September 21, 2013
BICYCLE fairs come thick and fast at the end of summer in Europe. Eurobike closed on August 31st in Friedrichshafen, Germany; the Salon du Cycle in Paris on September 16th. And how the market is changing: for all the hype over the latest rugged mountain bike, the whirr of electrically assisted wheels is clearly audible. Although electric cars have struggled to gain purchase (their sticker price is unalluring and they stop dead if not recharged), sales of cycles using batteries to augment a rider’s own efforts are growing quickly. Faster ones with more sophisticated electronic controls, a bit like those popular in China, may also be gaining ground.
In the Netherlands one bicycle in six sold is an e-bike. In Germany the cycle industry expects electric-bike sales to grow by 13% this year, to 430,000 (the most sold in any European country), and to account for 15% of the market before long. In France sales of traditional bicycles fell by 9% in 2012 while those of e-bikes grew by 15%.
E-bikes are catching on as people move to cities and add concern about pollution and parking to worry over petrol prices and global warming. Frank Jamerson, who produces the Electric Bikes Worldwide Reports, estimates sales at around 34m this year and perhaps 40m in 2015. China buys most of them and makes even more, with European sales of 1.5m in second place.
So it seems strange that there is not yet a large-scale e-bike-rental scheme in Europe like Vélib, the non-electric bicycle-hire programme started in Paris in 2007, or Autolib, the electric-car version launched in 2011. One of several small trials suggests the limits of the genre.
Monaco began testing an electric-bike-rental scheme in 2010, increasing it to ten stations and 55 cycles now. It works, says Roland de Rechniewski, head of the bus company that runs it, because theft and vandalism of the sort that bedevilled Vélib in its early days is largely thwarted by the principality’s police. Clean Energy Planet, the French firm that helps Monaco run the scheme, hopes that Luxembourg, no doubt similarly secure, will sign a contract in the coming months. But a big e-bike scheme for Paris still looks some way off.