The USA Electric Bike Market Numbers

This is a guest post by Edward Benjamin and Audra Poynter, eCycleElectric Staff

With a population of more than 316 Million people, buying about 15 million normal bicycles most years, and a demographic that is shifting to an older, but active generation of baby boomers…the USA seems a natural market for electric powered two wheelers.

The European market, about 742 million people, buying about 20 million bicycles most years, is both larger, and buys fewer bicycles per capita than the USA.

However, much of Europe regards a bicycle of any type as transportation. (As well as for sports, fitness, and recreation.) This is a cultural norm and in such cultures ebike markets grow more quickly.

The USA is almost universal in regarding a bicycle as a device for sport, fitness, and recreation.  For the USA, transportation is a car.

Transportation use of bicycles in the USA occurs in two general forms.

1. Low cost transport for people who cannot afford a car (or cannot drive due to a DUI conviction).

2. Transport in places where parking, and traffic congestion are problems – large cities like Boston, New York, San Francisco, etc.

Electric bicycles are transportation devices for almost all buyers. Yes, there are new models that may be contenders to replace or supplement mountain bikes, and there is fun and recreation in riding about the gated community in Florida, or in the technical gadgetry of a new ebike. But for most ebike buyers, transportation is the primary intended use.

In the USA, transportation is usually an automobile. And cheap, used, cars are widely available. Adding to this cultural preference for autos is the resistance of the ordinary bicycle dealer who often has a background as an athlete, and regards electric bikes as “cheating”. As well as the dealer being aware that they are not well equipped to explain, support, and service such bikes.

LEVA E-Bike Technician Training at ProdecoTech.

LEVA E-Bike Technician Training at ProdecoTech.

 

The Light Electric Vehicle Association has an ongoing program to train electric bike technicians in the USA.

The result has been that the rate of growth of the USA electric bike market has disappointed many people.

The total sale of ebikes in the USA has been difficult to calculate.  There has not been a uniform way to describe imports of ebikes in the US Customs records. There is no HS number assigned to electric bicycles, and so importers often choose between various 8700 series numbers in the “other” category, or declare the bikes as parts, or toys. Written descriptions vary widely: Ebike, electric bicycle, low speed electric assisted bicycle, pedelec, electric bicycle parts, and on and on.

eCycleElectric and Electric Bicycles World Wide Reports, have worked on estimating the USA ebike market for about 19 years.

Methods used by eCE and EBWR have varied. Attempts to organize self-reporting by the industry were unsuccessful. And searches of customs records turned out to be a learning process as detective work uncovered a myriad of ways to be confused or misdirected about electric bike imports. Anecdotal reports were often inflated or deflated.

For the last three years, eCE has subscribed to Import Genius, a service that provides access to US Customs databases. We quickly learned that searches confined to HS numbers or to a few descriptions led to only part of the imports.

So we developed a list of all known brands, and known major suppliers to USA brands. And all the search terms that we could find that would yield results. We checked on consignee addresses, and tried to detect logistics companies and trading companies that were involved. We were surprised by the results, as it seems the USA buys more electric bikes than was generally believed by the industry.

Last year, we announced that the USA ebike market had roughly doubled to approximately 158,000 units imported in a 12-month period. We then endured a great deal of criticism from a variety of sources that stated we must be wrong. And observed a number of conflicting reports about the USA market size.

This is easy to understand – a casual search of import records would probably give the researcher the idea that only 60-80,000 units were imported during 2013. And this is often the result that we hear promoted.  And for many of the USA electric bike brands, who have sales in the dozens to hundreds of units, it is hard to believe that so many ebikes are entering the USA.

So we checked our work. Carefully. And we found even more ebikes were imported than our original tally. We bought more services from Import Genius, looked again and compared, and then found even more bikes!

But we were aware that there was plenty of room for us to be in error since classification of the shipments was not exact, and under many descriptors.

So here is a detailed look at what we found:

Searching under electric bike, electric bicycle, electric bikes, electric bicycles, ebike, e-bikes we found: 136,943

And yes, we did adjust for duplications, which do exist.

Then there are the gray items with ambivalent descriptors. They could be toys, they could be scooters, but many of them are probably electric bikes. They came from OEMs that build ebikes, and the unit numbers compared to the weight of the shipment seem a lot like ebikes.

Next we took a look at the parts purchases of companies that assemble ebikes in the USA, from parts mostly imported from China. That group includes some companies that sell complete bikes, and some companies that sell DIY kits or just sell parts.

 

So we took the total weight of those parts and divided by 60 lbs, as we thought that 60 lbs of ebike parts was pretty close to one ebike, one way or another.

Total for vague descriptions and parts: 94,546

Raw total for USA market in 2013: 231,849

Now we know that we have accidentally included some units that are not ebikes. And we get accused of being too optimistic. And we want to be conservative. So we used an adjustment factor: 25% reduction in the total to adjust for our possible mistakes.  That gives us an adjusted total of 173,886 units of ebikes imported into the USA or parts that were assembled into ebikes in 2013. (Yes, more than our original claim.)

We can be sure that not all of these sold through at retail. But since we are not hearing screams of anguish from the industry and we are not hearing about closeout sales to reduce inventory – it appears that there are no huge carry over inventories straining the system in the USA.

So what about 2014?

We are in the midst of studying 2014. But we have found more than 60,000 units imported so far. That may be off pace for a repeat of last year, but maybe not. We will release our results at the end of the year.

So, if the USA bought 173,886 electric bikes in 2013, where does that put us in comparison to other ebike markets?

We are in the top 10 nations, I think. And we are a very big country with a lot more room for the market to grow than any European nation, or Japan. Many factors are urging Americans towards more sustainable transportation, and ebikes are a vital part of our future – no matter how slowly they may be growing.

I foresee a day when the USA will be the third largest national market.  And it is not far off.

About eCycleElectric Consultants
eCE is an international business management firm and trusted advisor with deep industry and functional expertise in the Light Electric Vehicle (LEV) industry. Our carefully selected team has experience covering the last 40 years of the bicycle industry and has been involved in electric bicycles and LEV companies (electric scooters, motorcycles, drive systems, batteries, motors and controllers) since 1996.

To stay up to date on the latest market trends, news and product developments in the electric bicycle industry subscribe to eCycleElectric’s newsletter and follow up on social media.

Website: www.ecycleelectric.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/ecycleelectric
Twitter: @eCEcycle
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/company/ecycleelectric-consultants

Thanks to Edward Benjamin and Audra Poynter from eCycleElectric for that informative guest post.

P.S. Don’t forget to join the Electric Bike Report community for updates from the electric bike world, plus ebike riding and maintenance tips!


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15 Comments

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  1. Ed June 27, 2014 at 7:54 am #

    Great article, Pete.

    I have a BionX and absolutely love it! I’ve already put in 4,000 miles on it in the short time I’ve had it!

    I don’t think ebikes will take off in the US for two main reasons:

    (1) Though we constantly complain about the fuel prices in the US, they are still less than 50% of what many in Europe pay!

    (2) Lack of bike racks/carriers. I see many of my lady friends and smaller stature guy friends lift their carbon fiber Trek racing bikes onto their racks with super ease. But NONE of them can lift my ebike onto their carriers.

    As Americans, we love to ride our bikes in places other than where we live. It is almost next to impossible for many people to just “throw” their ebikes in the back seat of a car, etc, especially the ones with rear hub motors.

    Also, many bike rack manufacturers will NOT guarantee that their carriers can hold an ebike safely for any length of time (though some people do it anyway).

    I went to a Trek dealer and he recommended the Thule 916 XTR. So I asked him (huge strong guy) to load two Trek Ride+ ebikes he had in stock. He struggled for quite some time and got one on board but couldn’t get the second one without my help.

    I said, “You’re 3 times stronger than me! If you can’t do it, how do you expect my wife and her girlfriends to lift those bikes onto the Thule?”

    Anyone there watching would’ve been put off by this. Potentially, that store lost the sale of 2 ebikes and an expensive bike carrier.

    Though the dealer recommended the Thule, he was a little nervous about 2 ebikes on it. After our struggle, he said, “Maybe one ebike mounted close to the car body, and a non-ebike on the mount farthest from the car would be best.”

    We need something innovative like:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFpgGvP8Zbk

    Until then, we have a long way to go in the US.

    • Pete June 27, 2014 at 11:10 am #

      Hi Ed,

      Here is a guide to car racks for electric bikes:

      http://electricbikereport.com/guide-to-electric-bike-racks-for-cars/

      And here is a tip: Remove the batteries from the e-bikes and transport them in your car to reduce the weight on the rack. Be careful not to store them in the car if you are in a really hot or cold place because that can damage the battery.

      I hope that helps.

      Pete

      • Ed June 27, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

        Hi Pete,

        Yep that’s what I always did: Remove the battery. Then I hurt my back and now I mostly ride around where I live. Oh, well.

        When my Trek dealer tried loading the Ride+ onto the rack, the problem that he had with the 916XTR and others was in having to lift the ebike a bit higher than normal to get it over the tire “cups.”

        The ebike furthest from the car was easy because he could keep the bike close to his body when lifting. But the bike closest to the car, the other carrier was in the way and caused him to have to maneuver the bike in unwieldly ways.

        That Thule Europower with a ramp is a good start, albeit for $700 + shipping. I’ll still have to look into it, though!

        • Pete June 27, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

          Hi Ed,

          Maybe the combination of the more economical Hollywood Racks Sport Rider for electric bikes and a “do it yourself” ramp is a solution.

          • Ed June 27, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

            Thanks, Pete.

            We thought of that too. But when I contacted Hollywood Racks, Rick said, “Sorry, Ed. Electric bikes and Hollywood Racks don’t play well together.”

            :(

          • Pete June 27, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

            Hi Ed,

            Hollywood does make a rack that is specifically for electric bikes. Here is a link to it:

            http://electricbikereport.com/go/HollywoodRacksSportriderRackElectricBikes

            In the listing it states: “The Sportrider for electric bikes is a heavy duty 2 bike hitch rack that will carry up to two 75 lb. electric or standard bikes.”

          • Ed June 27, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

            My bad, Pete. I was referring to another of Hollywood’s racks.

            The one in your link is better safety wise, but not for my wife having to lift.

            I’m going to look into the Thule Europower that you suggested. That ramp would help a LOT!

            Thanks again.

  2. Doug June 27, 2014 at 8:44 am #

    Nice article and I’m not so sure that the first figure of 231K is all that optimistic. I sell a fair number of electric kits and total shipping weight only averages about 27 lbs including all packing, etc. There are also lots of Americans that buy direct from an international source themselves one at a time. I would think that it would be quite hard to track all of those accurately. As for the carrying rack mentioned in a previous reply for e-bikes, I send people off all the time with two e-bikes on their rack. With a good high-end geared motor kit system and a battery that is easily removed for transporting, we are only looking at an extra 10 – 14 lbs on the bike. All that said e-bikes have been slow to take hold in the U.S., but the moderate growth is consistent with lots of potential upside.

    • Ed June 27, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

      @Doug: I used to load up my ebike on a Saris rack with some help from a neighbor. But even with the battery off, there’s no way that my wife or her girlfriends would be able to lift an ebike onto a rack. Not gonna happen. One of her girlfriends has carpel tunnel, my wife has a bad back, other girlfriends don’t have that kind of upper body strength, etc.

      A geared-motor ebike may only be 10 to 14 lbs heavier than a non-ebike, but with a direct drive hub motor (which is silent compared to a geared hub motor), it is quite unwieldly when loading.

      And while people do load their ebikes onto conventional carriers, no manufacturer I exchanged e-mails with in writing would commit to the safety of doing so. I’m quite certain that if my ebike fell off and caused a fatal accident on the freeway, I would be sued out of existence as my insurance company wouldn’t pay for negligence. And in court, it would be very doubtful that an expert witness would side with me as to the safety of carrying ebikes on conventional carriers.

      And the other thing is, how would I get my inlaws who are 70+ years in age to load up ebikes to the park? The Ergo-matic carrier in Europe shows an old man rolling two ebikes onto the carrier and pressing a button to take care of business.

      Unfortunately, we’re still a long way off in the US. The infrastructure isn’t here yet.

  3. Michael June 27, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    Excellent thoughtful commentary by two Edwards.
    It’s interesting to me that electric bikes are thought of for transportation, and not sport/fitness, that real athletic cyclers consider it as “cheating.” Living in the Wasatch Range in Utah, being 68 years old, I get all the workout my body can handle WITH my electric assistance. One of my favorite rides from my home is up Millcreek Canyon which involves an elevation gain of 2,800 feet in just over ten miles. Grades range from 4º to 10º with a few steep pitches that reach 14º. What would have been impossible for me is now doable, thrilling and gorgeous.
    If I want to carry my bike farther afield, I purchased the Allen AL02 folding aluminum rack that holds up to 70 pounds. When I put my Stromer ST1 Elite on it, the front of the top tube does not quite settle into the cradle. I sent an inquiry, along with pictures to Allen customer service, and it is there opinion, that the bike is being held securely enough. We’ll see. I did drool over the ErgoMatic automatische fietsendrager that the second “Ed” posted a link to. That’s one cool device!

  4. L Hayes June 27, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    Agree you need something more like a motorcycle carrier than a bike carrier for most e-bikes, especially if you’re planning on carrying two. A low, hitch-mounted rack with a tilting ramp is probably the way to go.

  5. L Hayes June 27, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    See loading video here:

    http://www.discountramps.com/double-motorcycle-carrier/p/AMC-600-2/

    • Ed June 27, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

      @L Hayes: We did look into those in the past and couldn’t use it because we had to have a class 3 (or better) 2″ receiver on our cars.

      Not doable on our tiny car, but doable on the wife’s RAV-4.

      But where we park, that carrier would just get in people’s way. And for us to have to attach and later remove this 69lb weight would just be a pain in the rear. It doesn’t have wheels on it or anything to make it “ergo-matic” like the Youtube link I posted above.

      Thanks for your link, though!

    • Ed June 27, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

      Oops! Sorry about that. I left out the link:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFpgGvP8Zbk

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