Thursday, July 12, 2018

There Is Only So Much Money To Go Around

The industry is going ga-ga for these electric motorcycles with pedals.
Eurobike just happened again.

I know, right? You'd never had known that except for maybe that goofy driveshaft drivetrain that's been making the rounds lately. (That was debuted at Eurobike, but it could have been anywhere.)

I called it "Euro-snooze" last year, because the whole deal was about e-mtbs, and I guess this year it was even worse. One person commented on an industry media site that the show felt more like a "....a German e-bike dealer show with some international presence" than a traditional Eurobike.  

Now, we can debate all day about the viability of this developing dominance of e-bikes in the industry, or if they should or should not be allowed. That's a never ending debate. One thing many are not realizing though is that all the focus on attaching motors to anything you can pedal is draining the reserves of companies and little is left for the development of "traditional" bicycles. If you wonder why it is that little to no news is coming out in your bicycle feeds on social and traditional media about new stuff at Eurobike, this is the big reason why. 

Innovation costs money. The bicycle industry, down in sales and revenues for a long time now, cannot just conjure up the funds to do new projects without compromising other aspects of the business.  We've seen this recently in the past with another marketing driven saga involving 27.5" wheels.

27.5"er (L) and a 29"er (R). Image by Grannygear
Back about six years ago or so the industry decided that the sagging sales of 26" wheeled 5 to six inch travel full suspension bikes was in need of a make-over, and that was centered around 650B sized wheels dubbed "27.5"ers" by the industry. NOTE- No one was asking for these bikes to be changed. There had been examples of long traveled 650B bikes for several years prior, but the groundswell just wasn't there. That didn't matter, because changing wheel size meant that your old, tired, long travel 26"er wasn't going to get replaced by another 26"er, it was going to be the shiny, new wheel size. This also was a big part of revitalizing long traveled bikes to others as well. Subsequently, money poured into the development and manufacturing of bikes based around this "new" wheel size. 

I remember 2012-2014 well as I was editor of "Twenty Nine Inches". New product intros suddenly dried up for big wheelers. 29" stuff was in a holding pattern as monies were diverted to fast-tracking new 650B long travel "enduro" bikes to market. Ad revenue for the site plummeted, (not that we ever had much more than enough to keep the site alive). Subsequently, I believe, the development of 650B and the results of a sagging industry overall stunted the development of good, long travel 29"ers. It took a few years for everything to settle back down and then we saw long travel 29"ers take off. 

E-bikes require a lot of specialized frame design, heavier duty wheels, special components in the drive train, and the brakes are developing for these bikes to be more powerful and reliable. Note- all of these developments are also heavier.  Therefore they are not cross-pollinated into any other line of bicycles. So the dollars that are being sunk into these e-bikes are not helping your other lines. They are taking away from them. 

So, don't expect a lot of new innovations in the coming years, unless your bicycle has a motor and battery attached to it!


Phillip Cowan said...

If E-Bikes were truly the next big thing wouldn't traditional motorcycle companies be jumping in with both feet? It would seem easier to engineer a real motorcycle down into squib status than to engineer a bicycle up into super-bicycle status. So where are Honda, Suzuki and BMW? My guess is they're not there because they aren't smelling that much money. I think the whole E-Bike thing is just another one of the bike industries' goldfish fart bubbles.

Guitar Ted said...

@phillip Cowan- Well, Yamaha is actually in the game, so there is one motorcycle company involved. Ford Motor Company is also taking a hard look at e-bikes and already is involved in bike share.

I think it will be a thing in the motorcycle world sooner or later. Automobiles are already moving quickly toward electrification. I saw a report yesterday that claims Chinese electric motorcar sales are forecast to be in excess of 100,000 cars this year and will be going higher. Major automobile companies are expected to all have electric cars within five years.

This report did not mention motorcycles, but how can they sit on the sidelines? I don't think they will.

Now, as far a bicycles go, this entire house of cards the bicycle industry is leaning on may come crashing down if/when countries decide to treat them as motor vehicles. Already, the EU has a motion on the table to pass a law requiring e-bikers to insure their e-bikes. This motion is vehemently resisted by e-bike proponents in Europe. However; if this motion passes to become law, it is predicted that it will deflate e-bike sales severely.

This also is why the "classes" of e-bikes laws which are being adopted in many states in the US are being hailed by e-bike proponents because, in effect, they shield certain pedelecs from being seen as "motor vehicles" and getting the same/similar treatment here in the future that the EU may impose soon in Europe.

Time will tell, but it has always been one of my points on e-bikes that their popularity, in part, rests on the fact that they can be used as a motor vehicle on bicycle and auto infrastructure without license or insurance. Much like quad/ATV vehicles are used by rural folks here in Iowa. When and if the governments change their status, (insurance-license requirements), then their sales will have no resistance other than high prices.

Greg said...

I am ignorant about Ebikes, but aren't these essentially electric mopeds like the gas models from the 60's and 70's? Just lighter and more streamlined?

Guitar Ted said...

@Greg D- They are parallel in intentions and history. Different, but very similar animals, if you will.

blooddoc23 said...

Seems to me there would be a limited market for those. You either want to pedal a bike, or you don't.

glenn said...

I think e-bikes have a place as "city bikes" for use in commuting. In my mind, a top speed of around 15mph would be enough. The point of the bike being to make it easier to ride 5-10 miles to work, over any hills, carrying a small load of work items.

But as the technology gets better, then the question will come up, why pedal at all? If the battery can last for round trip, then there isn't a need to put your own power into the system. Now we have an e-scooter. We've moved from bike path to road, and require a higher speed around 22mph.

I just don't see where long term the e-bike makes sense in this picture unless it is used as an "equalizer" of abilities. I'm not sure what to think about that.