Susanne Breusch, founder and head of Pedelec Adventures, inventor of the word pedelec, and global ambassador for the pedelec, is certainly no newcomer to the e-bike world, with 22 years of experience in the field in various positions, all of which involved “communicating electric mobility in a worldwide network”.
According to Breusch, her company, Pedelec Adventures is “a hub that connects all the different areas of the industry that are active in this field. The media, the industry itself, dealers, event organizers, consumers, and tour operators. it is a network of content creators and people who provide their know-how.”
They have done pedelec adventure tours through Mongolia, Morocco, Iceland and the United States, and Susanne sees this part of her work as a way of inspiring people about how much fun electric bikes can be today.
Because of her impressive e-bike experience, and vast network of role-players within the industry, Breusch was asked to address TAITRA via live stream on September 23rd. She stated emphatically that she believes this is truly a golden age for pedelecs. She also said that Corona virus has resulted in a series of important shifts in society with regards to cycling, the effects of which will be evident for many years to come, so industry insiders need to position themselves to capitalize on these opportunities.
Breusch’s presentation consisted of three parts, the first section gave an overview of what’s happening in the European, especially the German, bicycle and e-bike market. The second part was a look at the cycling-related effects of the Corona Virus and a prediction of which effects will remain. The final part elaborated on ideas for how the Taiwanese industry can participate in this e-bike boom and benefit from it.
The Corona kickstart
As background, Breusch explained that Germany is now the biggest market in Europe with 1.36 million electric bikes sold. This is just over a third of the 3.6 million e-bikes sold in Europe in 2019.
“Even before Corona Virus, Germany was a cycling nation,” said Breusch. “Maybe not as much as the Netherlands … but still 77 percent of 83 million german people use a bicycle every day for leisure and travel or for sports. Most of them use them in urban areas for everyday commuting, over half of them use them for leisure and almost every third German uses bicycles to do sports.”
While the Corona Virus has decimated certain sectors of the economy, the e-bike sector experienced the opposite.
“It was early March when it hit Germany and something very important happened. Corona turned out to be a big boost for bicycles in generals, and for e-bikes in particular. The University of Dresden found out that almost 50 percent of people cycle longer and more often since the Corona virus has been around,” said Breusch.
“People got scared of mass transport and wanted to keep social distance and cycling really helped them to do so. Furthermore, many people lost their jobs due to lockdowns or were afraid of losing their businesses … so they were looking for ways to save money and move (around) in a more economical way. Bicycles help them to do so,” she elaborated.
The lockdown’s effects on traffic also worked in the bicycle market’s favor as it removed another barrier to entry: fear.
“During the lockdown, everybody stayed at home in their home office or got homeschooling. Even universities went digital. The roads were empty and in cities across Europe pop-up cycle lanes appeared for people to use and many people who did not cycle before got inspired and chose the bicycle as their way to move around during these times. We call them ‘pop-up cyclists’,” she said.
Bicycles also became an important outlet for people to escape the monotony of lockdowns, as well as exercise.
“Flights were cancelled. Borders were closed and people could not travel or go on vacation anymore, so tourism started to focus on local recreation areas. Fitness centers were closed and swimming pools were closed but people still wanted to to exercise, so they started doing cycle trips from home. Cycle trips were popular before, but they have become even more popular now,” said Breusch.
The e-bike explosion
This combination of factors led to the unprecedented increase in demand.
“All of a sudden there was an exploding marked demand in bicycles and e-bikes and manufacturers (were) sold out for the whole of next year by August. This has never happened in the bicycle industry. Dealers are experiencing the best business of their lifetime right now,” said Breusch.
Unlike many other industries which have had to slash prices to entice customers into their stores during the pandemic, “most dealers are sold out of everything without even giving discounts,” she added.
“If you want to go and buy a bicycle today you have to make an appointment. If you have a flat tire and you want to have it fixed you have to make an appointment because bicycle dealers are so busy that you have to wait for weeks or months. Basically, Corona put the market demand where we expected it to be in 10 years. The market has made a huge leap forward thanks to Corona,” explained Breusch.
However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing, because while demand spiked because of the pandemic, it also caused production to slow. Breusch highlighted the challenges that the industry needs to overcome to profit from this boom.
“The lockdowns interrupted the supply chains, so some manufacturers have had difficulties getting parts and building the bikes. They can’t meet the market demand, not only because supply chains are interrupted, but because they just can’t manufacture enough and the major bottlenecks at the moment are frames and drive systems,” said Breusch
The new normal
In part two of her talk, Breusch looked at the impact that the global pandemic will have on society, with regards to bicycles. According to her, using bicycles and e-bikes to move around cities will be the new normal with the advent of social distancing as well as many people studying and working at home.
“It has already changed the way we move in cities. There’s a bigger demand for social space, there’s less community, and less commuting. This increases the leisure time that people have and that they can spend outside,” she said.
The result is a change in the types of trips that people are taking and thus the types of transport that they use, the effects of which could be far-reaching.
“People enjoyed it when the roads were empty and free of cars. I think in the future we will see more car-free city centers and more limitations on cars in order to enhance the quality of life in our cities,” said Breusch.
Boom; not doom and gloom
Indeed, according to Breusch the e-bike boom is just starting.
“It seems that the whole e-bike development is just at its beginning. Corona has given it a huge push but I think that there’s still huge undiscovered potential. There was an interesting study by Shimano that came out just last month which says every fifth person person in Europe is thinking about buying or using an electric bike this year,” she said, “and 22% of those people are not active cyclists, so there’s a whole new target group waiting to be considered and waiting to be delivered with bicycles, and electric bikes, in particular.”
The Shimano study also looked at several different reasons why people switch to e-bikes and found they were fairly evenly split.
“The major reason is that they like to do longer distances and to climb steeper hills. 32% of the 13,000 people who participated in this study gave this answer. 30% said they want to ride an electric bike for physical health and another 30% said they want to ride an electric bike because it is less effort,” noted Breusch.
Breusch further illustrated that the e-bike market is booming and will continue to do so. Across Europe, the number of people interested in buying or using an e-bike has increased since last year. Germany has seen a 10% increase, while Switzerland, Poland and The Netherlands have increased by 26%. Italy is also up by 30%, indicating “dynamic market development”.
Breusch explained why the increase was less in Germany than other countries.
“In Germany the development is comparably less dynamic because Germany is the most developed electric bike market in Europe, so we have left the stage of the early adopters and we are now in the stage of the early majority,” she said.
Across the continent, the main market drivers are leisure and family cycling, led by Germany.
“In Germany, almost every third person wants to use an electric bike to do just that. 28% said they want to use an electric bike for travel and commuting, 16% for sports and fitness, and 11% for carrying heavy loads,” she said.
Breusch sees this interest in leisure cycling as an opportunity for the tourism industry to recover, while adding another avenue of expansion for the e-bike industry.
“Cycling tourism still works. 76% of German tourists don’t plan to travel anywhere this year but the people who have been planning a cycle trip are sticking to their plans because it is still possible, at least in their home country, and 30% of bicycle tourists use e-bikes,” she said.
Time to specialize
In the third and final section Breusch focused on how the Taiwanese industry can benefit from what is happening in Europe right now.
“These are golden times for the-bike industry. There’s a huge demand and the industry can’t meet the demand, so there is a common effort necessary to catch up with this exploding market demand,” she said.
In the short term, the industry can address the production issues like the lack of frames and drive systems, however, Breusch believes there is an opportunity for Taiwanese companies to work with European partners in order to offer products suited to the increasingly specific use cases of consumers.
“This is a unique chance for the Taiwanese industry to closely cooperate with European partners and to think about custom products. Companies need to focus on what every customer really needs, rather than trying to make a ‘one product fits all’ e-bike. The market in Europe now is so diversified and manufacturers can’t or don’t want to make the whole spectrum (of e-bikes) so they optimize and perfect their products for certain applications,” she said.
Another potential benefit of the pandemic can be from the relocation of production facilities as a result of Corona Virus.
“Companies realize that maybe production in Taiwan (or other countries far from Europe) may not be such a good idea anymore and they’re looking into relocating their production plans, especially to Eastern Europe. So if a Taiwanese partner is very closely involved with the companies in Europe they can participate in this relocation of production facilities, be part of it and also benefit from it,” said Breusch.
Cycling will return bigger
“We have golden times but we also have big challenges and by working together-by really getting involved with each other-we can make a big leap together. I would like to quote Hans Neupert, the president of Extra Energy, based in Germany who said, “Europe will see a cycle revival thanks to the electric bicycle technology transforming market acceptance of the bicycle in general”. So cycling will return to Europe bigger than ever before and that is something for all of us to really work on together.”