Navigant Research Blog

E-Bikes Pave the Way for German Bicycle Highways

— January 5, 2016

Germany recently opened its first 5 km (3 mile) bicycle highway, with plans set to expand the highway to over 100 km (62 miles) of track. Bicycle-only highways are more expansive and favorable to cyclists than simple bike paths; the highways are 4 meters (13 feet) wide, have several bike lanes, and are well lit and cleared of snow in the winter. Gone are the days of bicyclists dealing with irregular speed bumps, cars driving into bike lanes, and the startling situation of a bike lane merging with a bus lane.

Safer and Better for the Environment

In addition to serving as a much safer way for cyclists to commute, the German regional development group RVR estimates that the new bicycle tracks will remove 50,000 cars from the road every day—drastically reducing traffic jams and urban air pollution. Overall, the bicycle highway will connect 10 cities and four universities, running largely along unused railroad tracks. Nearly two million people live within a mile of the bicycle highway and will be able to use it for their daily commutes.

E-Bikes are Key to the Infrastructure Expansion

While Germany undoubtedly has a rich history of traditional bicycling, it is also the largest electric bicycle (e-bike) market in Europe, with 480,000 e-bikes sold in 2014 according to the trade association BOVAG. Sales of e-bikes are growing steadily, accounting for roughly 12% of all bicycle sales in Germany—with the e-bike market achieving 17% year-over-year growth in 2014 compared to 2013.

E-bikes help commuters travel longer distances and easily conquer hilly terrain; advantages that are helping more and more German commuters make the switch from cars to cycling. The high adoption rate of e-bikes in the country is contributing to the need for all cyclists to have more safe and private roadways for commuting. As most cities around the world search for ways to reduce the number of cars on the road, they can look to Germany for some basic best practices. Bicycle highways both incentivize and create the necessary infrastructure in order for bicycles and e-bikes to play a major role in urban mobility. Keep an eye out for the upcoming update to Navigant Research’s Electric Bicycles report for more on this topic.


Autonomous E-Bikes May Grow Ranks of Cycling Commuters

— September 3, 2015

Bicycling safety seems to be gradually improving, as the number of people cycling to work in the United States is growing significantly while fatalities have remained relatively unchanged.

According to the latest American Community Survey executed by the Census Bureau, the number of workers who cycle to work grew from 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 in the years 2008–2012, for a 60.8% increase. Cycling as the primary means of transportation grew to 0.6%, while travel by private motor vehicle remained dominant at 86%.

Unsurprisingly, bicycling to work is most popular in larger cities, with Portland, Oregon retaining its spot at the top in the United States with 6.1% of all commutes done by bike. The United States trails bicycle commuting in Europe, where cities such as Hamburg are pushing to have 25% of all city trips completed by bike. The survey also found that men bike to work (0.8%) at more than twice the rate of women (0.3%).

Biking blog graphic

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), cycling deaths in crashes with motorized vehicles have been increasing over the past few years but haven’t kept pace with the increase in commuting. Approximately 743 cyclist fatalities occurred in 2013, which is up 1% from the year prior and is disappointing for safety advocates. Many cities are addressing safety by adding bike lanes and increasing outreach to drivers.

Electric Bicycles Keeping Pace

Electric bicycles (e-bikes) are expected to be part of the continued growth of cycling commuting trips. According to Navigant Research’s Electric Bicycles report, annual e-bike sales will grow by 76% between 2014 and 2023 to nearly 270,000 units in the United States. E-bikes can extend two-wheeled urban commuting beyond the current average of 19.3 minutes, as they can take over for weary legs on hills and aid cyclists to arrive more quickly than via pedal power alone.

An e-bike that could increase safety was premiered at August’s Eurobike conference by startup company coModule, as reported by Electrive. The Estonian company modified a Veleon electric cargo bike with autonomous driving features that can be remotely controlled via a mobile phone app. In addition to increasing the ability of cyclists to anticipate dangerous situations, the three-wheeled bikes could be used someday to deliver medical supplies to remote areas without the need for a driver.


Manufacturers Race to Bring E-Bike Wheels to Market

— December 21, 2014

With the cost of fully electric bicycles still relatively high (on average $1,500-$2,500) in the United States, several manufacturers are looking to offer innovative new products at a lower price in order to attract consumers.  One example is all-in-one e-bike retrofit wheels.  For $1,000, you can pre-order the EVELO Omni Wheel (targeted shipping date of March 2015), which replaces the front wheel of a traditional bicycle to convert it into an e-bike.

With a maximum range of 25 miles, EVELO’s product contains a 350W motor and has a top speed of up to 20 mph.  Similar products are available, though shipping dates vary slightly: the FlyKly Smart Wheel (estimated shipping time of 3 months) and the Copenhagen Wheel from Superpedestrian (expected ship date is spring 2015).  At a cost of $1,099, the FlyKly is the least powerful of the three products, with a 250W motor and top speed of 16 mph.  Developed at MIT, Superpedestrian’s Copenhagen Wheel is more comparable with the EVELO product, as it has the same motor power (350W) and top speed (20 mph), while coming in at a slightly lower price point than its competitors ($949).   

Both the FlyKly and the Copenhagen replace the rear wheel of traditional bicycles, while EVELO’s retrofit kit replaces the front wheel.  Generally, consumers prefer the rear hub placement, as it’s the most natural location to provide thrusting power.  While all three products are likely to be delivered in a similar timeframe, FlyKly has been the first to market, with the other two competitors following closely behind.

Going Electric

The influx of new product offerings is a good sign for the U.S. e-bike market, as manufacturers are seeing strong interest from consumers.  In fact, FlyKly has more than quadrupled its initial Kickstarter goal ($100,000 in funding) for its Smart Wheel product.  The increased availability and affordability of product offerings, combined with urbanization and an aging population, is driving the growing acceptance of e-bikes as a means of personal transport, particularly in Western Europe and North America.

With three competitive all-in-one e-bike replacement wheels set to be available in 2015, it could be a big year for e-bike retrofit kit sales.  For more information on e-bikes, see Navigant Research’s report, Electric Bicycles.  Global annual sales of e-bikes are expected to exceed 40 million units a year by 2023, according to the report.


Auto Suppliers Crash the E-Bike Party

— September 23, 2013

Predictably, another Tier One automotive supplier has stepped into the e-bicycle market in a big way.  ContiTech Power Transmission Group, a subsidiary of Continental, is using an electric motor developed by Brose, another automotive supplier, to provide a mid-motor e-bicycle system.  Similar to the Bosch e-bike system, the Continental/Brose system is a complete package with motor, battery, and controller for e-bicycle manufacturers.  In 2012, ContiTech showed a belt drive similar to the well-established Gates carbon drive system, which is targeted toward both e-bicycles and traditional bicycles, and Benchmark Drives announced a deal to supply the Continental belt drive with its e-bicycle system.

It is difficult to get a sense of Continental’s ultimate success in the mid-motor business, since the product is not available yet.  E-bikes come with motors located in the front wheel hub, rear wheel hub, or mounted in the middle of the bike, at the bottom bracket with the pedals.  This mid-mount market is becoming very competitive.  In the few specifications released for the ContiTech model, the motor is almost a pound lighter than Bosch’s motors, but the battery pack is about a pound heavier.  Because the battery pack can be located in a rack above the back tire (or inside the frame, depending on the bike manufacturer’s choice), my personal preference would be to have any extra weight in the motor at the bottom bracket.  On the whole, though, the complete system looks fairly similar in terms of specifications.

More Expensive in Europe

Bosch certainly isn’t standing still waiting for Continental to come charging into the market.  At Eurobike this year, Bosch showed a new controller, the Nyon, that will incorporate a number of new features, including navigation, smartphone integration, and fitness tracking.  However, Bosch and Benchmark Drives are not the only current mid-mount players: another well-known manufacturer, Yamaha, also announced a new e-bike system on Giant bicycles specifically for the European market.  TranzX showed off new smaller, lighter motors; and Panasonic, which has apparently seen its market share erode, also continues to be a major competitor.

Percentage of Annual E-Bicycle Sales by Motor Location, Western Europe: 2013-2020

 EBike Sales Chart

(Source: Navigant Research)

As the Western European market for e-bicycles continues to grow rapidly (sales are expected to increase 18% in 2014 over 2013), the attractiveness of the market for automotive suppliers is increasing.  Because many (if not most) bicycle manufacturers are largely still reluctant to bring the needed engineering in-house to develop proprietary e-bicycle systems, the market remains open to systems integrators.  Additionally, the e-bicycle market in Western Europe prizes high quality, and prices have remained high compared to other regions (the average price in Western Europe is $1,697, more than $250 higher than any other region).  With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that auto suppliers are putting their expertise and existing technology to work in this market, and it won’t be a shock when other large automotive suppliers follow suit.


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