The electric bycicle (e-bike) market keeps growing at progressive rates and is a bonanza for manufacturers and retailers alike. Most brands can’t produce fast enough and the media is full of praise about the technology development, the eco-side of things and of course the profits earned.
At some point, the excitement caught on with me, especially after cycling a few weeks with a friend: me on a “bio” bike (conventional bycicle) and him on a hardtail mountain bike with Bosch motor. In the “hilly” city of Porto, I was not able to keep up – but sometimes able to kick his ass, especially because of my bike’s higher gearing for fast, easy stretches. But the reach of the e-bike and the option to keep going, even when you are physically exhausted, convinced me. So I spent the last few weeks shopping for an e-mtb, doing tests and loads of research. While being ready to pull the trigger on one or the other bike, I learned a few things that were quite discouraging – if not off-putting. I still believe that the e-bike market has huge potential – and I want one!! But here are the problems:
– theft: is a big problem, due to the high value of the bikes (EUR 4-5k average) and the batteries. you will never again be relaxed in a restaurant or shopping centre with the bike outside and there are no “safe” parking options
– the cost of the bike itself, the battery and the service is ridiculous, some bikes cost more than a motorcycle, some tires cost as much as motorcycle tires, and for the battery, there is no comparison in cost in the motorcycle market (ca. EUR 500)
– the locks: if they are efficient, they are heavy as a rock and cost ca. EUR 100. WHY save every gramm on the bicycle, when you are carrying a 2kg lock??
– the bikes are full of electronics – but lack a GPS locator (anti theft) and alarm (for example motion activated whatsapp message via wlan or SIM!)
– electronics: the bikes are vulnerable to abuse in “hard” weather conditions and mud
– battery management: no “get me home programmes” (to optimise remaining battery power and GPS route (altitude meters) to get you home)
– the gearing of e-mtbs is slower than on conventional bikes, once the motor fades out at the legal 25km/h (called “hitting the wall”… , there is not the same ressource left to pedal for high speed (on downhill roads for example). This is where the “bio” bikes will “fly circles” around you. Ask your retailer about this, if he is a cyclist, he will know and just sadly shrug his shoulders… 😉
– value loss, depreciation: e-bike technology is developing very rapidly. And the abuse of the hardware and insecurities about the remaining battery life-expectation is an additional factor. Hardly anyone will buy a 1-2 year old used e-mtb from you. The average loss of value once you walk out of the shop is about 50%.
– Customer support is critical: e-bikes are “service-hungry” technology products and support from both your retailer and the manufacturer are critical. Something like the BMW service in the motorbike world does not exist in the e-bike world. Pre-sales counsel is generally refused by the manufacturer and pushed to the retailer (except a few direct-to-customer brands). I was once interested in Moonraker e-mtb and reached out to the brand multiple times on a variety of channels – for advice on which model to buy. They never even replied.
– Types of bike: obviously, the e-mtb is the most “sexy” one and loads of fun to ride. And there are many other types: cargo, city, trekking, road, gravel, kids, etc. But the “adventure bike” one of the most successful categories in a declining motorcycle market, is not a “thing” yet in the e-bike market. (“adventure” – looks, certain offroad capabilities, comfort, cargo capacity, durability, fenders & light – “adventure style” and durability also mean “hard protection” (motor bash plate, brake disks that don’t bend or break by just looking at them, better protection of frame, derailleur and electronics )
– Battery: There are still no common rules and terms for batteries management, recycling and warranty, every dealer you ask, tells you a different story – especially when it comes to batteries losing capacity before the end of the warranty…
– there are no light travel chargers for the backpack for quick top-ups on the road or in a cafe
– there are no concepts for solar solutions for those traveling in vans, motorhomes or caravans
– geometries: Only 1 out of 10 dealers will measure your body and give you proper guidance on the type and geometry of your future bike – most will just ask for your height and go “ok, you’ll need an L”. There are huge differences in the geometries and the concepts of bikes between the manufacturers – and even between some of the models of the same manufacturer (sitting “in the bike” or “on the bike”, sporty stretched and bent or more comfortable, slightly upright?
– many bikes feature cheapish saddles and cheap or no pedals – since you “already have yours” or buy “custom stuff tailored to your needs” – there go another EUR 150,- + fenders + lights…
– you are not just deciding on a brand, a type, the geometry – but also on a motor: before you buy, you have to research and choose between Shimano, Brose, Bosch, Yamaha and a few others like upcoming Sachs and TQ. All of them come with different characters and characteristics, as: power, noise level, how easy you can pedal without motor, how hard you “hit the wall” once support fades out at higher speeds, durability, vulnerability to heat, abuse, dirt…
– electric bicycles are heavy, ca. 20kg and quickly further up from there. if you are used to quickly carry your bike up and down the stairs to the metro or use an overpass with stairs – re-think.