In a class all their own

March 20, 2017

Kimberly Kinchen, business network writer

It’s no secret that U.S. e-bike sales have been climbing steadily for the last few years. But in 2016, those sales rose high enough to propel the bikes into their own stand-alone category. According to the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association (BPSA), the number of e-bikes sold jumped 51 percent between January 2016 and September 2016 over the same period in 2015. Year-to-date, total sales increased 40 percent, from just under $16.8 million to $28.1 million. Previously, sales data folded e-bikes into the “Other” category.

Why the jump? Much of it can be attributed to people who see e-bikes as a way to cut down or eliminate driving. “The biggest growth areas are in transportation and everyday bicycling—e-bikes are allowing people who don’t typically bicycle to do so with more ease and convenience, and allowing people to go by bike instead of by car,” says Morgan Lommele, e-bikes campaigns manager for PeopleForBikes.  

The robust U.S. e-bike market makes some past industry predictions of 15 percent annual growth look conservative. The trend is global: previous forecasts considered highly optimistic suggested e-bikes would grow to a $13.2 billion dollar global market by 2018. But worldwide sales in 2016 were on track to hit almost $16 billion, and that’s despite the cooling of the Chinese market.

Clear and fair laws will be critical if e-bikes are to continue their breakout sales pace. Many laws still treat e-bikes like much more powerful scooters or mopeds; model legislation helps reclassify low-speed e-bikes to reflect that they are more similar to human-powered bikes. In 2016, PeopleForBikes and BPSA won just such legislation in California, Utah, and Tennessee. 2017 is off to a good start, too: a three-class e-bike bill in Arizona passed the Senate and will go to the House in early spring. Other bills are pending in New York, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and South Carolina.

As more people consider bicycles as a solution to their transportation problems, as battery capacity increases while size decreases and brands better assess what customers want and need, it looks like e-bikes will only continue to extend their range and make the climb look easy.

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