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E-Bikes in the Fast Lane
What is predicted for cars has already come a long way with bicycles: rapid growth in electrification. E-bikes are the latest trend.
At first glance, Victoria Pendleton would seem an unlikely advocate for electric bikes. After all, the 39-year-old Brit won Olympic Gold in 2008 and 2012 at the cycling track. She first mounted one of these advanced electric bicycles during a vacation in California. When her uncle invited her to try out one of his e-bikes, she hesitated. “I felt like it would be cheating at first,” she said. But when they took off on a ride together, she discovered she enjoyed it. Headwinds were no problem for the battery-supported pedaling. She didn’t work up a sweat, and she overtook bicyclists wearing sports gear. She was soon a convert to e-biking, to the point of designing one herself.
E-Bikes Stimulate Saturated Market
There is no question that e-bikes are enjoying a surge in popularity worldwide. For the bicycle sector, they appear to be what smartphones were for the mobile phone market several years ago: a shot of adrenaline for a saturated market. Electric bikes may have been derided as a vehicle for seniors at the start, but they have long been considered an option for anyone. Electric bikes have wide appeal to riders of every stripe, from children and commuters to athletes and retirees. The most sought after electric models are city, trekking and mountain bikes. But even cargo-hauling bicycles have their fans.
A Business Worth Billions
The picture from the sales figures is clear: While 4.2 million bicycles and 110,000 electric bikes were sold in Germany in 2008, the figures were 3.2 million for conventional bikes and nearly a million for electrified bikes a decade later. As electric bikes cost significantly more, the average sales price for the vehicles in Germany rose from 446 to 756 euros in the same period. This drove revenues skyward. In the United States, the total number of electric bicycles sold increased eightfold between 2014 and 2018. The sale of electric bikes has now become a business worth billions. Deloitte expects to see the sale of 130 million electric bikes around the world between 2020 and 2023.
When people talk about e-bikes, many of them – including us – are referring to pedelecs (pedal electric cycles). In pedelecs, the electric motor supports the rider’s pedaling. The assistance shuts off at 25 km/h (16 mph) when pure muscle power takes over. “Speed pedelecs” support pedaling up to 45 km/h (28 mph), which qualifies them as a small motorbike. Strictly speaking, full-fledged e-bikes are electric motorcycles since pedaling is not required.
Features Found in Cars
What has made e-bikes such a success? One factor may certainly be an increase in environmental consciousness, but it is more than that. A survey conducted by the automotive supplier Bosch points to the increase in riding pleasures thanks to help from the motor. Health aspects are also often cited. One-third of the respondents could also see themselves commuting to work on one of these high-tech vehicles at some point. The technology in them is becoming more and more sophisticated. Along with improved motors in the bottom bracket or in the wheel hubs, the standard features include high-performance lithium ion batteries and sensor systems to control output. Sophisticated wheel and disc brakes provide reliable braking at increased speeds.
There have also been technical advances such as ABS and automatic transmissions that were exclusively seen in automobiles until now. A display or smartphone on the handlebars provides all the key data – speed, current route, battery charge, pedaling frequency and fitness data. The e-bike has become the rider’s fully networked companion, whether cycling on mountainous terrain, commuting to work or zipping around a gridlocked city.
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