E-bike sales broke a new record in Switzerland last year. 111’000 pieces have been sold in 2018. That’s 1/3 of all cycles sold over a year.
It is a pretty dramatic growth rate. Nearly 30% more sales compared to the previous year, which was already very good. 50% in off-road bikes. Does this mean that Switzerland is retooling fast?
The Swiss market is catching up with other European countries. Especially, the Netherlands. Because there, there are more bikes than residents. There are 1,3 bikes per Dutchman. And electric assistance bicycles have has just taken over in sales last year.
Electric bikes seem less useful if the terrain is flat. This is true, but an e-bike helps to make a phone call or send messages while pedaling, for example. Although that also increases the risk of accident, obviously. Last year, fatal bicycle accidents increased significantly in the country. As car accidents decreased.
And dangers of the electric scooters… Especially for pedestrians. But it does not slow down the progression of two-wheeled vehicles, bicycles or scooters. They clearly appear as the most massive phenomenon in the evolution of mobility in recent years.
Even car manufacturers are interested. And not only Peugeot, which has been producing bikes since long ago. And electric bikes today of course. In the United States, the General Motors group announced a month ago that it would develop its own brand of electric bikes.
Harley Davidson is interested as well. Its customers are aging, we keep saying it. So the Harley Davidson brand announced in recent days that it was taking over an electric bike manufacturer for … children. A way to educate future customers early on the brand.
And Harley also wants to become a pioneer of the electric bike. Because it is the motorcycle-scooter segment that is today the least developed in the electric. For battery issues especially. But that is precisely what is changing.
Swiss e-bike brands develop fast
Some high-end Swiss brands are present and some models cost more than 3,000 francs. But Swiss bicycles represent barely 1/8 of sales. There is the Bern based brand Stromer, which was taken over by BMC from Solothurn. Leonardo di Caprio is said to have a Stromer bike. And BMC has around 20,000 bikes sold each year.
Or Trefecta, which is a high-end tech firm, based in Zug. The legendary Neuchâtel brand Allegro also relaunched a few years ago, now in Zurich. And the ski manufacturer Stöckli has recently announced that he will get into e-bikes. We feel that the potential is far from being exhausted. In urban models, cyclo-tourism, mountain biking, folding bicycles. And even the racing bikes.
Cargo e-bikes are becoming increasingly popular
Carvelo2go startup, for example, is actively cooperating with the municipal authorities of the city of Basel and local companies.
Already more than 15,000 people are registered on the online platform carvelo2go, which rents electric cargo bikes. Electric power makes easy to carry goods weighing up to 100 kg. Travel distance on one charge is up to 60 km, which is more than enough for local trips.
The infrastructure of the city of Basel plays an important role in this new service. City authorities have been cooperating with the carvelo2go since 2016. Thanks to this cooperation, parking spaces for bicycles and bike paths along the traffic routes are expanding. As a result, currently, in Basel and surrounding municipalities, more than 2,000 people are actively using cargo electric bicycles. The average age of riders is 39.6 years, split between men and women is 60/40%.
One can rent a cargo e-bike for an hour or a day. Small companies, as well as post offices, handle rent and return of cargo e-bikes. These hosts control e-bike keys and charge batteries. In return, they can advertise their products and services on the cargo box and use e-bikes for their own purposes for 25 hours each month.
On the other hand, a survey of inactive carvelo2go users showed that the main criterion that influenced their decision not to use the service on a regular basis was their safety concerns. As well as the fact that they have other vehicles in their disposal.
A large percentage of registered carvelo2go users plan to increase the number of regular trips.
Mountain e-bikes take their share
Sales of electric mountain bikes doubled in 2018, without necessarily having a negative impact on traditional bike sales. “There are certainly some customers who buy an electric mountain bike model or an electric bike instead of a normal bike, but others rediscover the bike or the mountain bike thanks to this new electrical possibility”, underlines the spokesman of the network for soft mobility Suissemobile Lukas Stadtherr Tuesday in La Matinale.
A revolution for mountain tourism?
He notes that sports shops rent and sell more and more electric bikes. “For most stores, this now represents 50% of rentals, and especially mountain electric bikes. For us, it becomes a flagship activity, we develop more and more, and we think that this new business is going, to a certain extent, revolutionize mountain tourism. ” Verbier will also be organizing the first eBike Festival next August.
Sales of electric bikes is certainly not a bad business for the region. An e-bike costs on average 3500 Swiss francs, which is nearly three times more than a traditional bike.
Mountain e-bikes further complicate cohabitation in the mountains
The cohabitation in the mountains will become more complicated with the rise of the electric mountain bike. And there are different proposals on how to handle this growing concern.
The question comes back in the middle of the summer and while electric mountain bikes are experiencing unprecedented growth: their sales doubled last year in Switzerland.
The interest to e-mountain bikes has clearly democratized access to the mountains: with electric assistance, the mountains are accessible easier and by more people. And, to take this one step further, this poses an increased risk for the hikers.
Thierry Largey, who is in charge of the region, sees that such conflicts are likely to intensify if we do not do anything about it. “We certainly have not sufficiently anticipated the needs, whether it is an electric bike or another mode of transportation”, he notes.
Separate user flows
If we look for the next ten or twenty years, what will be the needs and how do we need to organize the territory? For Thierry Largey, this is something that local politicians need to have their say on: ” we will create separate routes for mountain e-bikers, for sportsmen, for families, etc., so that everyone finds a place.”
For Thierry Largey, we need to separate different activities and make them have their own flows to avoid interfering with each other. But Pauline Picchio, who conducted a study last year on the cohabitation between hikers and mountain bikers in the Verbier / Val de Bagnes region, has a different opinion.
“A lot of people think that the mountains belong to everyone. They consider it normal to have shared paths between all users,” she says. “I think the challenge is to intensify communication with all users of the mountains in the region, to educate mountain bikers to control their speed, to stop and set foot on the ground when they meet hikers.”
Pauline Picchio also believes that an important aspect is to clearly inform users about their rights. “It is still not totally clear and there is too much talk around this subject.” As mountain bikers do have the right to use pedestrian mountain trails if this is not specifically prohibited on certain trails.
Banned on some trails
The most popular electric mountain bike models are those that drive at less than 25 km / h. Faster e-bikes, which can reach 45 km / h, are considered as motorized vehicles and are therefore prohibited on some trails.
“The market and the industry have realized that fast electric bikes could pose a problem for example in terms of coexistence with hiking and other users on the trails,” says Lukas Stadtherr.
But the electric mountain bike sector is also a new tourist attraction in the region. “We now have nine terminals to recharge e-bike batteries, so one can move easily by electric bike throughout the town as well as in the mountains,” says the director of Verbier Promotion, Pierre-Andre Gremaud.