When two French inventors added a steam engine to a bicycle frame at the end of the nineteenth century, it helped kickstart the motorcycle industry.
One can argue (and many do) if the steam-powered velocipede deserves to be called the first motorcycle, and if Messrs Michaux and Perreaux deserve the credit. The point is the connection between motor bike and pedal bike is genetic. But is the connection also economic? Asked another way: Should powersports dealers sell e-bicycles?
Perhaps, but it depends. We spoke with several interested professionals: powersports dealers currently selling e-bikes, distributors of parts and accessories, e-bike manufacturers, and accessories makers.
Are people buying e-bikes?
Quantifying the e-bike industry today is difficult. But one fact is clear: The industry is big. Our estimates show more than 200 manufacturers of electronic bicycles; that includes all the major bike manufacturers such as Giant, Trek, and Specialized, plus small independent builders.
Bicycling magazine estimates that Americans purchased more than 880,000 e-bikes in 2021, up from an estimated 450,000 in 2020. The Light Electric Vehicle Association predicts that 2022 sales topped more than 1 million e-bikes in the U.S. alone. And the European market for e-bikes is even larger.
The U.S. powersports market, meanwhile, tallied slightly more than 700,000 vehicle sales in 2022 (not counting UTVs), according to the MIC. And that’s slightly lower than 2021.
In 2022, more than 4,000 residents of Denver, Colorado redeemed 4,734 e-bike rebates valued between $300 and $1,200. The popularity of this free money continued into January 2023. The first rebate offering of this year was so popular that Denverites snatched up the available rebates in about 20 minutes. The city’s Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency plans five more rebate offerings this year. Any bike dealer in the city can register.
In 2021, Vermont passed a transportation bill that includes incentives for a wide range of EVs, including pedal-assist bicycles. This was the first statewide e-bike program in the U.S. Oregon followed Vermont’s lead, and New York may do the same. Some California residents can get assistance with e-bike purchases.
What does all this mean for motorcycle dealers? Powersports Business attended both the Parts Unlimited NVP Product Expo (Jan. 2023), and the larger AIMExpo powersports tradeshow (Feb. 2023). Several companies at both events featured e-bicycles and related goods, and at AIMExpo, e-bikes were everywhere.
At both of these events, I spoke with Jon-Erik Burleson, executive chairman of Intense Bicycles, the e-bikes distributed by Parts Unlimited. When we sat down at AIMExpo, it was our second conversation on the e-bikes-and-motorsports topic, and he suggested we may be experiencing “tulip mania.” This socio-economic principle describes an economic bubble, when enthusiasm over price outpaces actual value, and it applies beyond just pricing.
The idea originated in the 1600s with a speculative bubble around tulip prices in the Netherlands. Burleson said we are experiencing a bit of tulip mania with e-bikes in powersports, at least with the attention the products are getting (is he talking about me?). Tulips or not, e-bikes and bicycling accessories are taking root in the powersports marketplace.
“We are in our third full year in the market,” says Jeff Derge, VP of sales for Parts Unlimited, when we talked after the Parts NVP event. “The segment just continues to grow as the powersports OEMs deliver new product – Yamaha, Husqvarna, Gas Gas, and more. It’s part of the powersports market now.”
According to Derge, Parts Unlimited began looking closely at the e-bike market back in 2017. He kept noticing signs of e-bike growth. At EICMA, the international powersports event in Europe, he saw e-bikes at the show and in the cities. At GNCC races, sponsored by Specialized Bicycles, motorcycle racers pre-run on e-bikes. “That is thousands of our customers racing and riding,” he says.