eBikes Aren’t Cool

A NYTimes most emailed article about ebikes earlier today contained this quote

“To the core cyclist, it’s cheating,” said Loren Mooney, editor in chief of Bicycling Magazine. “Marketers understand this, and it’s why some have put e-bikes in mass retailers like Best Buy, rather than engaging in the uphill battle of trying to sell them in bike shops.”

There’s a perception problem when @bicyclingmag says you’re not cool and cyclists look down at you, but the ebikes market isn’t about bike geeks, or the opinion of Loren, it’s new cyclists and commuters. Marketers fail to sell ebikes because they’re hybrids with motors, not performance or even cargo bikes with a boost, like the Bettie.

The “uphill battle” with ebikes will continue until the industry makes better bikes, until marketers discover who the urban cyclist is, and actually talks to them. If she hasn’t already, the editor in chief of Bicycling Magazine should meet the urban "noncore" cyclist. She’d likely learn they ride almost everyday around town and don’t shop for bikes at Best Buy.

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Bicycling magazine is kinda clueless about the actual riding of bikes IMO. We have a small stack of Bicycling next to the bed and me + the Missiz always have the same conversation:

“Wait, is this the most recent?”

“I thought it was this one?”

“They all look the same”

“Even when you open it up!”

Anyway, e-bikes are awesome hella cool. I say this as a bona fide Bike Guy and standard-issue Car Hater. I used to live in China and ebikes and electric scooters were all over the streets of our city. They create a zany fun all their own. I’d love to see American cities (literally) abuzz with stealthy little electric two-wheelers.

Our local shop over in eastern WA started carrying the new Trek e-bikes and they have already started getting a little buzz around town, despite it still being pretty cold over here.  Once spring hits, I think the relatively green commuting option for the casual rider (or new rider) will prove popular.  It’s a lot of money for someone who isn’t accustomed to spending more than a few hundred dollars on a bike, but a relatively cheap commuting option.  The shop has some in stock and people who have ridden them come away really impressed.

Agree and that quote could’ve just sounded elitist, but the point is the same. I don’t know any urban cyclists, or bike racers, that think e-bikes are cheating; they’re another option and for hillier cities like Seattle—they help people get around.

What’s really going on here, the struggle the marketers have with this new demographic, is that they’ve sold bikes in the US as fitness, like a stairmaster, abs of steel. Henry from WorkCycles talks about that in our [Mobile Social Worldwide Video](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VRQgEVNToc#t=00m40s ). It’s in the DNA of US companies to market as they do. They haven’t figured out yet how to talk urban and transportation or see it as another category.

Those companies aren’t going to get to a viable transporation category by bolting a motor onto a heavy, poorly-spec’d bike and certainly not selling them in Best Buy as a consumer gadget. They need to innovate around new batteries from Sanyo and others.

The [Eneloop bike](http://bikehugger.com/2010/01/sanyo.html) is what Lee Iacocca sold in the late 1999 with better batteries. Recycling an ebike them into 2010 isn’t going to help change the mind of a bike shop that’s got one abandoned in the bonyeard out back.

Note that we’re all for ebikes and ride one ourselves. We just think they can be way better.

We rode that bike and think Trek’s refinement of [Bionix is good](http://bikehugger.com/2009/08/huggacast-119-valencia.html)—it does lack much user-feedback and response. Meaning, it’s just dragging you along, but still we did like that bike.  Don’t think “sweat-free commuting” is a viable marketing tag line, but they’re tyring.

Bicycling Magazine goes through its ups and downs, elitism to pragmatism. 
I know there are cyclists out there that “look down” on ebikes or electric assist bikes.
Personally I think they are cool, especially, if it is fitted for cargo.  I live in a hilly area and when carrying extra goods a boost up the hill sounds great.
Let’s see some more innovation and price drops on the ebikes.

Bicycling Magazine is not doing its readers or the IBDs a favor with their comments.  The million dollar question is wheter or not the IBD will embrace the electric bike market and increase their sales to the other 95% of the market who never step foot in their shops or will they allow the mass merchandisers like Best Buy swoop in and control the market.  The IBDs already have the investments made in overhead and personnel and electric bike sales would only be incremental business (all flowing direct to the bottom line profits).  And, the buyers of electric bikes, baby boomers, have the money and want to dress up their bikes with baskets, locks, bells, etc. all which helps the IBDs.  Look at Europe.  5 years ago the IBDs wanted nothing to do with electric bikes and today the ebike segment is 10% of sales and 20% of profits and growing.

Frankly, I think Bicycling magazine has at least as big of problem with credibility inside bike shops at e-bikes do! :D

Or can a ebike shop go it alone.

I don’t think an e-bike shop can go it alone.  There was one near here, they have retreated to an on-line store:


I’ve met the owner, he’s not a super-duper idealist, but he thought it would be a worthy business if it succeeded.

Unfortunately, I think that our problems with e-bike/scooter/car are very much social, and not technical.  There’s at least one guy at the LBS who thinks my cargo bike is a wonderful beast, but the number of customers they’ve had who ask about such things is approximately zero.  Most of the bikes in their window are mountain bikes, and they have a surprising inventory of fancy high-end bicycles.  Even though most (?) of the guys who work there bike commute, even though they are not hard-over Effective Cyclists, what they sell most of, is bikes for recreation.  If you need a bicycle for transport, there must be something wrong with you, is the general perception.  A bike with electric assist, marks you as a weirdo who is also “lazy”.

The other half of the problem really is infrastructure.  If I recommend a bike to someone for commuting, I feel compelled to tell them, you need very fat tires, you need very good lights, because the roads have potholes, and you will hit them sooner or later.  In the winter, you might want studded tires, because there’s ice on the bike path, and often puddles of ice in the roads, and I’d feel bad if you fell down and broke something.  We’re letting our roads decay to an uncivilized state, where pretty soon, the condition of the roads will be what motivates the purchase of an “off-road” vehicle.  That makes for pretty lukewarm bike evangelism, if you ask me.

I know bike shops that actively discouraged longtails so they don’t have to deal with them—they’re complex, break-down prone and honestly not really ready for prime time, but I suspect the Cargonistas prefer it that way. As much as we love Bettie, it’s ironically like a MG that I’m constantly fiddling with and changing a flat on a longtail, e-bike, with an internal gear is a heroic process on the side of the road.

I disagree with complex-and-breakdown-prone, and I think it also depends on your internal gear.  The Shimano 7 and 8 speeds are a pain (they are a pain on a short tail, too) but the SRAM 9 (what I ended up with) is dead easy.

Fair enough. The Nuvinci is a pain.

I’m working with a company here in Portland who has just started importing a line of e-bikes from Germany (Kalkhoff) that are already very popular in Europe. They aren’t counting on conventional bike stores OR e-bike stores. They are selling them online at www.kalkhoffusa.com.

I consider myself a pretty “serious” cyclist and it took me all of 2 seconds of riding one of these to realize the potential of the e-bike as transportation AND as a way to get people into bikes. Beyond that, they are a gas to ride.

I’ll be getting one soon. I don’t think it will mean I ride my other bikes less—I think it will mean I rarely drive my car.

Regardless, DL, thanks for such a refreshing piece. I think you’re right on the money.

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