Comment: Why the e-bike is good for the bicycle business at every level of the chain

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By Ed Benjamin of eCycleElectric and the LEVA Association

Life and work in the bike business is getting more difficult.

As I write this, the trade journals are reporting big decreases in bike shop revenues. (And we all know that there are a lot fewer bike shops today than a few years ago – in the US and further afield)

Pay for folks who work in bike shops is often not so good. Bikes are so reliable now that there is far less service work per bike than there used to be too.

The best customers for high-end bikes, and thus the best customers for high-end repairs and maintenance are aging. They are riding and spending less.

There are some amazingly skilled bike mechanics who are making no more than a grill cook at a fast food place. And the future is not looking great. ebike serv

However, there is hope and prosperity on the horizon.

The exact demographics and markets that are working against the manually powered bicycle business are favorable for the electric bicycle business.

Aging cyclists  find that electric bikes and electric mountain bikes are major riding season extenders. Worth a lot. Americans who find the idea of sweating and breathing hard a bit frightening are finding that electric bikes allow one to enjoy riding, without the unpleasant side effects.

And just shut up about “that’s cheating”. The judgement of a bike shop guy about whether other people should use electric bikes has no relevance to the real world. Lets put the bias aside and make some money.

Electric bicycles are the money maker for most of the world’s bicycle industry now. That is not easily apparent to a USA bike shop guy, for the USA is behind on this trend. But it is happening here as well.

At Eurobike, the trade show that the entire bike world goes to, you would see why it is nicknamed “electrobike”. And in Asia, Taipei Cycle and Shanghai Cycle are dominated by e-bikes as well.

Here is s list of the reasons why electric bikes are the money-making engine for the world bicycle industry now:

  1. Electric bikes are attractive to many who are not “cyclists”, but simply need good transportation. Often inside the ever larger cities of the world.
  2. Electric mountain bikes are attractive to older guys who still like to ride in the mountains, as well as to many others who find an e-MTB fun.
  3. Electric bikes are, today, a major portion of the total world bike industry. While numbers are arguable, it appears that out of the 150 million or so bicycles built last year, about 34 million were ebikes. Most sell in Asia, but Europe bought a couple million. And here is a very important fact: Those 34 million electric bikes represent more money than all of the rest of the bikes combined.
  4. E-bikes make more money at every level in the bike biz. Bigger tickets, bigger margins, components that are not commodities, sourced from factories that need greater skill levels and thus can command better margins.
  5. E-bike sales are growing. Every issue of Bike Europe features stories about how normal bike sales are off in Europe, but e-bikes are setting records in Germany, Holland, Switzerland and further afield. Have you noticed that every major brand in the USA is offering an e-bike? And a flock of smaller companies? The last count by LEVA showed that of 134 USA brands, more than 50 had imported product recently.

And here is a list of reasons why that could be good for you, if you are a bike mechanic.

  1. There are not many people in your town that know how to fix an e-bike. Probably not any. That is a big change in situation from being a bike mechanic, working on machines that pretty much everyone thinks they can fix, and with many competitors in most towns.
  2. Since ebikes are expensive, the consumer is willing to spend more on maintenance and repair.
  3. We note that e-bikes get ridden more. (A lot more. And that should be a wake up call.) So more service work and more parts sales.
  4. It is actually now often easier to repair an e-bike electrical problem than to fix mechanical problems on bicycles in general.
  5. You have most of the tools you need. Most of the skills you need.
  6. You can learn what you need, quickly. You will spend the rest of your career adding to that knowledge, just like you do with “normal” bike stuff. This just pays better.

A sticking point: A lot of bike mechanics accept whatever wage they are offered, because that is what the bike shop can afford, and the bike shop can find other mechanics at that wage. So an e-bike technician must educate the shop. Charging more for e-bike repairs, and in turn paying the e-bike technician more may require some updating of the owner/manager. e-Bike techs are not so easy to replace.

For most bike mechanics, mechanical things are easy to understand, and we (I was a bike mechanic most of my life) have a knack for seeing details about machinery that most people miss. We understand how to manipulate and adjust mechanical things.

Electrical things are not so easy to see, or understand. And most of us had no exposure to such in school, or in our hobbies.

On my desk is a stone with a saying cut into it that I regard as golden:

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step”.

Here is a simple first step to take:

The Light Electric Vehicle Association website www.LEVAssociation.com has a link on it called “Tech Training”. Go to that link, and download the PDF for LEVA Technician Training Level One.

Read all 120 slides, then download the associated glossary and read it.

levaYou will find that e-bikes just lost a lot of their mystique and scary attributes.

So far, it is all free.

If you want a certificate to hang on the wall, the LEVA will send you a test, and on completing and turning in a passing test paper, LEVA will send you a certificate. They charge a small fee for this.

If you want to expand your training, then check out the monthly schedule of two day classes that cover e-bike issues in depth. Classes are currently offered in Fort Myers, FL, and in Danville VA. We expect more locations late this year.

The two day classes require a fee. And there is a test and a certificate.

Now add to that basic e-bike education: Go to every seminar, training program, etc. that is offered by propulsion system makers, e-bike brands, or component makers. Do that as a routine part of your continuing education.

As for new tools – you will need a good multimeter, a good soldering iron, and the correct crimping tools at a minimum. Some of you will add sophisticated testing and analysis equipment. Costs, frankly, are similar to properly equipping yourself to work on bikes.

For many shops today, electric bikes are still small volume. But the time to get into a new thing is when it is new. Create a situation where you are the go-to repairman for electric bikes in your town, and ride the wave as it grows.

We all face a bright future.

Questions and comments are welcomed at ed@LEVAssociation.com