With astonishing growth for his e-bike specialist distribution business in the past few years, we catch Scott Snaith of 50cycles who offers thoughts on legislation, dongles on electric bikes, how to be successful retailing pedal assist, as well as explaining why the industry needs to ‘lighten up’ when it comes to the sector…
The E-bike world is alive and kicking – how’s business been for you in the past year?
The past year has been our best yet with a 30% growth in sales up until the end of November 2015 and lets see what happens this year as we grow our network and product range.
It was recently revealed that 1 in 8 bikes sold in Germany is an e-bike – what has the UK got to do to reach those heights?
There is really a long way to go in the UK to achieve those numbers (though imports are rising rapidly). Ideally we need better support for the cycle industry as a whole from Government initiatives. A clear acknowledgement of the potential that electric bikes could have on the UK transport system would help too. You only have to look at Europe to see the success and the advantages of promoting electric bikes to establish smooth running transport systems. There are similar results in Holland and all over Europe. The questions should be asked to why has the mainland been so successful, before acting upon on the results to create a similar cycling friendly environment.
Has the 50cycles business expanded in recent times, or do you plan to expand in the near future?
Yes, this is a very exciting month for us as we have just exchanged on new premises in Loughborough where our HQ has always been. This will see us multiply our storage space, expand our office and improve our show room and test ride facilities.
Our workforce has increased 3 fold in the last 3 years with the potential to build our network worldwide. We now have 4 of our very own stores and a network of agents that help contribute to growing the number of electric bikes we deliver in the UK.
We are always looking to improve the business and become better at what we do which is provide the market with the best electric bikes and service on the market.
The 50cycles team development over the past couple of years has been great and I hope we can build on this success. Our business punches very much above its weight and that is very much due to the calibre of the individuals we have in the company today.
So now is a great time to be an electric bike specialist distributor or retailer?
It is a very good time to be both a distributor and retailer due to the quick expansion of the electric bike market in the UK. With so many good brands now on the market it is up to the manufacturers out there to make sure they provide the best service and back up to carry their brands in the UK successfully.
For the longstanding electric bike outlets in the UK it is now the most exciting time for the cycle industry with such great brands taking the sector seriously. These labels are using the best Japanese or German technology to give the consumer confidence in the quality of electric bikes that really suffered only 5 years ago with cheap far-East full throttle imports.
For the retailer – why invest in electric bikes and why now?
50cycles is one of the longest running specialist electric bike company in the world being established in 2003 with really advanced technology from Honda in Japan. The electric bike has really come of age with great developments each year for battery and motor technology and the integration of well known conventional bike parts.
Electric bikes are an amazing addition to the cycling world that enable anyone to be able to cycle with absolutely no fear of the distance or terrain. It is definitely a new type of business where retailers have to adapt. You only need to visit major cities around Europe to witness what a true electric bike shop can look like. Our own Bristol store is the closest we have got to being able to provide that kind of experience, however there is still a long way to go.
What segments are enjoying the most growth – commuter, off road, or perhaps niche segments like e-cargo?
We are finding that all sectors of the electric bike market are growing well with a lot of potential still to come in the e-cargo and e-fatbike market. However, the mountain bike market has so much potential to get lots of people out cycling and should be welcomed by the MTB organisations.
E-Bikes enable anyone to experience the joys of getting to places that most people cannot reach unless they train for many months. I am a big advocate of this as I have used an e-MTB to ride up real mountains and down jungle trails, of which I would have never of had the fitness levels to achieve in such hot or cold conditions on a conventional bikes. Especially keeping up with people that had been training for 20 years.
What’s your take on the speed pedelec – can that ever take off here and who might buy into the idea?
The speed pedelec is just another step up to widen the appeal for cycling so even more people out there can ride a bike. With any pedelec it enables the rider to simply go further, faster and encourages more cycle use in even adverse cycling conditions.
Anything that encourages more cycling is a good thing overall. With a conventional bike it is up to the confidence and skill of the rider how fast they would like to go, as we know many road cyclist will achieve an average speed of 25mph with most wearing a cycle helmet when they are looking to average those speeds.
It all comes down to choice and from experience, when riding in Holland between Groningen and outer suburbs, the cycle highways were tremendous and would make a 10 mile intercity trip very viable on a bicycle. With the right infrastructure it should be encouraged. Putting mopeds as fully motorised vehicles on cycle lanes I feel is a very poor decision and highlights the difference that a speed pedelec is by far closer to a bicycle than a moped, but both are meant to have the same criteria to be legal in Holland.
All pedelecs up to a maximum of ’25mph’ should be classed as bicycles legally on the road with the advice that you should wear a cycle helmet, but it is not compulsory.
Is the legislation now in place for e-bikes in Europe spot on? What would you change if anything?
The pedelec rules are okay now, but if I were to advise the Government in a post-Brexit environment there may be an opportunity for us to improve the law by encouraging more people to use two wheels. For example, no age limit should be applied and an increase to 25 mph top speed as all bicycles, in theory, can and do achieve this on a daily basis.
If it was law that Children up to 12 had to wear helmets when riding an electric bike most parents would be really pleased and the child would already be in the habit of using a helmet, so there would be no reason to make it mandatory to wear a helmet as most would continue to do so out of habit. This leaves it open to for a mature cyclist to hop on a bike and go to the shops, even if there is no cycle helmet to hand.
With a pedelec system the power is produced as a result of leg power, so the control is very much as if being just very fit. Dangerous driving prosecutions should apply if a cyclist ever hits a pedestrian. This works very well in Japan where the penalty is based on the size of the vehicle to where the liability will fall.
What’s your take on dongles that can derestrict power output limits? Can the industry prevent this happening?
It is up to the customer how they use their machine. There has already been precedent set whereby a customers was hit by a public bus on a speed pedelec and the bus company tried to prosecute on grounds of no registration, tax or insurance, but the defendant was found not guilty because it was deemed not to be in the public interest to do so. I think in a legal context this could pave the way for anyone using a speed pedelec, so long as they do not cause public harm.
Focusing on customers using a dongle instead of encouraging the use of electric bikes is counter productive. Also trying to void a warranty as an excuse not to provide a good service is just as poor. People have always made the choice of tweaking their vehicles, but instead of tinkering with the motor they reprogram the motors now. It is a brave new world we live in and I do not think it will ever be prevented in any type of transport, not only within electric bike design.
What tech advances do you anticipate will further drive growth in the next 5 years?
The main technical advances for the electric bike market will be a continuation of longer battery range, lighter batteries, longer warranties, quicker charging, integrated smart technology, road safety improvements due to automation technology and internet of things.
What brands are now found within the 50cycles stable and which would you highlight as ones to watch for 2016 and beyond?
We have just taken on a great Italian brand called Fantic that has produced some amazing electric fat bikes using a brand new motor system for the UK market combining German motor technology with Italian style and build quality.
You’ve just introduced the brand at the Gadget show due – what kind of response has it had?
Yes, the Fantic fat bikes were on full show at the NEC and attracted interest all weekend. Personally, Fantic bikes are by far the most fun I have ever had on any bike.
Any final thoughts on the future of the market?
The British Cycling industry needs to brighten up and embrace the electric bike market for what it really is. It is simply another type of bicycle that enables more people to ride a bike more regularly. Our company now has thousands of customers out on the streets in the UK and it is wonderful to hear how life changing these bikes can be, not only getting people back in the saddle, but more often than not, overcoming many diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, heart conditions, slipped discs and strokes. It is very rare to find a grumpy electric cyclist.
For any bicycle store, agent or customer that would like more information about the electric bike market, or would like help finding the right products, please feel free to contact me at 50cycles.
Furthermore, test rides are available with UK agents, as mapped here.