e-Bikes off the pace in early lockdown period, BA calls for incentives

The Bicycle Association will call for greater electric bike purchase incentives having identified that e-Bike sales were off the pace in the early stages of the UK’s lockdown.

Findings generated from the trade association’s data service suggested it was price point that proved the stumbling block, with sales of bikes north of £3,000 falling in April.

The public’s priority appears to have been low to mid-priced bikes, priced £400 to £1,000, with sales rising 112% year-on-year within April and 99% in value. Overall bike sales were up 60% in volume and 57% in value.

As a result of the general caution on high-end spend, e-Bikes actually didn’t see any notable tailwind, declining by 2% during the first quarter of 2020. Likewise, prior to the Government’s announcements relating both to exercise by bike and latterly the stance of keeping bike shops open sales were fairly static, down 4% in value and 8% in volume.

Lockdown quickly changed the picture and the BA’s (among others) lobbying of Government is in part credited to enabling the subsequent bike boom many shops and repair businesses have noted.

Steve Garidis, the BA’s Executive Director, said: “It’s brilliant that the UK has been out buying and repairing their bikes under lockdown. Especially for commuters, every journey made by bike frees up space for those who have no alternative to using public transport. E-bikes have the potential to make even longer or more hilly cycling commutes practical and enjoyable – which is why it’s disappointing that take-up under lockdown hasn’t accelerated as it has for bikes. We suspect that many people still don’t know just how good modern e-bikes are – or they are put off by the cost. That’s why the BA believes this data for April reinforces the case for the Government to really push e-bikes as a transport solution with a purchase incentive scheme.”

Lockdown did see e-bikes recover some pace, with April growth compared to the same month in 2019 reaching 55% (value) and 48% (volume). But that is just the normal level that would be expected of the UK’s small but growing e-bike market, with its longer-term 50% growth rate, said the BA noting an uptick toward the end of Q1.

From January to March cycle repair trade was said to be up 26%, adding weight to the notion that workshops continue to be in the ascendancy. Many shops CI.N has spoken with in recent weeks have a minimum one week backlog of repairs booked in. This backlog of work is seemingly being capitalised on by a trend of mechanics going it alone on the back of redundancy; many spurred on by the Government’s £50 bike repair voucher coming into play.

The next stage of the lobby effort

Analysis utilising the DfT-funded Propensity to Cycle tool suggests that as many as 40% of commuter journeys could theoretically take place by e-Bike and that’s without taking into consideration further stimulus like protected cycle lanes.

Part of the rallying call going forwards will be tethered to bringing about this change. The BA is speaking with Government on the subject of addressing the evident cost barrier to electric bikes with direct financial incentives. Their study shows that “a purchase incentive of as little as £250 would double sales of e-bikes over just 12 months.”

Secondly, a centralised public awareness campaign is called for that introduces the public at large to the potential of the e-Bike as part of the transport mix.

This call follows a high-impact academic report from the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions, based at the University of Oxford, which revealed that e-bikes, if used to replace car travel, have the capability to cut car carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in England by up to 50% (about 30 million tonnes per year). CREDS also recommends “A major e-bike grant purchase subsidy” as part of their proposal for a “green shovel ready” recovery package.

Furthermore, the BA proposes that Government seriously consider making all cycling products zero-rated on VAT. Modelling on this estimates a £5 benefit to the economy for each £1 forgone in VAT.

Next to that, it is asked that e-Bikes are equally weighted against an car scrappage scheme designed to remove polluting vehicles from the road.

Further funding for the expansion in use of cargo e-Bikes, city-scale cycle logistics trials, and measures to incentivise personal and family cargo bike use is also encouraged.

Steve Garidis added: “As lockdown eases there’s just a short window of opportunity for the UK to build itself a cleaner, lower-carbon and healthier transport system. E-bikes and cycling must be a core part of that, which is why we’ve made detailed proposals to Government as they develop plans for a post-lockdown stimulus package.”

A further report on the e-Bikes performance in the lockdown market is expected shortly. Companies seeking early access to the Sports Marketing Surveys compiled sales stats can sign up to the BA’s services offering on the organisation’s website. Likewise, those seeking forward looking data can pair the BA’s work against CI.N’s own forward looking data, available here.