"The new normal" Will all bikes be electric in future?
News from the Netherlands today that the electric bike market is an ever-expanding part of the bicycle industry there.
In fact, for the first time anywhere in the world, electric bikes are the biggest category by value of all bicycles sold there. In 2018, the bicycle market was worth €1.22 billion in the Netherlands of which €823 million, or two-thirds of the total! Two out of every three Euros spent on bikes there was spent on electric bikes. Let that sink in!
Overall market share for e-bikes (the number of bikes being sold) jumped from 31% to 40%. The bicycle market as a whole grew by nearly 6%, while the electric bike share grew by 25%.
- Two out of every five bikes bought in the Netherlands 2017-2018 were electric bikes
- €1.22 billion was spent on bicycles as a whole
- Of that total, two-thirds or €823 million was spent on electric bikes
With that rate of increase talk of electric bikes being the "new normal" is justified and is expected in 10 to 12 years at this rate. There were warning that the e-bike market was saturated only a couple of years ago, but the latest figures clearly show that this was far from the case.
So why is the electric bike market overtaking pedal cycles?
Pedal cycle sales are being eaten into by bike sharing schemes. Why buy a new bike if you can ride one on demand for only a few Euros at a time? So as e-bike sales accelerate, regular bike sales are slowing.
At the same time, more and more people understand the benefits that electric bikes offer. They're many and varied. E-bikes are faster, they can be used on established cycle routes, they allow the rider to carry shopping and children, they're great in headwinds and uphill. They make cycling make sense whatever your level of fitness or experience.
Riding a bike only feels as good as you do
If you're tired, ill or in a bad mood for whatever reason (perhaps the weather) cycling can be a bore and a chore. Electric cycling is less prone to how you're feeling as the assistance you enjoy is not limited by your legs or stamina.
They're cheaper to run than rival vehicles like cars, scooters and motorcycles. They offer greater freedom and security than public transport. They're fun, they can be exhilarating and they're an example of technology at its best.
So that's great for the Dutch. But what about here in the UK? Can we expect electric bikes to become the new normal?
Well, there's no difference in the bikes on offer in the UK. Our electric bikes offer the same power, range and accessories as any you can buy in the Netherlands.
The difference is in mentality and cycling infrastructure
Cycling is a central part of living in the Netherlands. Most people cycle everywhere, riding to school with their kids, commuting to work, enjoying a night out or loading up their bikes with shopping.
It's in their culture and their towns and cities are designed around cycling. Wasn't always this way, there was a period after the War when the Netherlands look likely to follow the UK and make cars king.
Your regular reminder that the Netherlands wasn't always great for cycling, that streets can be changed, that car dominance can be reversed.
Folkingestraat in Groningen, facing south from Korenbeurs
— The Alternative DfT (@AlternativeDfT) March 5, 2019
But there was a change in thinking a couple of generations ago that reversed it. Roads were torn up and replaced with cycle routes in cities like Groningen and Utrecht, a process that continues to this day.
What are the chances of this ever happening in the UK?
Never say never. It's not looking likely that the UK will become in a cycling nirvana, where people are happy and choose to cycle more than they drive, not now at least.
But things can change quickly. Car ownership looks set to plummet over the next decade as fuel and running costs rise and the younger generation abandons ever getting a driving licence or buying a car.
At the same time there is more interest in making cities more friendly for cyclists. London has seen many new cycle routes emerge (not always very good or welcomed by other road users) and other cities are banning cars from city centres.
E-Bikes are helping the British rediscover cycling
We see people who are considering cycling again for the first time in decades because e-bikes clearly offer something different, attractive and exciting. Something that has the broadest appeal and will get millions of us back on the saddle.
Cycling on a pedal cycle can be dreary at times but riding an electric bike is almost always a lot of fun. Don't let anybody tell you riding an electric bike is cheating. If the Netherlands is anything to go by, electric bikes have the power to make Britain one of the great cycling nations once again.