Electric Bikes are Changing the World (Swiss Edition)
This is a guest report from Brett Thurber, owner of The New Wheel, an electric bike store in San Francisco, California.
It’s nine in the morning, 70 degrees, and I’m cycling up a hill in the Alps on an electric bike. Welcome to Zurich, Switzerland. I’m not on vacation; this is all business. Truly.
Zurich is the first stop on a business trip to Eurobike, the world’s largest bicycle convention. I have come half-way around the world from our electric bike shop in San Francisco to learn from the European’s about the future of personal transportation.
Zurich is the perfect first exposure to the mobility revolution underway.
The electric bike I’m riding is built in Switzerland by the Swiss brand Flyer. It is a bike share bike offered by the City of Zurich and run by recent immigrants and asylum seekers through a program designed to help along integration.
The electric bike itself was provided by M-Way, another interesting story. M-Way is one of the largest electric bike retailers in Switzerland. It’s parent company is the large Swiss coop Migros, with a range of businesses from supermarkets to gas stations.
Yes, electric bikes are in the mainstream in Switzerland. As a store clerk at City Cycles, a large bicycle retailer in Zurich, told me after I lamented about the dearth of quality electric bike brands available in the U.S., the problem in Switzerland isn’t a lack of manufacturers, it’s just the opposite: too many.
But that doesn’t seem to be slowing things down much. The same associate estimated that over 30% of the sales of bicycles at her shop were electric, and she motioned exponentially upwards with her hand when talking about the trend of late. Walking around Zurich, that isn’t surprising. Everywhere you look there is an electric bike locked up, or zipping by.
It hasn’t always been this way though. Electric bikes began to take off in Europe about six years ago, and accelerated greatly in only the last three years or so. At Eurobike now, over half the show space for bicycles is dedicated to electric bikes, a sure sign of how bullish the industry is these days.
What this means for life in Zurich is quite clear. While urban cycling has wide participation, electric bikes are expanding the places traveled to and from, and the demographics of riders.
A common sight are what are called “Speed Pedelecs” – abbreviated as s-pedelecs – distinguished by higher top speeds and required license plates affixed to their fenders. These speedy ebikes allow easy and quick travel from the outskirts of the city downtown, making cycling even more attractive to everyone from the weekday commuter to parents, who can often be seen with children in tow.
It’s an exciting time to be living in the Alps.
End of guest report.
I have to agree with Brett that it is exciting times in the e-bike world! I was in Switzerland and Germany a couple of times last year and it is so inspiring to see so many people using and enjoying electric bikes.
What do you think? Does it seem like the US is poised to have significant e-bike growth like Europe has been seeing? If you live in Europe, do you ride an electric bike a lot? Please share your thoughts and experiences below.
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.
Tora Harris says
The Europeans are WAY ahead of us in NA. They have already a solid biking infrastructure in place. The only thing they have been hamstrung by is the 250W and pedal requirement. It makes them appear behind, but not really the case. The electric drive systems are getting more standardized, which means a little less differentiation, but the quality and reliability has gone way up. This is what is needed to get e-bikes in normal shops and draw in the average person.
Tom Frazier says
I’m an 80 year old Texan who has lived and biked in Munich and the Alps for 40 years. E-bikes are big here for transportation and sport. Biking in general has boomed to the point where the mix of bikes, pedestrians, cars and bike speed demons is a traffic problem, in spite of clear bike lanes. Pedelecs have allowed older and less sporty people to join the rush.. And they have let us old geezers continue to enjoy the high Alpine trails. But now there are a lot of young sporty guys and gals racing on the trails with special mountain bikes. So the Alps will have a traffic problem too. My Swiss Flyer is the most satisfying bike I have ever owned – with 10 000 km in and around Munich, and the alpine trails to 2000 meters = 6600 feet.. I want a new one with smaller batteries and better motor, but this one is still fulfilling all my real needs. Including carrying saddle bags and a baby trailer.