Having overseen Bosch’s electric bike division since the summer of 2012 there are few people in the business better placed to talk growth curve than CEO Claus Fleischer. CI.N asks if the e-bubble will continue to inflate and how Bosch foresees the cycle trade gaining new customers…
What are the market’s main requests of Bosch as a manufacturer of motors – presumably it’s slimmer, lighter and more efficient?
All of the above. The main trend is integration and this has an impact on the size and weight of the component. We look for higher efficiency on power per kilogram too. With the new Performance CX we have a drive unit that is 25% lighter and smaller by 48% on the prior iteration. As a result, the manufacturer’s frame wraps very nicely giving a vastly enhanced optical appeal. This is the main trend, making things fit into proportions people are used to.
Besides that, it’s obviously battery capacity. People want to ride longer per charge with no swapping out. This year we have a 600wh battery fully integrated and that will enable many to cycle for longer without a charge.
What will become important is our efforts on connectivity and safety. We have upgraded our Kiox product and we have new features, including a lock system. If you now remove the Kiox display the motor will not go, so we have made Bosch specced bikes more theft proof. If you steal the bike it is basically useless. It connects with the smartphone too, so is further traceable. This is an upgrade that has been very well received by the trade.
When it comes to smartphone pairing, we integrated Cobi which has a new smartphone hub that controls the whole e-Bike system.
For safety improvement we have continued to support the OEs with our ABS system; this ensures cyclists can use both brakes in confidence that they will not wash out. We are still the only manufacturer with a production ready system. Everyone who has this enjoys the peace of mind. Sell through is a bit slower than expected as the dealer is not sure about the demand, but it will come. They need extra time to explain, but with a trial process, as with the e-Bike itself, it becomes easier to sell. We are here for the long race, so this is fine.
For 2020 what are the key developments in your technology?
The highlight is the new performance CX. Our electric bike MTB product has always defined the segment, but the new CX improves its size so crucially bike makers can build a shorter chainstay. 1kg less weight is also music to manufacturer’s ears. Nominally it has the same torque output. If you ride it there are new ride dynamics; the sensor and control algorithms are much improved, the input you provide is followed so well by the motor.
What is important with the size reduction is that we have achieved a high thermal stability, so we don’t have to de-rate the power output. Magazines have tested our previous motors and competitor’s too and we don’t have this heat issue anymore. This ultimately also improves efficiency.
Looking to the future, to what extent will a bike’s electrics talk to new components; for example brake lights or suspension?
There is a logical tech ramp that almost guarantees that energy and intelligence will combine more on a e-Bike system. This started initially with lights and later ABS using the system power. What we have developed now with Fox is an active E-suspension platform that has been well received.
Our setup menu in the Kiox system allows a user to choose a damper setup for the fork; they can choose manual or automatic settings. On auto the damper open and closes depending on the need of the rider. You use the same remote control and display, so there’s no extra devices in the package. This is an important step in functional integration. You see this integration everywhere else, so we too have to lead on interface integration.
The trend is also design integration. We see too many cables and wires present on modern bikes. The handlebar, in particular, can become easily overcrowded with the variety of products now on offer.
(Editor’s note: Bosch recently upped its stake in Magura, which has a quite unique proposition for handlebar space saving)
Electric mobility is now more diverse than ever; where outside of traditional two-wheel bikes have you seen demand for motors?
The overall strategy is the future of mobility as electric, automatic and intermodal. We do a lot of drive systems in all different segments. Automatic means dampening e-shift; autonomous is driving for cars and intermodal means urban transportation progress. We see that our inner cities are overcrowded and dominated by cars. In the past 50 years this has been the design trend.
Now we have to reallocate this space and reduce the share for cars. This means providing more for two-wheel products and wider spaces for cargo bikes tasked with logistics. The e-Scooter and the bicycle is not a problem design wise, but the limited space we allow these modes to have in the city is holding us back.
As shown in the European Cyclists’ Federation’s research, if you take the whole population you have this one percent of enthusiastic and fearless riders and 6 to 8 percent expressing confidence. There is then 60% who are interested, but very concerned for their own, or their family’s wellbeing. 33% are “no way, no how”, they’re just not going to cycle. I wouldn’t be concerned by the 33%, but the 60% is a huge part of the population and we could change their habits. Ultimately that’s a huge untapped market.
We as industry are working with ECF and directly with politicians. I happened to be at an infrastructure project in Germany. We needed the community to push through this bottleneck and ask for budget and space. The societal demand is huge for safe infrastructure and there is a clear need. There is a will for politicians finally, but apparent budget restraints cause the bottleneck.
In the UK we see a higher use of our electric bike resources as it tends to take away the excuses not to ride. The development in the UK started later than Germany, Switzerland and Netherlands. But we hear now that there is a clear trend being seen and a clearer acceptance of the electric bike, even with the politicians.
Has that demand come strictly from within the bicycle industry, or are you seeing more automotive business interest in the segment?
I would say the interest comes and goes. I have not seen interest as steady and continuous. Not one automotive company has successfully taken market share, as yet. In the past they had a bicycle in their showrooms and of course the trend we discussed is space reallocation; they all see that and they see the bicycle industry’s share. Perhaps they too want a piece of the action?
What has always been a fair observation is that auto brands rebadge a bicycle industry brand. The automotive development from an engineering point of view is often different, as are the supply chain needs.
The interest is there, sure, but perhaps we will have to observe if it is for long-term.
Mobility also means a leveller for those who have not been confident enough to cycle before now – are you seeing demand from makers of disability bikes, bikes designed specifically for the elderly or the unfit?
Initially electric bikes were a trend that came from elderly downwards; the only known trend where it has gone this way. Why is that? Initially it was to keep elderly people engaged and to give possibility to be mobile. We had observed that if we had the chance to provide the system and integrate it, we could give bicycle makers the chance to attract a wider range of customers.
In 2013 we said e-MTB will be the next trend. If only a handful committed back then we thought “this will be huge” and it is now just that. We have such a huge range of customers. Everything but BMX is electrified now.
The following big trend we saw five years ago was cargo bike requests coming in. We said inner city delivery should be emission free and now you can begin to see it. Companies start based on this model. There is a huge and broad societal acceptance.
We overcame the cheating stigma. Recently the UCI electric bike MTB race took place. In the men’s category we had silver and bronze and in the women’s gold. This is cool, we are now in a new era for this.
Maybe in the U.S. we see this “cheating” badge still, but the rest of the world is more open to change.
This offshoot of the bicycle allows the industry to tap in to the 60%; that’s new customers. It’s not enough to convert cyclists to e-Bikers, we have to convert those who are not already.
When, if in the foreseeable future, do you expect the growth curve to slow?
I would say we are following a typical S curve of progressive that is steadily rising upwards and then will taper off a little. We are in between exponential to linear growth. It will be steady in years to come, I believe. We have countries with a high electric bike take rate like Germany and countries with lower take rate like Italy and the UK. All over Europe and especially in the U.S. we have great potential. For five to eight years yet there will be growth.