Interview – Shimano Steps is Ripe for Australian E-Bikes

Shimano Steps Australia

Following my first-hand look at the new Shimano Australia warehouse and office facility in Sydney’s south, I took the opportunity to quiz Shimano on their e-bike system called Steps. The first generation of Steps was launched in 2010, and the second announced in 2013 for trial release in European in 2014. The Steps platform now supports Di2 electronic shifting capability, and the integration of Shimano Nexus and Alfine internally geared hubs. Shimano Australia is now gearing up their support for the Steps e-bike system in Australia and I spoke with Shimano Brand Manager Tony Shingleton to find out more.

 

Christopher Jones: Shimano components are found on the majority of the World’s bikes and though Shimano is now in its second generation of e-bike systems with Steps, Bosch seem to have the upper-hand in the market.

Toby Shingleton: The first thing that I would say is that competition is always healthy and in this field there is a really strong competitive feel with these two products really standing out. Probably Derby Cycles, who are developing their own system, will come to the table as well. They’ve launched their system just recently and, with the number of brands that they have as part of their portfolio, they will have a strong product and it will be in the Australian market shortly.

In terms of our position within this market, Shimano is always quite conservative about the amount of testing and the amount of development that they will do on a product before they bring it to market. With the Steps system we’ve done a slower roll-out compared to Bosch. The test market was Europe and we have had some really great feedback from our test activity and that has allowed us to make some changes to the first generation system which has improved what we will now see rolled out into other test markets. One of those test markets will be Australia, and we will see the first models coming to the Australian market in the second half of this year.

In terms of where that positions us for the future, it puts us in good stead because what we have been able to do is ensure that we support the product in the correct way when it does come to market. This is something that is really important for our customers, the dealers and the bike brands.

It’s very difficult to stop people buying a bike in Europe and bringing it to Australia and that is something that Bosch has found in Australia. There have been a lot of people importing bikes and there has been very little way for them to support those bikes when they arrive because they weren’t ready or they didn’t have a system in place. Similarly with us, there are some STEPS bikes arriving, or in the process of arriving, and we have designated the second half of the year as the time when we are going to launch the product here. We are certainly confident that we are in a position where we can grow it quickly in Australia and, because of the centralised support system we have, I think it is going to work pretty well.


What is the actual role of Shimano Australia when bike brands and importers start bringing in Steps e-bikes? Is it providing dealers with information and providing warranty support?

Well I think it is not just warranty support, what is actually more important is technical support. Obviously e-bikes are more complicated than a Di2 [electronic shifting] system. The good thing is that our network and our training resources are already setup for Di2. We’ve gone through a number of generations of Di2 and have been able to educate our dealers and we have very few calls during the week with people having technical problems, so we have a lot of experience in this area.

In terms of the issues that we will see where we will act as a point of contact, probably initially there will be people contacting us in terms of setting the bike up. There are a number of modes, if you look at just the screens [displays], there are a number of ways to set up the screens, they are customisable. Certainly the warranty will be there as well, but if you look at the products that we have brought to market, they are very well developed and we spend a lot of time before we release products to ensure that they are operating in the way that they are meant to. I have confidence with the Steps products that they will be the same as we have seen with Di2; there won’t be a lot of warranty requirements.

Shimano Australia Steps E-Bike
Toby Shingleton talks Shimano Steps

 

How will Shimano introduce this and make e-bike attractives for the traditional retailer without experience in this segment? What activities will you undertake?

Certainly our demo-bikes will play a big role in that. We have four demo-bikes going around the country as part of our dealer tour which has just commenced. We have also taken on a person who is dedicated to technical support. He has come out of our sales area, so he already has a good relationship with many of the dealers with whom he will be working with. The other big side is that we are now on top of the rules and regulations.

There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in terms of transportation of batteries and regulations about recycling of batteries. So we began the process of exploration and employed an external consultant to make some recommendations to us in terms of what we need to do to set up on that side. We have employed the services of a contractor to make sure that we are complying with all of the regulations.

Again, we did have some experience as we have been doing this with the Di2 batteries for some years. Shipping batteries are [classified as] a hazardous material so you can’t treat the shipment as you would a derailleur or a crankset, it has to be labeled differently. If you are airfreighting you have to fill out different manifests as batteries have the dangers associated with them. There is some benefit as we have done some of those thing already, but not on the scale we expect with this [the e-bikes] so there is a process of changing some of the internal policies and ensuring we are meeting all of the regulations.


Did you need to speak with any of the brands importing with regard to regulations and compliance?

It’s good because we do have a close working relationship with many brands, with all of the big brands. Where is gets complicated with the e-bike market in particular is that you get a lot of smaller non-mainstream brands that are already big [in sales] so the complicated process is finding out who is intending to bring these in. Some of them have made contact with us. The good thing is that we are represented at all of the major trade shows, so whether it is Taipei, Taichung or Eurobike or wherever, we’ve got people on the ground and they are usually the ones who get approached by these brands so they can filter that information back to us and let us know that these guys are intending to bring this system in on their bikes. We are able to ensure they are part of the information flow. We include them in on training and the sorts of things that we are doing.

 

Shimano have some information on their e-bike system online (shimano-steps.com). Australian bike shops and importers can contact Shimano Australia for more information, as well as for support and training requests.



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About The Author

Christopher Jones is a recreational cyclist and runs a professional design business, Signale. As the driving force behind Bicycles.net.au he has one of each 'types' of bicycles.

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