A breakthrough moment: How e-bike market growth ‘exploded’ during the pandemic

The rising interest of e-bikes has been well-documented for a number of years now, with more and more people discovering the benefits of cycling but with a less strenuous option. And this has increased further since the outbreak of COVID-19 – with a new Shimano report of over 2,100 people in the UK revealing that 11% are more likely to use or buy an e-bike now than they were before the pandemic.

The highest age group to consider buying or using an e-bike are those aged 25 to 34 years with 17%, compared to 12% of 35 to 44 year olds, and 9% to 11% across most other age groups. Of those who took part in the study, 40% said they felt the reason people are more likely to buy/use e-bikes now, compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic, is because they are a suitable alternative to using a motor vehicle. 37% said lessening the impact on the environment by reducing their carbon footprint would be the main reason and 38% said it would be as an alternative to public transport.

But what impact has COVID-19 had on businesses? “The way we move today is stuck,” says Cowboy co-founder Tanguy Goretti. “The pace and demand of modern city life allied with a congested reality means we are going faster, slower. This is not good for us, our cities or our environment as a whole.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated and accelerated the need for a safer, time-efficient, cleaner and healthier way to move in and around cities.

“Prior to the inception of COVID-19, the majority of our users did ride their bikes to go to work – with most rides performed during weekdays around 8am and 5pm. In the last 12 months, we have observed a significant shift towards usage over the weekend now representing 24% of usage time as well as a much evenly distributed time of use during the day, pointing towards many more people working from home and hoping on their bike to just unwind, stay active and burn some calories or go shopping.

“With COVID-19, logistic supply chains from Asia have become very complicated since the start of the pandemic, transit times have almost doubled and cost per container at least quadrupled. This has affected everybody in the bike industry, yet Cowboy less than others because we assemble our bikes in Europe through our partnership with world leader Flex. As a result, Cowboy saw a 100% revenue growth in Q1 2021 compared to Q1 2020.”

A breakthrough moment
Barry Bracken, UK spokesperson for VanMoof, says the e-bike market has been one experiencing a ‘breakthrough’ moment. “Steady growth has exploded into rapid growth, outperforming all predictions,” says Bracken. “Alongside that there’s been vastly increased public awareness of the environmental, practical and health benefits of e-biking for commutes and a really strong curiosity to test-ride. It’s a product moving from niche to mainstream. Our own sales tripled in 2020. Half of all bikes sold in the Netherlands are now e-bikes, compared to just 11% ten years ago. While e-bikes are now the third largest cycling category in terms of total sales revenue in the US, ahead of road bikes.

“COVID-19 has resulted in a rapid market acceleration that has truly supercharged sales and changed attitudes to cycling overnight. People simply will not accept being stuck in traffic anymore if they don’t have to be and many are still avoiding public transport, or would like to rely on it less. This is illustrated by the fact that US e-bike revenue grew by 240% in the 12 months ending in July 2021, year-over-year. That’s 16 times faster than regular bikes.

“E-bike mainstreaming, especially for city cycling, has now happened in less than two years, when it might have been more gradual over the next five to ten years. Attitudes to e-bikes have also undergone huge change, particularly in non-traditional markets like the US.

“That’s where VanMoof’s sales are growing fastest and where our research has shown us that residents of huge cities like NYC and LA are now a third more likely to choose e-bikes for short journeys than before the pandemic.”

VanMoof’s June survey – of 3,000 adults across London, Paris, Berlin, New York, and Los Angeles – revealed ​​that attitudes towards e-bike use have undergone a big change    in US cities New York and Los Angeles, with 35% of New Yorkers and 32% of Los Angeles residents more likely to choose an e-bike for short journeys since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 64% of 25-34 year olds in New York said they would now be more likely to choose an e-bike for their city journeys.

In terms of expectations for the future, Bracken says: “We want to turn all cities into little Amsterdams and we believe our riders and anyone who loves cleaner, greener urban living are ready for the mobility revolution that is already underway and reshaping our streets.

“The enthusiasm of all the new riders you can see in cities like Paris and London, New York and Milan, Barcelona and LA, show us that our cities are evolving. It’s time for us to evolve too.

“Let’s support this sea change, give it space to grow and harness the enthusiasm with imaginative and supportive policies to make riders feel safer, encourage more sustainable and equitable urban transport policies and keep the momentum going. We have a real opportunity here to set the tone for the coming decade and change the way we move around cities forever.”

VanMoof also recently announced its very first hyperbike, the VanMoof V, to offer riders a ‘true car replacement’ for everyday life in cities and beyond. With integrated speed settings to match country regulations, the VanMoof V will be capable of hitting speeds up to 31 mph and will be full of new features optimised to ‘shrink even the biggest cities’, said the company.

New habits
Nottingham-based e-bike company WAU recently opened a new factory in Essex as the firm continues to expand to meet ‘surging’ demand. The site, which officially opened for production in July, is based in a central point for the firm in South Woodham Ferrers. After taking more than a year to develop, the new factory is already accommodating the rise in orders for electric bikes.

On the changes of the e-bike market, Linas Pozerskis, founder of WAU Bike, says: “Electric bikes outsell electric cars, by a factor of four, and this difference will only continue to grow. The pandemic has exposed millions of people overnight to the time-saving benefits of the e-bike commute, such as the ability to skip the ever-growing traffic queues and experience the joy of effortlessly zipping around on your commute.

“On average it takes three months for people to develop a new habit, but the pandemic has offered up more opportunity for the public to become accustomed to the newer forms of new EV personal transport. We have very quickly adapted and in turn are catching up with other leading green nations such as Germany, France and the Netherlands.

“While this powerful social movement has created unprecedented shortages of electric bikes worldwide, the team at WAU work around the clock to meet the growing demand and welcome the surge with open arms.

“The sheer volume of e-bike sales and revenue lead to some micro-EV companies having larger budgets, to further develop more functional and stylish electric bike designs – incentivising people to make the shift to new micro-EVs and leaving the old bare-bones bicycle designs in the past.

“While most hardcore cyclists think electric bikes are cheating, the casual cyclists primarily want to save time on their commute, travelling at speed in comfort with smart surround lights, a cargo area and anti-theft controls to provide additional function, utility and safety on the road. The most popular option for micro-EV is always the electric bike – it is the future and is here to stay.”

Changing demographic
James Metcalfe, founder and CEO of VOLT Bikes, says the company has seen a steady rise in interest in e-bikes across the past ten years, but it really ‘exploded’ in 2020 – the combined effects of concern surrounding personal impact on the environment, the desire to maintain a healthy lifestyle amidst periodic lockdowns, and the reduced-cost of e-bikes versus other forms of powered personal transport.

“The COVID-19 outbreak meant that customers sought out electric bikes as a means of exercise and transport that also allowed them to remain socially distanced from others and because of this, we saw a 300% increase in sales across 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, and that increased level of activity has continued into this year,” says Metcalfe.

“It’s exciting that e-bikes are really starting to pique consumers’ interest, and also to see the change in the demographic looking to go electric. The age of our average customer is shifting increasingly younger, as more people become aware of the benefits of powered cycling.

“Previously, a lot of focus has been on encouraging people to switch to electric cars and electric bikes were unfairly overlooked in both government and general green initiatives. But, that’s changing, and the reality is: electric bikes are far cheaper, they don’t require any fancy at-home charging set-up, and the majority of car journeys people are seeking to replace with alternative transport are shorter than five miles – an ideal distance for an electric bike!

“Thankfully, policymakers are finally starting to propose e-bikes as a viable transport alternative and have introduced various initiatives, such as the Active Travel Fund. Subsidies will not only be a boon to the growing UK e-bike industry but also the environment, the nation’s health, and our general wellbeing. There is no doubt that supporting public access to greener modes of transport will change our roads and our lives for the better.”

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