Lighter and faster than ever, e-bikes are in high demand as lockdown regulations ease and commuters begin to return to work. Add in ever-increasing urban density, and producers are forecasting a bright future for e-bikes as an alternative to a second family car.
“What was shaping up to be the year of the electric car has turned into the year of the electric bike,” reports Bloomberg Business Week. The coronavirus pandemic “has created a global quandary about how to travel quickly and safely,” and commuters are turning to bicycles, especially of the electric kind. One of the benefits driving the demand is their improved speed: “Pedal-assisted models can reach speeds of about 30 mph (48 kph), helping people get to work without having to rely on public transportation while also offering a chance to exercise—riders still must pedal.”
A key player in the rise of the e-bike is California-based Specialized Bicycle Components Inc., which developed its first commercial e-bike, the high-speed commuter Turbo S, in 2013. Cleverly marketed with the tagline “It’s you, only faster,” the Turbo S “became the foundation for all electric models going forward,” writes Bloomberg.
Demand for its turbo e-bikes has more than doubled since 2017, and Specialized now offers seven different models, including the new Turbo Vado SL, which the company released May 12. Consumer pressure led to several recent changes to Specialized’s bikes, including a custom-designed magnesium housing for the motor that greatly reduces their weight. Relocating the motor from the rear hub to the bottom bracket has also improved efficiency and handling.
While some prospective buyers still flinch at the price tag (the Turbo SL retails from US$3,350), pandemic-driven anxiety over commuting on public transit is keeping sales healthy. Before the pandemic, one Strictly Bicycles store in Fort Lee, New Jersey sold about one e-bike every week or two. Now, said owner Nelson Gutierrez, the store is selling between eight and 15 per week.
A trend keeping sales in check, however, is the fact that many will continue to work from home, notes Bloomberg. Before the pandemic, auditing firm Deloitte had predicted a 1% increase om bike commuting in the U.S. from 2019 to 2022; now, it predicts a drop in two-wheeled trips to work, at least through 2020.
Nonetheless, this moment is a “tipping point,” said Ian Kenny, head of marketing for Specialized’s Turbo series e-bikes. “It’s not that people won’t use cars anymore, but they’ll use a car for the trips that make sense and maybe not buy a second car, and buy an e-bike instead,” he told Bloomberg.