BikeBiz speaks to brands at the e-bike coalface for their take on the UK market

Electric bikes: What is the state of the nation?

Electric bikes have a chequered history, not least because of an influx of poor models in the bad old days when the market was young.

But no one in the industry needs us to tell them that the sector has been a storming runaway success in Northern Europe, with some industry commentators calling the e-bike market the saviour of the industry in key territories, where it has not only propped up sales but taken up a huge proportion of unit and value totals.

But what about the UK market? By no stretch of the imagination has the British electric bicycle industry seen comparable sales with its nearby European neighbours. But with reports of the North American market starting to see sales creep up – a market the UK supposedly follows closely – and London trialling electric bikes in its hugely popular Cycle Hire scheme, are we finally approaching a tipping point in these shores? We asked for the opinions of the e-bike industry…

Lenny Wood, Marketing Manager, Ansmann
“Here at ANSMANN we have seen a definite uptake in interest for the electric bikes. It feels like the public are becoming more aware of this technology and beginning to research the benefits it can provide them with.
Boris Johnson will of course be giving the industry a big push, adding electric bikes to the fleet of Barclays/Boris bikes already in operation. If nothing else, Boris does know how to attract and make great use of the PR machine.

The UK is currently the seventh biggest market for electric bikes in Europe. I think with more exposure from national hire schemes coupled with the first stages of the Tour De France coming to our shores this year, 2014 could see the UK moving up the electric vehicle league table for years to come.”

Paul Stanforth, EBC
“We are seeing a very clear stratification of the e-bike market, not dissimilar to ‘traditional’ cycle market, with mainstream and enthusiast e-bike riders. What defines these market groups is budget and, to a lesser extent, usage.

There is no doubt that the mainstream market is buoyed up by the Governments C2W scheme and for us, having quality e-bikes that are fun to ride and reliable is crucial to capitalise on this sector. Having the UC10 and 30 both available for under £1,000 is a winner for us (and our retail partners), they’re e-bikes using quality componentry including the Tranz-X system) that are recognised by the end user. There is no doubt this market will continue to grow and it would be interesting to see the stats (which we are sure will show) the increase in requests for e-bikes through the C2W scheme. With rising fuel and transport costs and the unavoidable daily commute being the worst part of everyone’s daily work life the e-bike has the potential to be a major factor in the country’s transportation needs.

The enthusiast rider knows what they are looking for. Sector leading componentry is on their list and they are prepared to pay for it. All our AVE e-bikes that use the centre drive system from Bosch fit the bill for the enthusiast, whether they are looking for an off-road e-bike or a leisure ride.

One of the main advantages of this stratification is we can now begin to shape our offering for our end users, through our retail partners and even our marketing activity. We invest time and money in getting our e-bikes into the public arena but for 2014 we can now begin to become more targeted getting individual models written about in a media that will be read by, what we think, will be the end user. So expect to see AVE’s in the high-spending glossies and the UC range reviewed in the daily press, no doubt being read by traditional commuters battling to work on public transport and just crying out for the viable alternative – that we can offer!”

Piers Metcalfe, Volt Bikes
“In the UK it’s very positive for electric bikes. The technology has improved massively for the last few years and reliability is now very high. So cyclists are getting more used to e-bikes and their benefits, having seen them around.

London is going to have trials for e-bike hire so that will improve visibility further.

As a nation we like cycling and we’re realised that there are cost savings to be had – in London a travelcard season ticket for Zone 1 and 2 is over £1,000, which is the same as some electric bikes!

There’s a fitness aspect to it – it’s not for people who are lazy – but it takes away the sweatiness from cycling and the chore aspect. You will go further too, electric bike make larger distances easier to conquer.

An obstacle for the UK has been the price of electric bikes – a sensible model is at least £1,000 and that’s seen as a lot compared with a bike in Tesco, where you can pick one up for £120.

The average bike price in Holland and Germany is more like £1,500 or more, so here an e-bike is a bigger step change – four or five times more than what some people expect. Consumers are used to buying quality abroad.
Reliability is much better. Our retailers get a surprise that problems are quite simple to solve, with plug and play componentry and no welded reconnections making them easier to service. It is all colour coded and customers can even have a go themselves.

Retailers have to wake up to the possibilities – you have to be in it. The electric bike market is changing and the bikes are getting better looking too with more discreet batteries in the frame. With modern moulable polymer technology the battery can be squashed, smaller and more aesthetic.”

Colin Williams, Founder, Fli Distribution
“We’re growing faster with KTM than I’d even hoped, and the e-bikes are a big part of what’s fuelling KTMs growth in the UK. So we’re taking on more staff at the moment to help with brand management, dealing with the press and sales agents.

We’re pretty new to the e-bike industry in the UK – we’re just starting our second year – but KTM has been making e-bikes for a long time. We’re selling a lot more e-bikes than we thought we would, but the vast majority are to specialist e-bike retailers who have been set up because traditional bike shops aren’t seeing or meeting the potential of this market.

We have a lot of discussions about the market in our office and with dealers, and our opinion is that there are lots of traditional cycle shops missing a trick by not selling them. Too many in our industry see cycling as a sport and hobby, and are therefore missing out on sales because they can’t see it as also simply a form of transport. This is where we think our UK industry differs from mainland Europe.

As soon as we mention e-bikes in your average bike shop, there is generally two reactions: First one is it’s cheating, just buy a proper bike. Now we’ve got good experience of the bikes and we’ve been using them a lot, we can clearly see that people should view an e-bike as a replacement for the car, not a replacement for their bike. 

The second common reaction is that they have tried selling e-bikes, but they were rubbish and spent more time in the workshop that on the road. If a bike shop is used to selling quality cycles, they have to appreciate you’re not going to get a bike of the same quality bike with a motor for the same money as a normal bike. Things have improved massively over the past few years and there are now many brands of e-bike that can offer shops and customers many miles of happy, maintenance free cycling, but as with everything in life, you do get what you pay for.

We do think the e-bike market is going to grow in the UK, but in order for it to become more mainstream, we need traditional bike shops to invest in stock so people can try them…. you can’t sell e-bikes from a brochure.

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