27 January, 2020

Are E-Bikes the Apple Watch of Bikes?

by Scott

Wolfgang's Pol-e-valent with a Velogical e-bike kit

Loyal readers of this blog may recall my comparison a few years back between watches and bicycles. I was thinking back to this comparison this week when I was listening to a podcast discussing the most influential watches of the past decade - watches that came out in the past ten years and the impact on the market and in some cases on wider culture and such. One of the watches mentioned was the Apple watch. When one looks at the sales numbers for these watches, an estimated 23 million of them were shipped out in 2018, you can see why it is on a list of the decade's most influential watches.

For the first 15 years of this century, watch companies had bemoaned a drop in sales. Many felt this was due to younger generations forsaking watches for smartphones. Why have something on your wrist to tell time, if you have this telephone/computer/camera timepiece to tell you what time it is and if you are late for an important meeting? With the rise of smart watches in general (I type this with a Garmin fitness watch on my wrist), and the Apple watch in particular, the trend of wearing a watch has come back.

So what does this have to do with bikes you ask? Well, I see an analogy to bicycles. Currently, one of the only areas in the overall bike business that shows significant growth is e-bikes. When we go to industry trade shows, the vast number of booths show either e-bikes or parts for e-bikes. Most of these products do not have much to do with us, but sometimes parts can have a cross over aspect to them. Our Happy Stem is one product that was designed and tested for e-bikes, but you wouldn't know it by looking at it.

 Electric road bike, e-bike

The bigger question I see is will the e-bike bring people back to cycling? Will e-bikes open up opportunities for people to ride more/longer than a standard non e-bike? With companies like GM and Harley Davidson looking into e-bikes, will the situation in 10 years be where e-bikes become the standard bike being sold, and non e-bikes are for the enthusiast only? I don't have a crystal ball (believe me if I did, I'd be sitting on a nice warm island having picked out the 6/49 lotto numbers) so I have no idea how this will go, but it sure will be interesting to see what happens. Where do you see e-bikes in the market - on the rise or on the fringe? Let us know in the comments.


Zygote said...

I had not ridden a bicycle regularly in close to 15 years, after years of bike commuting and mountain biking. About 15 months ago I bought a ebike commuter; big, powerful, comfortable but mostly suited for getting around my (very hilly) town. While I thought I would just cruise around town, run errands, and ditch my car to ride to work, very quickly I was taking the bike out on long road rides, big climbs well beyond what my bike was really designed for. October of this year I bought my second ebike, a Yamaha Wabash, a Class 1 electric assist gravel bike, with less power but lighter, geometry built for performance, and a more advanced and natural feeling pedal assist using torque sensing. That bike now has over 2000 miles on it, and I fell just short of 5000 miles on the two bikes last year. more than I put on my car in the same time. At 60 lbs lighter that I was at the beginning, I am working on getting my old schwinn back in working order as a standard (analog? normal? unassisted?) bike and eyeing a new standard bike likely towards the end of the year or early next year.

I think ebikes will open up cycling to a lot more people, and hopefully with that bring more of a riding culture to the US. I hope that will also help bring more acceptance of cyclists on the road. As the technology improves ebikes will become more and more indistinguishable from standard bikes and more accepted. They are a great equalizer among riders of different levels, which has implications for aging populations, folks with physical impairments, and for folks that want to commute or enjoy themselves on a recreational or fitness ride who don't have the time to commit to rigorous training.

I also don't see them replacing standard bike, but complementing them. As more people get on the road, get fitter, as bike commuting becomes more common, accepted, and necessary, the demand for all bikes should increase. There will always be the appeal of pure human powered cycling and more people capable of enjoying it.

Gabe said...

I wear a vostok amphibia watch and ride a schwinn le tour. I could definitely see myself retiring to an assisted bike someday if I feel the need. But with cogs getting bigger and rings getting smaller will I really need to?

Andy said...

I won't be surprised if one analogy holds up: I've had non-smart (mechanical, crystal, digital) watches last decades, but I'm on my fifth "smart" watch in about that many years. When they stop working, they are simply not economical to repair. Or in some cases, don't work because the manufacturer went out of business, servers shut down, so now the software doesn't work. Either way, just expensive, useless blank faces.

Anonymous said...

For most bicycle enthusiasts, as in a bicycle with rim brakes, non-electronic shifting/motors, fewer than 10 cassette cogs, etc., the idea of a traditional bicycle has gone the way of the blacksmith. The Rubicon has been crossed with the rise of e-bikes and the high tech components on many new bicycles. I fear that some of the parts on a traditional bicycle will become difficult to obtain over the long term.

Go to the website of most major bicycle companies and one will see almost no road bicycles with rim brakes, while e-bikes make up anywhere from one-quarter to one-half of the bicycles listed.

Although the major bike companies seem to believe e-bikes are the future, I believe there are a few things that will need to be settled before e-bikes become the next Apple watch.

Where will local governments allow e-bikes to be ridden? Will e-bikes riders be allowed to use bicycle lanes, sidewalks, greenways, gravel, and mountain bike trails? These are all questions that local governments will grapple with if e-bike ridership is to increase.

The price point of a reputable e-bike is beyond the reach of many people. Many e-bikes are $2500 to $4000. Until prices fall significantly, e-bikes will remain a novelty. In a similar vein, what is the cost to replace the battery and/or motor when they fail? This factor alone is a significant cost to question the wide use of e-bikes.

A bigger issue for all bicyclists is the fear of distracted vehicle drivers. I see fewer and fewer riders in bicycle lanes adjacent to roads because of this issue. I refuse to ride on any major roads that have bicycle lanes because of distracted drivers.

I have no plans to ever purchase an e-bike. I will ride my traditional 8-speed bicycle off into the sunset and be happy that I have a no-tech piece of equipment…

Zygote said...


All valid points. However the point I would like to counter is that you are always riding or using a piece of tech, unless you are walking barefoot with no clothes on unmodified ground. It is the tech you prefer and, not that you need my approval or support, it is a personal choice for you that I will always back.

Cost for ebikes is a big issue especially in terms of equitable distribution of transportation alternatives among diverse populations, price does have a correlation to quality, but as standardization and supply increases, prices should lower.

Regulation is another huge factor. What is going on in New York right now is an example of how not to regulate ebikes https://www.treehugger.com/bikes/new-yorks-new-e-bike-rules-are-botch-miss-entire-point-e-bike-revolution.html.

Distracted driving and purposeful harassment and vehicular assault are huge issues. Infrastructure can only help so much, its going to take a huge cultural shift to change this. My only hope is that if more people are on bikes that means more motorists will know someone they care about that rides bikes. Though it does not seem that in the USA at least that betting on people treating other people like humans is a wise move in this day and age.

Ian Picco said...

Whatever the future may bring, let's hope it's one void of electronic scooters.

But seriously, I think the best thing to hope for is that it will get more people into/back into cycling. I just bought my first smart watch, after 15 years of not wearing a watch. And I'm kind of thinking...why didn't I just buy a normal watch? It hasn't really improved my life in any significant way. Maybe ebikes will be kind of the same thing for purchasers. Maybe they won't regret buying an ebike (peddle assist sounds pretty enticing some times), but it might motivate them to also purchase a anolog bike in addition, you know, to switch things up once and a while. Or maybe not. Most people follow the trend and are lazy in my experience. Whatever the outcome, if it equates to less cars on the road, we all win.

Emily Durant said...

Great Post!

For most bicycle enthusiasts, as in a bicycle with rim brakes, non-electronic shifting/motors, fewer than 10 cassette cogs, etc., the idea of a traditional bicycle has gone the way of the blacksmith. Cost for ebikes is a big issue especially in terms of equitable distribution of transportation alternatives among diverse populations, price does have a correlation to quality, but as standardization and supply increases, prices should lower.

Anonymous said...

Well, look. All of you young whipper snappers are going to blink and you will be 75. Maybe some of you are already there. I am 75 and i am pretty fit for my age but knees are starting to hurt and I find myself avoiding some of my old routes because I have to shift down to my granny gear and grind them out at 5 mph. Having lower gears is only part if the solution. You have to be able to balance the bike upright! I have been riding three bikes. My mid 80's Medici, my Gianni Motta track bike(raced on it till I was 46) and my Pass Hunter with triple cranks. I still ride pretty well. That won't last forever. I am now exploring an E kit for it. Seriously. It will get me back onto some of my favorite routes. I will preserve my knee cartilage and it will keep me in the game. The kit has pedal assist and I can set it up to make me work with minimal assist but ramp it up if I start grinding it out up a hill or into a 10 mph head wind. I will still get my heart rate up and burn some calories. And ride into my 80's. Or 90's. Cheers.