The market for e-bicycles has historically been one of relative commonality, with bikes available in limited segments focused mainly in the comfort and commuter segments. However, that has changed in the last couple of years, with 2013 marking a significant broadening of product segments available. In Europe, sportive, mountain, and folding e-bikes have all grown in availability, and now the fat bike niche within a niche of the mountain bike market has also hit the e-bike market in a big way (pun intended). In the United States, the significantly smaller e-bike market is anticipated to reach about 72,000 units in 2014, which means that companies have struggled to find one or two silver bullet-type products and are now shifting to something more analogous to buckshot to cover the market.
To wit, enter an entirely new e-bike segment spawned within the last 2 months: the all-in-one e-bike wheel. In October and November, the U.S. e-bike market has seen three companies break into the all-in-one e-bike wheel: Belon Engineering with Currie, which is available now, and two start-ups: FlyKly’s Smart Wheel and Copenhagen Wheel, which will be available in early 2014.
Basically, these products all offer batteries and motors contained in the center hub of the wheel, allowing traditional bicycles to be easily converted to e-bikes without the necessity of running electronics or connecting separate battery packs in racks. The all-in-one solution is designed to make it very simple for consumers to convert any old bike into an e-bike without having to go through the conversion process.
The all-in-one e-bike wheel has been under development for a while. In 2009, the Copenhagen Wheel was introduced as a concept by MIT students and acquired by Superpedestrian. Then, in 2010, FlyKly began work on the Smart Wheel, which had a very successful kickstarter campaign. A Taiwanese firm, DKCity, began marketing an all-in-one wheel in Europe and Asia in 2012 (while it’s supposedly available in the United States, I’ve been unable to locate one available for retail purchase). In Italy, ZeHus has been working on a similar electric assist wheel since 2010, launching in early 2014.
Certainly the simplicity of the design is attractive, but in the end, the rear wheel designs of the FlyKly and Superpedestrian may prove frustrating for those running gears or who want disc brakes. The front wheel design of the 19-pound Currie Electron wheel is likely to have a significant impact on the handling of the bike (though I have yet to ride one) but leaves gearing unaffected. However, estimating the sales potential is challenging; FlyKly’s kickstarter has sold about 1,000 of the wheels starting at $550. The Copenhagen Wheel claims to have had 14,000 inquiries since first announced in 2009 and now expects products to be available within 60 days. Meanwhile, Currie’s Electron Wheel went on sale on November 18 for $999.
A Niche of a Niche
To me, it seems the all-in-one wheel market is likely yet another niche within a niche. The niche of consumers who are inclined to convert their traditional bikes to e-bikes will find this attractive, and this may grow as consumers who wouldn’t normally convert a bike will consider one of these for the flexibility of reverting back to a traditional bike. However, at the price points these wheels sell at (I’d expect the $650-$1,100 price point is potentially profitable), the market for compromise e-bike products is not likely more than a niche. But in a small market, anything like this that can expand upon the 72,000 e-bikes expected to sell next year should be viewed as a positive. Perhaps even more encouraging, these products seem likely a stepping stone into more costly, better riding, ground-up designed e-bikes. If I were FlyKly or Superpedestrian, I’d be planning that product expansion rather quickly.
Tags: Clean Transportation, Electric Bicycles, Electric Vehicles, Smart Transportation Program
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