Comment: Why the eMTB boom will dwarf rise of the MTB in the 80s

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By Edward Benjamin the Senior Managing Director at eCycleElectric Consultants and Chairman of the Light Electric Vehicle Association  

For the majority of bicycle users in the world, a bicycle, or an electric bike, is transportation.

But for most users in North America and many in Western Europe (and elsewhere) a bicycle is sport, fitness or recreation.

Until recently, electric bikes have been almost exclusively thought of as transportation. And that has been a barrier to adoption in some markets.

In North America, the baby boomer demographic is 77 million strong, and ranges in age from mid 50’s to mid 70’s. They are the group that invented the mountain bike, BMX freestyle, and changed USA cycling culture from “kids only” to winning the Tour De France (over and over and over…). They may not ride their bikes enough, but they have an undeniable love for them.

There is a similar demographic in Europe.

These consumers have made bicycles part of their lives, and have spent more money on cycling and on equipment than any other demographic in human history. But now they are older, and gravity is ever more intense.

For this group, which is one of the wealthiest demographic groups in history, an electric bike is a cycling-season-extender. eMTBs completely reshape the possibilities for both aging mountain bikers and people who would love to ride in the mountains, but are either not strong enough or too intimidated to try.

As it has always been, mountain biking is fun. At least the down hill part is fun. Going up hill has always been hard work. Ski resorts have benefited from this, carrying cyclists up the slopes on ski lifts, and building trails to ride down.

But now, an eMTB essentially carries it’s own ski lift.

There has been some controversy, which I summarize as young guys saying: “We do not want electric bikes on our trails!” and the older generation replying: “Whose trails? We invented this sport, we built those trails. And we are going to keep riding.”

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And even if some singletrack is closed to eMTBs, it is really not much of a limitation. There are endless of miles of fire road, double track, and simply interesting places to ride.

This re-defines the electric bicycle. No longer just transportation, it is now clearly sport, fitness and recreation. It leaps over some of the emotional and cultural barriers to adoption.

Yes, it is fitness. Electric power may make riding in the mountains possible, but the bikes used for this are pedelecs, which depend upon the high torque contribution from the rider – thus making a ride on an eMTB a workout. (A workout that would not have happened without the eMTB, and often a much longer ride.)

We can see the results in the ocean of visitors in the booths of companies like Haibike that are famed for eMTBs at Eurobike. Furthermore, we can see it on the floors of electric bike retail stores where the eMTBs dominate the offerings in Europe, and increasingly in the USA.

So we are going to see a boom in eMTBs that, I think, will dwarf the mountain bike boom of the 80’s. Why do I think so?

  1. Every time a bike has been introduced that is easier to pedal and more fun, there has been a boom. This has been consistent in history, since the beginning of the safety bicycle in the 1800s.
  2. eMTBs allow a rider an additional 10-20 years of riding.
  3. eMTBs are fun.
  4. eMTBs are going to become a fashion and lifestyle statement.

That last point is important.

Europeans and Americans both like to portray themselves as active, adventurous, and strong.

In the 80s and 90s, mountain bikes became ubiquitous in the city, not because they were necessary, but because they looked cool. The riders implied that they have an adventurous life because they use such a bike.

This was similar to fashion trends where people who never go into the wilderness wear hiking boots and down coats about campus, to the office, and at work. The image was important.

eMTBs are about to become image items. Owning one and being seen with it on the roof rack of your car, or in the bike parking rack at work, school or cafe will become a sought after image.

It is good news for the industry. eMTBs are big ticket, high margin items that need service and support from dealers. All making a brighter and brighter future for us all.

You can read more from Ed, including articles such as how to monetise your e-bike service or store your fleet’s batteries, here.