COVID crisis ignites interest in e-bikes

The coronavirus pandemic has dislocated lives in so many ways, and some of those changes, unfairly forced upon us, will probably stay with us and become part of our everyday lives in ways we never expected.

Transport has been massively disrupted as people avoid crowds and consider their options of life on a bike.

And there are some people on bikes now that were never interested in bikes no matter what the benefits were said to be.

How did these never-bikers switch on to two wheels? The electrical assist of the e-bike.

The 2020 bike boom is unprecedented with bikes sold out around the world, especially cheap to mid-range products.

But e-bikes have been flying out the door also, and interestingly, bike manufacturers are predicting the e-bike boom will have legs and keep spinning across future years.

In those cities where activity is starting up again, the trains are empty and the roads are jammed. And many of those once welded-on drivers realised the e-bike could be their salvation.

In the U.S. electric bike sales were up 84% in March, 92% in April, and 137% in May.

"Eventually the markets are going to open up and people will look at bikes as an alternative mode of transportation over public transportation or even (personal) cars or rideshare," said Ewoud van Leeuwen, the general manager of Gazelle North America.

"As an industry, we are really well-positioned, and hopefully, people will realize that e-bikes are a quick alternative. They make the bike market much more accessible for everyone."

Claudia Wasko, the vice president and general manager of Bosch eBike Systems for the Americas, said some of Bosch's customers in the U.S. were setting sales records and she expected the trend to continue.

"We believe a lot of this momentum will remain: e-bikes provide an ideal solution for individual transportation, especially during the corona crisis but also in the post-corona era," she said.

According to Richard Thorpe, the CEO of UK-based GoCycle, the pandemic has basically pulled the adoption curve forward for e- bikes.

Thorpe said that for most consumers seriously looking to avoid public transportation for their commute indefinitely, e-bikes are "the only credible solution."

"If you suddenly want to commute 5-10 miles to work each day, most people can't do that on a regular bike. That's 100 miles a week. But anyone can do that on an e-bike."

Some commuters may adopt standard bikes this summer, but reconsider next winter, he predicted.

"Most of those lower-end bikes are going to be put in the garage and won't be taken out next year. The people who invest in e-bikes will be the ones who continue bike commuting. They make it easier to get out the door, even on a cold, rainy day. They are the ones that are going to stick with it for the long term."

Bike component giant Shimano’s recent “State of the Nation Report” on attitudes towards e-bike use in Europe found that 17% of respondents in 11 countries across the continent are likely or very likely to buy an e-bike, while 8% are using one already.

In Italy, which has recently introduced a purchase incentive for electric bikes in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, this share goes up to 30%.

A third (32%) of respondents stated that they would buy or use an e-bike this year to conquer longer distances or steeper climbs, and many would use one to improve their physical (30%) and mental (22%) health.

There is also a nod to environmental reasons for using an e-bike  one in five (18%) adults in the countries surveyed said they are likely to start using an e-bike because they are concerned about the environmental impact of their travel. With young adults (18- 24), this rises to over a quarter (26%).

The report and other research show that e-bikes have a huge potential to open up cycling to new, more diverse groups of the population, such as medium-distance commuters or the elderly.

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