Comment: Speed Pedelecs in USA and EU – where will the market go?

By Edward Benjamin, Senior Managing Director, eCycleElectric Consultants 

Speed Pedelecs are fun, fast, and generating a lot of attention from consumers and dealers. And they face a great future in the market place. But, for now, the market is actually quite small.

The definitions of a speed pedelec start with the regulations that affect the vehicle.

In the EU

A “speed pedelec” is an electric bicycle that can reach 45 KM hour and is type approved as a L1e-B Two Wheel Moped. The rider must pedal and the motor should not be able to propel the bike by itself.

In the USA

A Class 3 “speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle” capable of reaching 28 MPH. The rider must pedal. But this is allowed, at the moment, in only 6 states. In most states, a speed pedelec would be regarded as a non-compliant moped.

The original idea

Switzerland has had speed pedelecs since the 90s with as speed limit of 45 KPH. The Swiss model has greatly influenced speed pedelec ideas in the rest of Europe and in North America.

The Market today

When LEVA researched the numbers of legally compliant speed pedelecs imported into the USA, the numbers were finally determined to be less than 2,000. Perhaps we missed something, but for now, this category is barely beginning in the USA.

One USA category that is not considered here is the DIY builder of a fast e-Bike. There are kit suppliers that cater to the enthusiast who wishes to build a fast e-Bike. Some of these kits result in very fast bikes indeed.

And there are a handful of companies that offer complete, but non-compliant with the law, “electric bicycles” that are capable of speed above the CPSC limit of 20 MPH. However, the number of such bikes is thought to be only a few hundred.

In the EU, the Speed Pedelec fleet size totals perhaps 22,000 (not included Switzerland). This is a small proportion of the EPAC electric bike market – with a fleet size of about 10 million.

Back in Switzerland, sales last year hit about 16,000, representing a significant fraction of the market – about 20% of all e-Bike sales.

Risks and Benefits for the e-Bike industry

Speed pedelecs reach speeds that are at the upper limit, or beyond, that bicycle components can safely handle. Brakes, tyres and wheels, especially at lower cost levels, are not expected to be used at such speeds on a regular basis. The speed pedelecs are heavier, and ridden more miles and are thus exposed to greater stresses.

(Editor’s note: Non compliance with local regulations may also cause problems for bike shop resellers. In much of the EU, speed pedelecs fall under the same bracket as mopeds, thus requiring the very same insurances, registrations and suitable safety equipment. Dealers who fail to notify a customer of these responsibilities may find themselves on the wrong side of the law and risk closure. It is inadvisable to notify customers of ways to enhance the speeds of their bikes once the sale has been closed. In the UK, if you are in any doubt, play it inline with the BAGB and MIA’s stance on the issue.)

In the USA, the Class 3 electric bike, while having moped like performance, does not have the safety equipment that a moped would be required to have; think lights, mirrors, specific tyres, etc. Furthermore, no helmet is required.

We can believe that requirements for safety equipment, brake performance, helmets, and more will come, but perhaps only after some tragic incidents bring the topic to the limelight.

In the USA, involvement in any way in an injury accident will result in a law suit that will include component makers, dealer, technicians, bike makers, and anyone else the lawyers can find a way to include. Hundreds of thousands of dollars can be expected in costs, or more. 

Benefit for the e-Bike industry

These bikes are fun, and for some consumers a big boost in utility.

For the dealer, the bikes sell for high prices and we can expect that they will need more than the normal level of service support.

So, what to expect?

I believe that this will be a major category, selling in the millions of units in both North America and Europe. Perhaps 50% of all “e-Bike” sales and potentially replacing all moped sales.

The expansion will be slow in USA until more states adopt California-style e-Bike rules. In Europe, “factor 4” may limit the speed of growth.

But eventually, the regulations, safety issues, and homologation of such vehicles will be sorted out, and these will become major money makers for the industry, not to mention major smile makers for our customers.