Now making electric bicycles: the car and motorcycle companies

The transportation industry saw the future, and the future is 1895. This was the year Ogden Bolton Jr. of Canton, Ohio, obtained US pat...


The transportation industry saw the future, and the future is 1895.

This was the year Ogden Bolton Jr. of Canton, Ohio, obtained US patent 552,271 for an “electric bicycle.” A century and changes later, electric bikes have grown in popularity as car and motorcycle manufacturers like Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Jeep, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Yamaha entered the market with their own designs. .

While the pandemic has boosted bicycle sales, the main attraction is that cities around the world are starting to restrict car traffic. These companies bet that electric bikes are the urban vehicles of tomorrow – or at least vehicles of good publicity today.

“Over the past 12-18 months you’ve seen a lot of new brands come to market,” said Andrew Engelmann, e-bike sales and marketing manager at Yamaha, which has been in the e-bike business since 1993 and claims two million sales worldwide. “We in the United States haven’t seen this new energy towards cycling since Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France. “

Credit the coronavirus pandemic, which sparked bicycle sales of all stripes, but not as much as e-bikes. While unit retail bicycle sales from January to October last year increased 46% from the previous year, e-bikes increased 140%. Measured in dollars, regular bikes are up 67% and e-bikes are up 158%, so don’t expect a discount. These figures, from NPD market research, do not include online-only retailers such as Rad Power Bikes, therefore, sales may be even higher.

Ogden Bolton aside, there is a historical connection between bicycles and motorcycles. Many early motorcycles came from bicycle makers who simply tapped an engine on a bicycle, often retaining the pedals much like a moped.

The bicycle connection of the automotive industry is more recent, with Malcolm Bricklin and Lee iacocca the introduction of e-bikes in the 90s. Both flopped. Mr. Iacocca’s design, typical of the day, was hampered by a lead-acid battery with a range of 15 miles and a top speed of 15 miles per hour. Many car manufacturers, including Ford, Audi, Maserati and Bmw, have been in and out of e-bikes ever since.

“No automaker has succeeded in selling an electric bicycle,” said Don DiCostanzo, general manager of Pedego Electric Bikes, which in 2014 authorized a ford bike design. “This is fool’s gold. It can never replace the profit of a car.

Still, car and motorcycle manufacturers are attracted. “I think they see a lot of the same opportunity that we are seeing,” said Ian Kenny, who leads the e-bike effort at bicycle company Specialized. “But I think there’s a very big difference between showing that you can do something and doing something really well on a large scale.”

However, changes in travel, particularly in Europe and Asia, are attracting automakers that operate internationally. Abroad, in cities that deal with pollution and overcrowded streets by limiting car traffic, e-bikes often fill a void.

“In Europe, the e-bike is more of a fundamental transportation tool,” said Dirk Sorenson, analyst for NPD. London, Madrid, Oslo and Paris are among the growing number of cities restricting downtown traffic.

The pandemic has prompted U.S. cities to test similar restrictions. Boston, Minneapolis and a number of California cities have implemented Slow Streets programs, restricting traffic on side streets in favor of cycling and walking. It even has UPS, Amazon, and DHL trying e-cargo bikes in New York.

“There is a huge opportunity for e-bikes in the United States, which is a huge untapped market,” said Rasheq Zarif, mobility technology expert for consultancy firm Deloitte.

Some companies are now bracing for the possibility that “micromobility,” as the buzzword goes, will spill over here.

“Say Harley-Davison is not a motorcycle company but a mobility company,” said Aaron Frank, brand director for Series 1, which builds an electric bike in partnership with Harley. “There is a strong argument that we can do for urban commuters what Harley-Davison did for motorcycles. “

Other companies see e-bikes as a gateway to sell their main products. Although best known for its motorcycles, Ducati North America wants e-bikes to “potentially attract people to Ducati,” said CEO Jason Chinnock. “And we’ve seen it with people at certain events and with the media reaching out.”

Electric bikes can be more expensive than bicycles, but cheaper than cars or motorcycles. And improved motor and battery technology drives prices down. Inexpensive e-bikes with a motor in the wheel hub – similar to that of 1895 – can be purchased for around $ 1,000. Prices for versions with more complex geared motors to the pedals can reach over $ 10,000.

“Spending $ 1,000 on a bicycle seems impossible,” Kenny said, “but when you don’t think of it as a toy – when it becomes a form of transportation – it becomes a very different conversation. “

The price is not the only obstacle. Electric bikes face a crippling mishmash of laws. Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission considers “low-speed” electric bicycles (with a motor equivalent to 1 horsepower or less) to be a bicycle, states still decide where that bicycle can be used.

“It’s up to 50 states to define usage, and that’s been a big deal in the past,” said Claudia Wasko, managing director of Bosch eBike, a leading manufacturer of drive systems.

The PeopleForBikes coalition has drafted model state legislation to allow most e-bikes in cycle lanes and parks. He suggests three classes of electric bikes, with a top speed between 20 and 28 mph. Twenty-eight states have adopted a version of the legislation.

Credit…Richard Sheinwald / Associated press

Some companies may be less concerned about the future of mobility and more interested in getting attention now.

“I think it’s a halo,” said Mr. DiCostanzo, whose company has produced electric bikes for Tommy Bahama, Ford and others. Halo vehicles represent the aspirations of a brand, like concept cars.

“I think that’s what it is for Ford,” he added. “They wanted it to decorate their storefront, and that’s what they got. I think they sold 500 of them in the five years that it lasted.

Mercedes, which is taking orders for its $ 12,000 premium Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team V11 electric bike, said it was an opportunity to show off its ability with high-tech materials, carbon fiber. carbon to paint.

“High performance road bikes and e-bikes are a great way to showcase these technologies in a range of consumer products,” said Damian Cook, a spokesperson.

To some in the bicycle industry, this all smacks of déjà vu. In the 1970s, it was believed that a bicycle boom portended a new future for transportation in which the bicycle was central. But he failed. While there were many contributing factors, the roads weren’t more suitable for cyclists and people didn’t want to arrive at work sweaty.

With the combination of Slow Streets programs, which tackle the first problem, e-bikes, which tackle the second, and a pandemic that has given people a chance to adapt to both, experts like Mr. Zarif regain hope.

“When you give people the chance to try something, it reduces resistance to change,” he said. “As a society, the reality is that we are moving forward – we are not backing down. “

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Newsrust - US Top News: Now making electric bicycles: the car and motorcycle companies
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