2020 saw a boom in bike sales as people around the world tried to find a workable solution to the problems of commuting and exercising in a pandemic.1 We look at the growing market for e-bikes.

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While it is estimated there are around one billion bikes being used around the world, this figure is overwhelmed by the 1.5 billion automobiles in operation.2 However, Denmark is one place where this statistic is reversed. In 2016, Copenhagen announced there were now more bikes than cars on its streets and, today, nine out of ten citizens own a bike but only four out of ten own an automobile.3

When buying a new bicycle, consumers are increasingly choosing an e-bike. In the Netherlands, e-bikes account for over 68% of new bike sales. In the UK, a country traditionally seen as a slow adopter of e-bike technology, one retailer is predicting sales of 1.5 million in just ten cities by 2050. They currently sell between 50,000 and 60,000 e-bikes, from total bike sales of roughly three million.4

History of the E-Bike

We may think the e-bike is a new phenomenon, but it is not. The first e-bike patent was taken out by Ogden Bolton Jr. on December 31, 1895. It was for a battery-powered electric bicycle with a “6-pole brush-and-commutator direct current (DC) hub motor mounted in the rear wheel.”5 This was soon followed by a second patent from Ms. Hosea W. Libbey in 1897.6

However, these early e-bikes did not catch on and it was not until the 1990s that the market for e-bikes began to grow. The first prototypes were built by Yamaha in 1989 and in 1993 they invented the pedal-assist system. Between 1993 and 2004, worldwide production grew by 35%, and is still growing.7

Driving this market expansion has been advances in battery technology. Reductions in size and improvement in performance have made the technology more attractive to a larger group of consumers, especially in urban environments. Today, most e-bikes are pedal-assisted, accounting for roughly 88.36% of all global sales.8

Adoption of the e-bike has been global, with China leading the way. In 2013, it produced 37 million e-bikes but sold 32 million within the country.9 By comparison, in the same year, Europe purchased 1.8 million, Japan 440,000, and the US just 185,000 e-bikes. Europe has since shown considerable growth, 500% between 2009 and 2018, and North America is beginning to catch up. Africa and South America remain slow to adopt e-bike technology.10

Advantages of E-Bikes

Disparities in adoption rates can be attributed to cost, the perception of e-bikes, and the purpose for which the bike is purchased. In countries where cycling is primarily considered a sport or leisure pursuit, adoption rates have generally been lower. In countries where cycling is considered a normal form of transportation, adoption rates have been higher. In Copenhagen, where most citizens use bikes to get to work, 49% felt that it got them to work quicker. On average, e-bikes have been found to be 21% faster than traditional bikes.11 

Getting to work quicker is just one of the reasons people give for choosing an e-bike. Others include:

  • Replacing a car journey
  • Riding over a hill
  • Riding with less effort
  • Increasing fitness
  • Help with a medical condition
  • Keeping up with family and friends12

Fitness and general health are two important reasons why consumers have begun to use e-bikes. The COVID-19 pandemic has made everyone more aware of their health, with many choosing the e-bike as a good way to get fitter. While the serious cyclist has traditionally dismissed e-bikes, leisure cycling for fitness has become an important pursuit for a new demographic during lockdowns. Importantly, the myth around fitness has also been debunked and, although the effects may take longer to achieve, e-biking does improve fitness and oxygen intake, and increase maximal power output.13 At a time when many of us have been restricted to our homes, it is also important not to underestimate the positive effects of riding a bike in the open air.  

Moving Forward

The next generation of e-bikes will be lighter, cheaper and have better performance. The old, heavy lead-acid battery is being replaced with the lighter Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. In 2016, 80% of e-bikes used lead-acid batteries but it is predicted 60% will use Li-ion batteries by 2023.14

The e-bike is here to stay. The convenience, added to the health and environmental benefits, mean consumers are beginning to choose e-bikes not only as an alternative to traditional bicycles but also as an alternative to the automobile. To succeed in this growing market, manufacturers need to understand the needs of the consumer and ensure they bring a high-quality, performance product to the marketplace. 

SGS solution 

SGS offers a comprehensive range of testing services to help manufacturers deliver high-quality bicycles and e-bikes to markets around the world. In addition to full bike testing, we can test accessories (locks, carriers, child seats), safety equipment (helmets, gloves, eye protectors, high visibility clothing), and bicycle components. 

Utilizing a global network of testing facilities, we ensure e-bikes and components conform to the safety and performance standards of the target market. Our solutions are cost-effective and simplify the process to market for manufacturers. After all, it’s only trusted because it’s tested.

Discover more about our E-Bike Testing Services.

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For more information, please contact:  

Piyush Shah
Technical Director (Hardlines)
Connectivity & Products
t: +1 (973) 461-7953

Vanessa Lin
Global E-Bike Manager
Hardlines
t: +886 (02) 2299-3939

References

1 Bike Shortages Will Likely Last Until Next Year, and Possibly into 2022 & The great bicycle boom of 2020 
2 Bike Statistics & Facts Of 2021 
3 Two-wheel takeover: bikes outnumber cars for the first time in Copenhagen & Bike Statistics & Facts Of 2021 
4 Serious growth in e-bike sales predicted by 2050 
5 Electrical bicycle (US552271A) 
6 Electric bicycle (US596272A) 
7 E-Bike Facts & Statistics for 2021 
8 E-Bike Facts & Statistics for 2021  
9 The Global E-bike Market 
10 E-Bike Facts & Statistics for 2021 
11 E-Bike Facts & Statistics for 2021 
12 E-Bike Facts & Statistics for 2021 
13 E-Bike myths debunked: 6 common misconceptions about electric assistance 
14 E-Bike Facts & Statistics for 2021