Torque isn’t cheap: frill-free e-bikes could expand the market

E-bikes are getting better and better: greater torque, slimmer batteries, more intelligent stem-mounted control panels. But not every consumer demands such feature accretion. Simplicity is sometimes preferable, and that’s clearly the philosophy behind the design of the Gtech e-bike. 

While most bike companies add complexity, Gtech – an industry outsider – has taken the opposite approach. (As proof of its outsider status Gtech describes its electric bike as "electronic".) The Gtech e-bike has hub-powered pedal-assist, and little else. It’s a stripped-back machine – no gears, no chain, and no fat frame tubes. Instead, the bike is slim, light, and simple to understand and operate. There are just two modes – eco and not eco – and the 200Wh battery isn’t there to power you for a long day in the saddle, it has just enough juice for a few short urban trips, perfectly acceptable for commuting or shopping.

The Gtech e-bike has a Gates Carbon belt drive instead of a chain, and the battery is shaped like a water bottle and sits where a water bottle would. Critically, the Gtech e-bike costs a shade under £1,000.

Gtech, a nimble rival to Dyson, advertises on telly, and the company’s ads for the e-bike stress its simplicity. The company is selling e-bikes to non-cyclists. But then this is also touted as the demographic that’s supposed to be attracted into bike shops by the latest e-bikes.

The Gtech e-bike might be made by a vacuum-cleaner company but it certainly doesn’t suck. Even the sizing has been simplified – it’s one-size-fits-all (17-inch for the step-though version, and 20-inch for the top-tube model) and one colour (white). At 6kg/35lbs it’s heavy for a hybrid but pleasingly light for an e-bike.

Bike-brand e-bikes are big-ticket items and have given a much needed boost to IBD bottom lines, but with the latest e-bikes dripping with high-tech (even e-bike helmets are now becoming feature-packed) I argue there are now too many bikes in the "better and best" categories and not enough in the "good" category.

While bike companies fit denser batteries to expand range, and increase torque too, Gtech has taken the "if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it-approach". The company’s e-bike has been available for two years and it remains as simple today as when introduced. (The company also has a £1899.99 eMTB but, this too, is stripped back compared to many bike brand eMTBs.)

Hub-powered e-bikes may now seem passé to many in the industry but, to many consumers, the difference between the performance benefits of mid-motors and the simplicity of a hub-motor are very possibly not worth the extra expense, or the steeper learning curve of finding out what all the (superfluous?) bells and whistles do.

Clearly, there’s a market for feature-rich e-bikes, but adding complexity – and costs – won’t attract customers who are just after a little boost not the extra features now considered essential by bike industry techies. It’s also worth noting that the Gtech’s assistance appears to cut out before 15.5mph – perhaps this is a recognition that not every e-bike buyer is obsessed with speed?

Might the market expand were bike companies to also produce no-frills e-bikes? I think the direct-to-consumer appeal of Gtech’s "electronic" bicycle shows that it would.

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