Will E-bikes ever be the norm?

Will E-bikes ever be the norm? VanMoof hopes so.

VanMoof, one of the hottest e-bike brands, hailing out of the Netherlands, is hoping to reshape urban transportation and is using big tech companies like Apple and Tesla as inspiration - just look at what can be seen across VanMoof’s sleek model designs and clean website branding - a nod to the large tech giants’ success.

The Netherlands is known as a bicycle heartland with sprawling pathways across its flat landscape, where bicycle-friendly traffic laws are enjoyed. By the age of 4, the Carlier brothers, Ties and Taco, were commuting with their parents at a time when many families didn’t even own cars.

Their heads were turned when they came to New York as adults. The brothers noticed that people commuted on their bicycles much different to how they did in the Dutch nation - avoiding the busy streets, hills, and weather conditions. They say: “Amsterdam is very small and flat, but most cities in the rest of the world are very hilly and can be really hot in the summer, and the distances are much further. But those limitations really change completely when you have electric bikes.”

The brothers had a revolutionary idea spark into life. Ever since, VanMoof has been earning respect and accolades from the entire bike scene. They were one of the biggest winners throughout the pandemic, and the simple and stylish designs of their bikes, with smart integration of technology - they have garnered a loyal and fast-growing customer base with aspirations for more.

Sales of the battery-powered bikes more than tripled during the pandemic (VanMoof estimates industry sales will hit $46 billion by 2026, double pre-pandemic predictions), a remarkable turn of events considering e-bikes were once considered ‘unreliable, ‘expensive,’ and ‘ugly’. They are now one of the fastest growing forms of urban transport.

Governments across the world are now seeing the bigger picture and are putting investment into infrastructure and production, with incentives for e-bike users, whilst also promoting the environmental benefits. Mr. Carlier said, “You have all the cities around the world investing in bicycle infrastructure, which is obviously a very good thing.”

In Paris, where roads are even more crowded with cyclists since the pandemic, the public can make us of bikes lanes and lower car speed limits. Not far away in Berlin, a cycling “superhighway” is under construction to span across the city, and in New York, where the USA’s largest urban bike networks is set up, ridership has gained such heights that even finding a place to park has become difficult.

The top-end and latest models of e-bikes can cost thousands of US dollars, potentially scaring off new customers - but bike manufacturers see battery-powered bikes as an alternative to public transport or even owning a car - a well-worth investment. The future success of these companies is dependent on convincing customers it’s worthwhile.

To bolster the positives on the public’s opinion, some models have further additions such as having security protection systems including GPS trackers, and warranty programs to replace stolen bikes, however; theft is still a major and unsolvable problem with no quick solution.

Another area for customer concern is maintenance. As the e-bike world grows, service areas for e-bikes will be established, but in the short-term, maintenance shops are few and far between, many customers still need to box up their bikes and have them sent to the company for a service.

Horace Dediu, a tech analyst who studies urban mobility says that this could be down to e-bikes “still being a niche product,” and that it reminds him of the cell phone market before it was “revolutionised by the iPhone”. He believes that one of the e-bike manufacturers will one day step up. VanMoof are in a strong position with their marketing and branding to do so.

Mr. Dediu adds that e-bikes have “the potential to help reshape urban transportation by giving people the ability to commute across town without the heavy exertion needed to climb a steep hill or race to a meeting”.