Ebike market future.

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A version of this article ran in the October issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

BOULDER, Colo. (BRAIN) — E-bike sales in the U.S. have grown 300% in the past five years. More and more retailers are saying, "E-bikes are our future." Despite the rosy glow around the category, there are concerns among the movement's leaders.

Larry Pizzi, CCO of Alta Cycling Group, has produced and sold e-bikes since 2002, and since 2015 he has chaired the e-bike subcommittee for the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association, now PeopleForBikes.

"In some areas, like passing the three-class model legislation in 39 states so far, and our first-of-its-kind battery recycling partnership with Call2Recycle, we're thrilled with our progress," Pizzi noted. "And the threats are real and some are really challenging to address."

Dr. Ash Lovell, the electric bicycle policy and campaign director at PeopleForBikes, echoes Pizzi's thoughts. "On our monthly calls with e-bike company heads and advocates we spend the first five minutes celebrating our successes, and the rest of the call in 'What could go wrong?' mode," Lovell said.

So let's take a look at the five challenges that lie ahead and how Lovell and Pizzi plan to address them:

Out-of-category bikes
BRAIN:
The PeopleForBikes three-class structure works great within our industry walls. Yet we're seeing so many products that are being touted as electric bicycles that violate the power and speed limits that have been defined by the CPSC. What can be done?

Pizzi: The original definition of e-bikes in the U.S. was included in HR727, a federal bill that modified CPSC 1512 and was signed into law in December 2002.
Malcolm Currie, an early product pioneer and my former employer, testified on behalf of HR727. He had a public service background and connections in D.C. He deserves a great deal of credit for this early work.

The 20-mile-per-hour speed limit for Class 1 and 2 was based on what an athletic rider could achieve on a level surface. It was decided that the power level should be less than one horsepower, hence "less than 750 watts" in the bill.

These limits fit in well with what was emerging in Europe and they still seem well-suited for the U.S. market. What's problematic is the urge to violate them with more speed and more power.

Lovell: This is really a two-pronged challenge. First, there needs to be a better understanding of what is and is not an electric bicycle according to federal regulations.

Many of the products that we are seeing come to market are being marketed as able to achieve higher speeds than defined by CPSC. Obviously, with higher speeds, we see greater chances for accidents and injury.

Pizzi: If you're importing something that can be modified to exceed the three-class limits, you're breaking the law. Not only can CPSC and NHTSA impose penalties, you're putting the public at risk.

It starts with educating the brands with all the information they need. PeopleForBikes members can go to the member portal and find the Erika Jones memo that covers this. So many of the startup e-bike brands are not members yet though.

Inexperienced users
BRAIN:
There's legitimate concern that folks are new to riding and may be buying "bikes" that are out of category and go twice or three times faster than they've ever pedaled a bike on their own. What's being done, at the point of sale or afterward, to minimize the risk?

Lovell: Many members of PeopleForBikes are working on rider education initiatives. PeopleForBikes' Safety Task Force is working with industry members to develop curriculum around safe and responsible riding practices.

Last year we created an introductory video that gives a high-level overview of rider etiquette. We are currently supporting a study in Newport Beach with Cal State - Fresno to explore how electric bicycle riders are interacting with folks on the beachfront and on nearby trails.

We are also seeing some bellwether regulations come into play — including California's AB1946, which requires the California Highway Patrol to develop statewide safety and training programs for e-bike users.

That said, there is a lot more to be done to help educate the public both about the types of electric bicycles they are buying and how to ride them.

Pizzi: So few American youth get any kind of traffic safety education in school. Kids don't get that now until they learn to drive, and even then they don't get much. It's a failing of the education system and kids are the ones at risk.

Online e-bike issues
BRAIN:
We have a whole population of consumers buying e-bikes online and then finding out that assembling them and getting them serviced is challenging. Are we losing future buyers to a bad first experience?

Pizzi: For the most part, people that experience an e-bike they buy online are getting the initial "oh wow!" experience. But if it stops working, if there's no established service network, we're gonna lose some of them.

Lovell: I think this could go either way. Folks could buy their first electric bicycle online, realize how complicated these products can be, and the assembly and servicing problems could push them into their local bike dealer.

Alternatively, the struggles with assembly and maintenance could push people away from purchasing another electric bicycle in the future. ... it's really hard to tell how this will go at a macro level.

How young is too young?
BRAIN:
We're seeing so many youngsters, some as young as single digits, riding e-bikes, sometimes with tragic consequences. Should there be an age limit? If so, how would we apply it and enforce it?

Pizzi: This is a global question with no easy answer. The mature European market is beginning to develop some standards. For example in Germany, the age limit is 11. However, their low-power e-bikes are 250 watts and 15.5 mph max speed, so it's not comparable to our market.

The added complication is that age limits can only be adopted at the state and local levels, it can't be a federal regulation. Youngsters riding irresponsibly may not be our biggest threat, and it may be the hardest one to solve.

Facilities conflicts
BRAIN:
While the three-class system creates structure at state levels, localities are still struggling with "which class goes where." How do you see this sorting out as more e-bikes mix with "regular" bikes and other path and trail users?

Lovell: Local land managers should have the final say in where electric bicycles are allowed, as all municipalities and trail systems are different.

We are currently supporting a pilot project in Vermont where local land managers are introducing e-MTBs to the trail system and we're seeing some really positive feedback from the community.

Pizzi: When we envisioned the three-class system it didn't seem that difficult to differentiate what kind of infrastructure would be best for each class.

Class 1 could go anywhere a "regular" bike was allowed including natural surfaces, Class 2 almost anywhere except natural surfaces, and Class 3 for higher speeds on roads but not on multi-use paths.

We need all the brands clearly labeling their bikes so the rider knows what's OK and enforcement agencies, land managers and park superintendents can determine the difference.

We still have brands that don't label their bikes being sold in states where labeling is required. They're breaking the law. We just want everyone to do the right thing and make good choices.

We've been careful to introduce e-bikes into the recreation and transportation mix in a thoughtful and responsible way. Let's all follow the rules and encourage others to do the same so we can keep the category growing, for all our sakes.
 

Hoggdoc

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The funny thing about all these rules regarding speed and e bikes, but there are none for pedal bikes. Many even mid priced pedal bikes are very capable of speeds well in excess of 28 mph, yet no restrictions are placed on them. Also many of these pedal bikes are ridden in packs of riders traveling at speed.
 

SDGuitarMan

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I'd say inexperience and serviceability are the biggest factors to consider. I'm brand new to ebikes and bought two, one for me, one for my GF. As soon as we jumped on them the experience gap was huge and very noticeable. When I was younger I raced BMX, rode dirt bikes, had a moped, rode scooters like Vespas, and as I got old enough I started riding street motorcycles.

I jumped on my first e-bike and it felt like home. No issues with throttle, no issues with pedal-assist kicking in, but my GF has never been on anything motorized and she was terrified. It took her quite a bit of time to learn how to start moving with the throttle alone or how to get used to the kick when pedal assist kicks in. She's also having a hard time coordinating the throttle and pedal assist with shifting. Yesterday she almost ended up in the bushes because of her inexperience with motorized two-wheel vehicles.

I suspect there are a lot of people new to ebikes without much, or any experience with motorized two-wheeled vehicles.

As for the serviceability aspect, seems like most bike shops will work on ebikes only to the point of the mechanical components they share in common with regular bikes. They will not touch the motors, electronics, etc, unless it's on an ebike that they sold directly.

I've already found that no one in my area will work on any of the electric components of my Lectric bikes.

Also, when I received them, out of the box both bikes needed some major adjustments including brakes and derailleur. Most people wouldn't have been able to do this themselves. It took me a couple of hours watching youtube videos and I was finally able to do it.

Both needed the brakes adjusted because they were way too tight and rubbing non-stop. One of them needed a derailleur adjustment. Both needed the derailleur guards bent out so they wouldn't interfere with the derailleur. One had a bent wheel I only noticed while adjusting the brakes. They sent a replacement wheel (which also has a problem) but I had to replace it myself. But my GF would not have been able to do any of this and she would have been stuck riding a bike with brakes that were way too tight and constantly rubbing, gears that wouldn't shift past 5th gear, a bent wheel, all of which would have created a potentially dangerous situation. She probably wouldn't have known anything was wrong or misadjusted and would have just thought the bike was a piece of crap.

I'd be curious to know what the ratio of online ebike purchases vs in-store purchases is. If the online sellers don't improve their service networks and people are riding around with poorly set up bikes, that's also a safety concern. At minimum they should partner with local shops so that every bike they sell can be taken to a local shop for an out-of-the-box adjustment to make sure everything is in safe working condition. They also need to step up their warranty support.

The local shops that sell e-bikes seem to be able to support what they sell just fine but you'll be lucky to find a store with e-bikes for less than $2,000. I guess you're paying for that support but still, not a lot of people can drop $2k on a bike, let alone $4K for a pair of them.

As for restrictions placed on regular bikes, I've seen more problems caused by groups of road bikes snarling up an intersection while all 30 to 50 of the riders go through at their own various rates of speed. Have personally missed plenty of green lights waiting for a gaggle of Hell's Angels on road bicycles take over an intersection for the time it takes for all 50 of them to make their way through. I've yet to encounter this with groups of e-bikers.
 

Hoggdoc

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I'd say inexperience and serviceability are the biggest factors to consider. I'm brand new to ebikes and bought two, one for me, one for my GF. As soon as we jumped on them the experience gap was huge and very noticeable. When I was younger I raced BMX, rode dirt bikes, had a moped, rode scooters like Vespas, and as I got old enough I started riding street motorcycles.

I jumped on my first e-bike and it felt like home. No issues with throttle, no issues with pedal-assist kicking in, but my GF has never been on anything motorized and she was terrified. It took her quite a bit of time to learn how to start moving with the throttle alone or how to get used to the kick when pedal assist kicks in. She's also having a hard time coordinating the throttle and pedal assist with shifting. Yesterday she almost ended up in the bushes because of her inexperience with motorized two-wheel vehicles.

I suspect there are a lot of people new to ebikes without much, or any experience with motorized two-wheeled vehicles.

As for the serviceability aspect, seems like most bike shops will work on ebikes only to the point of the mechanical components they share in common with regular bikes. They will not touch the motors, electronics, etc, unless it's on an ebike that they sold directly.

I've already found that no one in my area will work on any of the electric components of my Lectric bikes.

Also, when I received them, out of the box both bikes needed some major adjustments including brakes and derailleur. Most people wouldn't have been able to do this themselves. It took me a couple of hours watching youtube videos and I was finally able to do it.

Both needed the brakes adjusted because they were way too tight and rubbing non-stop. One of them needed a derailleur adjustment. Both needed the derailleur guards bent out so they wouldn't interfere with the derailleur. One had a bent wheel I only noticed while adjusting the brakes. They sent a replacement wheel (which also has a problem) but I had to replace it myself. But my GF would not have been able to do any of this and she would have been stuck riding a bike with brakes that were way too tight and constantly rubbing, gears that wouldn't shift past 5th gear, a bent wheel, all of which would have created a potentially dangerous situation. She probably wouldn't have known anything was wrong or misadjusted and would have just thought the bike was a piece of crap.

I'd be curious to know what the ratio of online ebike purchases vs in-store purchases is. If the online sellers don't improve their service networks and people are riding around with poorly set up bikes, that's also a safety concern. At minimum they should partner with local shops so that every bike they sell can be taken to a local shop for an out-of-the-box adjustment to make sure everything is in safe working condition. They also need to step up their warranty support.

The local shops that sell e-bikes seem to be able to support what they sell just fine but you'll be lucky to find a store with e-bikes for less than $2,000. I guess you're paying for that support but still, not a lot of people can drop $2k on a bike, let alone $4K for a pair of them.

As for restrictions placed on regular bikes, I've seen more problems caused by groups of road bikes snarling up an intersection while all 30 to 50 of the riders go through at their own various rates of speed. Have personally missed plenty of green lights waiting for a gaggle of Hell's Angels on road bicycles take over an intersection for the time it takes for all 50 of them to make their way through. I've yet to encounter this with groups of e-bikers.
I agree with what you are saying. But like you mentioned buying from a LBS is costly with no guarantee you’ll get your moneys worth in service.

YouTube is indeed your friend when trying to learn something new like adjusting brakes and derailleurs. It’s really not hard if you have any mechanical skills.
 

Django

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The funny thing about all these rules regarding speed and e bikes, but there are none for pedal bikes. Many even mid priced pedal bikes are very capable of speeds well in excess of 28 mph, yet no restrictions are placed on them. Also many of these pedal bikes are ridden in packs of riders traveling at speed.
E-bikes are not speed restricted either. They are assist or motor driven restricted.

I regularly get my class 1 to 40+ mph and often ride on flats at 20+ mph, but I get no assistance past 20 mph.

You have to draw a line between motorcycle, moped and e-bike.
 

SDGuitarMan

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I agree with what you are saying. But like you mentioned buying from a LBS is costly with no guarantee you’ll get your moneys worth in service.

YouTube is indeed your friend when trying to learn something new like adjusting brakes and derailleurs. It’s really not hard if you have any mechanical skills.
Yep, fortunately I'm fairly handy especially with youtube videos where I can actually see the process. But some people would not be able to follow those instructions. I know plenty of people who have zero aptitude for manual work, mechanical things, things that require good spatial reasoning ability, etc..., no matter how many youtube vids they watch.

Like I said, my gf is one of those people. Without me she'd be riding a bike with a bent wheel, dangerously adjusted brakes, bent derailleur guard, and would just think the bike is a pile of junk. She would probably kill herself while trying to learn how to use the throttle, pedal assist, shifting, and coordinate them all together if not for my guidance and help.

I'd probably say that in the current market, e-bikes are great for people with some DIY skills but can be very disappointing and even dangerous for those without any DIY skills or experience with motorized two-wheeled vehicles.

@Django mentioned mopeds. I see e-bikes as the next evolution from mopeds. Basically the modern version of a moped but with the added functionality of actually being able to use them as a regular bicycle. And also far more respectable to be seen on an e-bike considering all the moped jokes of the past. :cool: And I say this as a former moped owner back in the late 70s or early 80s until I got run over by a truck and my moped ended up in pieces....
 

1dash1

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The funny thing about all these rules regarding speed and e bikes, but there are none for pedal bikes. Many even mid priced pedal bikes are very capable of speeds well in excess of 28 mph, yet no restrictions are placed on them. Also many of these pedal bikes are ridden in packs of riders traveling at speed.
Any kid can hop on an e-bike and get it going to 30 mph (if the bike is so capable). Few people can hop onto a racing cycle and get up to that speed. That's the difference in why the law is stricter on e-bikes ... it's just so much easier for inexperienced riders to get themselves into a pickle.

As to bike packs, I have no issues about following a well-formed pack of bikers. I know what they are doing, I know that they won't do anything stupid. Invariably, they are wearing proper gear (bright clothing and bike helmets). I can't say the same thing when following a lone biker (or e-biker).
 

JerryB

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I have no desire to go fast on my ebike.....8 to 10 mph is great.....not in a hurry.....I bought the bike for exercise.....PA 1 for me almost all the time......rarely use the throttle.....I like to pedal. With that being said.....I find it interesting that some folks want restrictions on ebikes but are OK with a 75 year old guy going out and buying a 40ft motorhome and cruzin down the highway at 70 mph with just his standard drivers license. Don't be surprised if ebikes have to be licensed soon......another way for government to get more money from us for their frivolous spemding habits..
 

1dash1

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I have no desire to go fast on my ebike.....8 to 10 mph is great.....not in a hurry.....I bought the bike for exercise.....PA 1 for me almost all the time......rarely use the throttle.....I like to pedal. With that being said.....I find it interesting that some folks want restrictions on ebikes but are OK with a 75 year old guy going out and buying a 40ft motorhome and cruzin down the highway at 70 mph with just his standard drivers license. Don't be surprised if ebikes have to be licensed soon......another way for government to get more money from us for their frivolous spemding habits..
From a practical standpoint, based on road and traffic conditions and my biking habits, I should be happy pedaling at 16mph with an assist from PAS. I don't do very many hills and I don't travel long distances, so I should be happy with my e-bike as is.

Yet, I'm irresistibly attracted to the notion of getting the most out of my bike. I'm compelled to tinker with it. Add conveniences. Change out the chainring. Upgrade the freewheel. When really, these are things that I could do without and maybe would be better off without.

I don't know what this affliction is called, but I'm definitely guilty of it. o_O
 

JerryB

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From a practical standpoint, based on road and traffic conditions and my biking habits, I should be happy pedaling at 16mph with an assist from PAS. I don't do very many hills and I don't travel long distances, so I should be happy with my e-bike as is.

Yet, I'm irresistibly attracted to the notion of getting the most out of my bike. I'm compelled to tinker with it. Add conveniences. Change out the chainring. Upgrade the freewheel. When really, these are things that I could do without and maybe would be better off without.

I don't know what this affliction is called, but I'm definitely guilty of it. o_O
We all find ways to be happy.....some tinker with ebikes.....some rebuild 19th century horse drawn carriages and wagons........as long as we're happy......keep up the good work!
 
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