowed a 250W motor, and they are not allowed a hand twist throttle, which means riders have to pedal at all times. If they don’t pedal, they don’t move. This forces riders to keep pedaling as a regular bicycle, and does not let them use it as a motorised ride without pedaling.
BNA: What can be done immediately, and also in the next 5 years, to change the e-bike culture in Australia?
[email protected]: Safe cycling infrastructure is the key for me.
[email protected]: Better infrastructure and more publicity.
The barriers to cycle drop with improved cycling infrastructure and transport routes
[email protected]: There has been good progress from the major Australian cities in the past 3 years to introduce more cycling infrastructure, bike paths and public awareness in general. For e-bikes in particular, bicycle stores have to become more educated and trained in fixing and replacing the electrical parts. Particularly, they should be trained in troubleshooting and solving a problem, which is, most of the time, something very simple. Bicycle shops are the ones actually dealing with the public, so they are at the front of promoting e-bikes and awareness of e-bikes. I’d also love to see city councils install auto e-bike rental machine systems, as seen in Europe.
Paris public e-bike hire scheme
[email protected]: I think the e-bike industry is on the right track at the moment. The market is growing more than ever. More and more companies are investing in e-bike technology, for example: Sram, Bosch and so on. Dedicated e-bike stores are popping up around Australia. With all this hype and exposure, the e-bike culture in Australia is bound to take off. It’s now up to government and local councils to help change the infrastructure for bikes. Most e-bike customers I talk to are scared of riding on the roads for many reasons. Australia needs to encourage people to ride. What better way to do that than to build a series of safe bike lanes and bike paths. As long as they’re not tolled!
[email protected]: The best way to promote electric bikes will be the development of a professional network of e-bike dealers. This phenomenon is starting to take shape now and will continue to improve rapidly over the coming years. Within 5 years we foresee many more e-bike specific retailers, and traditional bike shops will be involved to a much bigger degree than they are today.
As has been discussed before in previous questions, any improvements in cycling infrastructure is directly tied in with e-bike sales. I often tell people that trying to sell a city e-bike in Australia is like trying to sell a car without a road. You only sell normal city cars when you have a road network that links your home, shops, work and leisure destinations.
The complete e-bike buyers guide is also available as an App for iPad for free.
Visit iTunes to view and download the e-bike buyers guide.
Bicycles Network Australia (1, 3, 4, 6 )
E-Bike Central (2, 5)
Gazelle Bicycles Australia (7)
MR Ebikes / BionX (8)
Ambernectar 13 (9)