E-bikes are booming (again)

(Bloomberg) — The Pedego Electric Bike store in St. Louis normally closes for the month of February because there aren’t enough sales to justify keeping it open through the winter. This year, with an unusually high number of phone calls, it reopened early. February turned out to be a “month-long bonanza” at the store, according to Pedego CEO Don DiCostanzo, who oversees the e-bike brand’s 208 dealerships in North America. “We’re seeing a big increase in orders well ahead of the season,” DiCostanzo says. “Every month there is another record.”

Although he can’t prove it, DiCostanzo is convinced that rising fuel prices are driving sales. “I’m not going to tell you it’s all about the fuel,” he said. “But I absolutely believe it acts as a catalyst to get more people to consider other means of transportation.”

Other e-bike brands and dealers in the US are telling a similar story: Sales are growing faster than expected, beyond the already high expectations set by a pandemic boom. While the cause is hard to pinpoint — easing pandemic restrictions and getting back to work may play a role — most point to fuel prices as a contributing factor.

“I spend most of my day talking to people who are either importers, brand managers, or retailers of e-bikes,” says Ed Benjamin, founder and president of the Light Electric Vehicle Association. “And they’re already telling me that people are coming and asking and buying e-bikes as personal transportation.”

At Dutch e-bike maker VanMoof, sales in recent weeks have been twice as high as the company’s forecast. “We attribute this to rising gas prices,” VanMoof co-founder and CEO Taco Carlier said in an email.

Gregg’s Cycle, one of the Seattle-area’s largest bicycle retailers, just had its best February since opening in 1932. “It was across the board, but e-bikes made up a big percentage of that,” says longtime chief executive Marty Pluth. “I think it was the result of the fuel increases.”

Seattle e-bike startup Rad Power Bikes asks customers at checkout why they buy. A growing number, according to co-founder and CEO Mike Radenbaugh, cite rising fuel prices. “Just as the desire for safe, socially distanced transportation has created another consumer class for e-bikes, so have rising fuel prices are doing the same thing,” says Radenbaugh. “It superimposes growth on top of already rapid growth.”

Electric scooter and e-bike sharing companies are also feeling the lift. Earlier this week, Bird Global founder and CEO Travis VanderZanden said gas prices were helping to drive demand in the first quarter of this year. The company said it plans to unveil an ad campaign with the slogan “Give the bird the gas,” including billboards in Times Square in New York and San Francisco, in the coming days. Bird’s main competitor Lime, which operates in more than 50 US cities, says the number of trips taken on its scooters and bicycles increased by almost two-thirds in February compared to a year ago.

For some, the frenzy is reminiscent of the Bike Boom of the early 1970s, when U.S. sales more than doubled in the space of four years, driven at least in part by gas price shocks. “History repeats itself,” says DiCostanzo, who at the time worked pumping gasoline.

Admittedly, the situation was then more serious, with rationing and long queues at gas stations. “The breakneck pace of bike sales during the Bike Boom had people thinking, ‘I won’t have transportation,'” says Benjamin of LEVA, who at the time worked assembling Schwinn bikes in Louisville, Kentucky. This time around, buyers just want to save money.

“People are looking to avoid high fuel prices right now,” says Radenbaugh, “What are their options? not very inclusive.

©2022 Bloomberg LP

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