Electric bikes open up the prospect of riding bicycles to many new use cases for people and physical capabilities. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the trend, with millions of people around the world looking for new ways to get around town, to recreate, and to stay fit amidst a wide range of lockdowns.
Bosch has developed a wide range of mid-drive electric bike solutions, with their motor, battery, and display packages being utilized by more than 70 manufacturers. We spoke with Claudia Wasko, the general manager for Bosch eBike Systems Americas about what’s happening in ebikes today, the many form factors of ebikes, and the impact of COVID on the bicycle market.
eBikes Are Hot In 2020
One silver lining of the global pandemic and the wide range of lockdowns happening around the world is an increase in bicycle usage. Many workers and students have been pushed to working or schooling from home, creating new demand for outdoor extracurricular activities. Bicycles are well suited to the task, providing a source of physical fitness, socially distance engagement with the outside world, and mobility.
The result was an almost overnight spike in demand for bicycles of all shapes, sizes, and form factors. Claudia said that in March alone, US retail sales of ebikes jumped 85% compared to 2019. “Our expectations year on year have always been surpassed,” she told me.
As a German company, Bosch’s home market and strongest global market is in Europe. “The European market for us is still our core market,” Claudia said. In Germany and many other European countries, governments have recognized the potential for ebikes to step in to not only offer lower cost transportation solutions, but to increase fitness and decrease automotive congestion at the same time. The result was an initial surge in popularity of ebikes and that trend has only accelerated in 2020. “We were never expecting this sustainable growth in Europe,” Claudia said. “Year over year, they still see double digit % growth.”
Growth in the emerging ebike market is accelerating all around the world as customers realize the potential of existing form factors, new bike formats are created, and prices continue to drop as production ramps up.
COVID Has Impacted Supply Chains
The spike in demand for ebikes in the first quarter of the year quickly drained existing retail inventories just as coronavirus shutdown global bicycle production supply chains. This caused a spike in retail and resale prices of bicycles, while bicycle manufacturers scrambled to catch up. “The market could grow even more, but it is a little bit slowed down because of the supply chain,” Claudia said. “There are a lot of critical components that are just not available at the moment.”
For its part, Bosch was in a very good position and did not experience any supply issues. They had seen the early signals indicating growing demand for ebikes and had already been working to increase production from their ebike component factory in Hungary. Of course, the production ramp up was based on pre-COVID numbers, but their production still exceeded demand.
In recent months, with workers returning to work around the world, bicycle and ebike manufacturers have caught up to the spike in demand. And as always, Bosch is ready to partner with them to build more ebikes. “We are ready to deliver systems to our partners,” Claudia said.
Customers Want Bikes In All Shapes & Sizes
The increase in demand for bicycles and outdoor recreation has many customers looking at bicycles in new ways. Ebikes only accentuate that trend, with the addition of a battery and motor opening people’s eyes to the newfound potential of these affordable electric vehicles. “They have their first experience and ride an ebike and they cannot stop smiling,” Claudia said. This has also been my experience, as young and old are left with the signature electric vehicle smile after their first ride on an ebike.
Ebikes offer the ability to travel farther, faster, and longer than traditional bikes. Owners can now get to work without breaking a sweat, saving the workout for the road home. Parents can now carry kids to school and back on the back of a cargo bike, taking comfort in the fact that the motor will fill the gap on the way home.
These new form factors make it easier to get out and ride around town and that has a knock on effect across the board. Riding a commuter ebike to work instead of taking the car means people get more of a workout. Even if the motor does half the work, that’s more of a workout than sitting in a car. “We see demand from our OE partners who want to have solutions for the last mile which is either a folding bike or at least a small bike which then demands a compact drive unit and smaller battery solutions,” Claudia said.
Having tested and reviewed dozens of ebikes over the years, I have had my eyes opened to the potential of cargo electric bikes, commuters, folding, and long range ebikes. The electrification of the humble bicycle has blown open the floodgates of innovation, bringing new form factors, use cases, and clean technologies to bear on an age old problem. What is the best solution for me to use to get from A to B?
Increasingly, electricity and human-powered ebikes are the answer. “Electromobility can make a significant contribution to sustainability and ebikes in particular offer great opportunities,” Claudia said. “They are made for every person, young, old, fit, non fit, athlete, non athlete.” It is a brilliant zero emission solution that connects people more closely together and to their communities.
In their many forms, ebikes are being looked to as an increasingly affordable and attractive way for people to drastically reduce their carbon footprint. Why travel to work in a car when a bicycle can get you there cheaper, faster, and healthier? Increasingly, commuters are opting for ebikes and that’s good for their health and the health of this one planet we all share.