Have you ever pedalled uphill, sweaty and breathless, only to be overtaken by someone effortlessly speeding past in a comfortably upright position – and wondered in frustration how that was possible? It may have been Margareta Olsson, Event Coordinator at Group Communications in Stockholm. After all, she belongs to the growing number of people who have bought an electrically powered bicycle (e-bike).
“It’s a great feeling to whizz past guys in lycra who think they are fast,” says Olsson.
She is not alone. Sales of e-bikes are currently growing throughout northern Europe – while sales of pedal bikes are declining. In the Netherlands, the European country where cycling is most widespread, sales of e-bikes rose by over nine per cent last year. Almost every fifth bicycle sold there now has an electric motor. In Germany, over 400,000 new electric bikes were sold in 2013, and there are now a total of 1.6 million of them in the country. And in Sweden, interest is picking up so fast that manufacturers have problems to keep up.
“We have actually had a hard time meeting the demand. More and more people see e-bikes as an alternative to a second car. They are easy to get to work on, and you can switch off the motor on the way home and train if you want,” says Ulrik Bengtsson, Product Manager at bicycle manufacturer Crescent.
Today, electric bikes record the highest growth rate in the industry in all customer segments. Several years ago, it was typically older people who wanted an electrically assisted bicycle. Today, commuters are the fastest growing group.
“Many people are interested, and ask what it’s like to ride and how things like charging work. I have a 12-kilometre commute, and used to take my car. Now I can get my exercise without breaking sweat. At the same time, I am benefiting the environment – at least when the weather is not too bad for cycling,” says Olsson.
A good e-bike currently costs from around 1,000 euros upwards. It is possible to buy a conversion kit on the Internet, but retrofitting a pedal bike involves risks, for instance the frame may not be up to it. A standard battery (Li-ion) lasts for a trip of about 30 kilometres: It is removable and can be charged indoors.