- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 23 June 2016
The Australian e-bike market is getting serious; it’s no longer the domain of fringe dwellers. A growing number of dedicated e-bike stores across Australia now serve customers who want better transport. The early fears of the hardcore cyclists have also subsided; electric bikes are not a challenge or an insult to ‘regular’ cycling. Rather, a whole new breed of people are discovering the convenience, affordability and freedom of e-bikes over a second family car or public transport.
The e-bike market in Australia has changed and is now dominated by ‘complete e-bikes’ and the conversion kits (to upgrade a regular bike) have now taken a back seat. Mid-drive motors are also becoming common and may soon displace hub (wheel-drive) motors. Integrated inside the frame, a mid-drive motor powers the pedals (cranks) and offers better weight distribution. Bosch is the most popular brand of e-bike motor in Australia, followed by Shimano STEPS, while the Panasonic, Yamaha and the Derby Cycle Impulse e-bike motors trail far behind.
The popularity of these two leading brands of e-bike motors has been assisted by establishing local support networks. Until recently an e-bike importer had the responsibility for warranty as the e-bike motor brands were not formally supported. Last year Bosch announced and set-up a national service center available to all dealers of Bosch equipped e-bikes. Shimano Australia followed suite with support for Shimano STEPS e-bike motors.
Both Shimano and Bosch are now actively reaching out to bike shops across Australia to inform and train staff on e-bike servicing. Both brands have hosted dealer workshops this year and Shimano Australia invited me to attend their Sydney dealer session to learn more about Shimano STEPS and for hands-on experience servicing the motor.
The Shimano Australia headquarters in Sydney hosted the STEPS dealer event and a handful of bike shops were represented by store managers and mechanics. The event is both a sales pitch to highlight the global growth and potential of e-bikes as well as a practical guide to servicing the Shimano STEPS e-bike motor. Two take-home messages for attendees were that the maintenance and servicing is not quite as complex as you may anticipate and there is a lot of support for the STEPS system with extensive documentation and local staff available on the phone. The Shimano service includes environmentally responsible disposal of old e-bike batteries.
Under the Covers
The STEPS e-bike motor is essentially a closed system and the first level of diagnosis or servicing are the warnings or alerts on the display or the flashing lights of the battery. Much of the diagnosis can be performed with the Shimano E-Tube diagnostic tool.
Access to the motor is typically required to access the ports to connect or upgrade accessories such as connectors to lights. Disassembly for motor access becomes time-intensive and the instructions needs to be followed precisely. An average bike mechanic with the ability to understand Di2 setup and MTB suspension setup will be able to grasp the Shimano STEPS maintenance fairly quickly.
The entire motor can also be removed though, by intention, can’t be further disassembled. Shimano Australia note that the STEPS system is not error prone, but if a problem can’t be resolved, the motor can be shipped to Shimano Australia.
Despite the publicity surrounding e-bikes, the entire segment is still in its early days. From a technology perspective, e-bikes need a lot of refinement to make them seamlessly integrated. In particular, smoother transitions when the power-assist cuts-in and out. In bike shops, basic laws of supply and demand will slowly drive the shops to commit to and stock e-bikes. And finally, it will take time for behaviour in society to change; from government responsibility to facilitate safe and convenient cycle access to people recognising bikes and e-bikes as an genuine transport alternative.
Shimano Australia is ready to support dealers who stock Shimano STEPS e-bikes which means bike shops and Aussie e-bike buyers can rely on better service and support.