SAZbike Magazine 11 / 17.6.2019 FOCUS – E-roads, the next big success story ? by Werner Müller-Schell, translated from German by Simone Platel
At the dawn of the big boom? Electric road bikes are considered the latest craze on the road bike market. But there is no indication, however, that 2019 will be the year of spectacular sales that may well be still to come. A brief overview of the situation.
Preparations are in full swing. The very first Road E-Bike Grand Prix will be held on October 19 in Aix-les-Bains, France, about 30 kilometres north of Grenoble. To the west of the Savoy Alps, amateurs will compete over 166 kilometres. Participants will have to swallow a positive climb of no less than 4,036 metres in a single day. Two laps around the Lac du Bourget, composed of two long climbs, which will push the human and the machine to the limit.
Sort of a Formula 1 GP – exclusively for cyclists. Or better a Fomula E GP.
“Our event is for cyclists equipped with electric road bikes,” says Samba Ngwana about the Grand Prix. With his company Vital Coach Events, he organizes this race, symbolizing the latest trend in the evolution of the road bike world: electrically assisted road bikes.
For about two years now, electric road bikes have been one of the most discussed topics in the bicycle industry. So that since then, almost all road bike manufacturers have placed priority on electric speedsters. From Bianchi to Wilier – most of the best-known brands now have at least one electric road bike in their catalogue or have recently presented a prototype.
Many companies such as Cannondale, Corratec or KTM have already added at least two new products to their offer. In addition to Mahle/Ebikemotion, the market leader among engine manufacturers in the field of electric road bikes, Fazua already has 30 partners.
“Since the summer of 2017, a lot has happened in Europe. This sub-category has become a niche that must be taken seriously – a niche that will continue to grow in importance,” confirms spokesperson Felix Kuffner.
An evolution that attracted the attention of Samba Ngwana and his team in Aix-les-Bains, France, and gave them the idea of setting up an event format appropriate for this new two-wheeler category: “The Road E-Bike Grand Prix is a race that will do justice both to the new technology and the opportunities it offers to electric road bikes. The way it works is different from traditional cycling races in that we rely on a team structure similar to that of motor sport.
In addition, the limted use of the battery encourages for the strategical distribution of energy that is further enhanced by the mid-race battery swap at technical pit stops. With this approach, we want to create a long-term platform for cycle manufacturers and support innovations in technology,” he explains.
Small quantities, huge interest
The Road E-Bike Grand Prix as a platform, an idea that does not leave some
manufacturers indifferent, because despite the brands’ offensive on the market in 2019, the great arrival of electric road bikes on the roads is still not a mass phenomenon and has not yet been achieved. According to data from the two-wheel industry, the electric road bike smoothes out performance differences, so they give access to a new experience of
The very first Road E-Bike Grand Prix is aimed at two or three percent of the German bicycle market and, according to various estimates, electric road bikes currently represent an equally small share of this market. Most manufacturers have so far reported only small quantities.
“I have the feeling that electric road bikes represent five percent of our road bikes,” says Ralf Schüssler, press spokesman for Germany for the Italian manufacturer Wilier, which has been represented in trade with the “Cento1 Hybrid” since this year. Even at KTM – on the market with at least two models, “Macina Mezzo” and “Macina Flite” no big numbers are announced and Marketing Director Matthias Grick says: “Currently we are talking about 300 pieces for our model “Macina Mezzo”. Nevertheless, we are well equipped for the coming years and to react if demand increases.
Grick explains the gap between the industry’s enthusiasm and the relatively small number of units by the inertia typical of the road bike sector when it comes to innovation. “In the world of road cycling, it always takes a little longer for innovations to be accepted. The electric road bike makes perfect sense. “Because, especially when it comes to road bikes, it is necessary to create a very lightweight e-bike,” according to Grick, who points out that the interest of the media, distributors and end customers is constantly increasing. “Just having this bike in our catalogue shows that we are convinced of the increased demand,” he adds.
Dealers are becoming more and more interested in the subject. Many cyclists remain sceptical about electric road bikes, and test runs play a particularly important role in this respect,” says Moritz Failenschmid, Brand Director at Focus. The German manufacturer was very satisfied with the presentation in the “Paralane²” category last summer. “We decided to do it because we believe we can make electric road bike customers happy to be able to ride more and enjoy more,” he continues.
In view of the still small increase in market shares, it is reasonable to assume that many models could only be “me-too” products to be present on the trend, but manufacturers strongly deny it. “We are convinced that this is not just a trend, but that electric mobility – whatever the field – has a place in its own right. Many cyclists exceed their limits, especially when climbing passes. Additional assistance during the ascent will allow many customers to regain the pleasure of cycling without necessarily feeling in the red zone. The target group is huge. I see the electric road bike as the perfect two-wheeler for the E-MTB with the ability to smooth out differences in mountain performance so that we can ride together,” says Matthias Grick.
The same speech at Wilier: “We are talking here about new target groups such as veterans or women – the concept will be well received by dealers anyway,” confirms Ralf Schüssler. Corratec also wishes to develop new target groups. This year, the Bavarians launched their E-Road offensive with the arrival of the E-Corones and the E-Allroad (Gravel). “The electric road bike is aimed at a new group of buyers. On the one hand, beginners, but also older people, who wish to continue their careers. We have been interested in electricity for several years now – the development of a new sector must be planned accordingly and requires a lot of flair,” says Andreas Weigl, Marketing Director.
A new impetus thanks to E-Gravel and E-Urban?
Corratec is a typical example of the fact that the online road bike market could present itself in very different ways. Indeed, despite the still limited number of sales, this very young category is enjoying a strong momentum thanks to what is known as the GravelBoom, which is already known as the classic road bike. More and more manufacturers are launching not only conventional electric road bikes, but also, as in the case of Corratec, E-Gravel models capable of also facing rocky terrain. “We are closely monitoring the evolution of electric road bikes.
“We think that here, as with road bikes, distinct categories will emerge,” confirms Moritz Failenschmid, Focus expert. The “Paralane²” model already accepts a tire width of up to 35 millimeters. “In terms of tire size, Gravel tires in particular are getting wider and wider and sometimes end up merging with hardtails. If, however, the development of Pure Gravel is based on E-Gravel, the tires will in some cases widen and also require new forks that will no longer fit the conventional electric road bike.” But we see a similar geometry, more focused on endurance,” he continues.
The E-Gravel is only one of the directions that extends the category of electric bicycles and could make electric road bikes more acceptable. Yet another path lies in the growing group of unclassified products of E-Road-Urban hybrid bicycles. These are road bicycles with general off-road characteristics and typically urban elements such as luggage racks or mudguards.
Certainly, the electric road bike has a bright future and will become established in the world of cycling.
An example: the “Ten Torino” by Coboc, an electric road bike with wider Schwalbe “G-One” speed tires and everyday equipment that balances E-Gravel and a city bike. KTM’s “Macina Flite” also plays at combining typical race elements such as the race handlebars with a mudguard included in the basic equipment. In addition, according to the experience gained so far by manufacturers, conventional electric road bicycles are also used in cities. “There are more and more people buying an electric road bike and are looking for a lightweight electric bike for the city. The electric road bike or the E-Gravel offers an excellent alternative to a conventional bike”, confirms Andreas Weigl, expert at Corratec.
Last but not least, the engine sector also contributes to the pursuit of innovation. Fazua and Mahle/Ebikemotion are now facing strong competition from other brands such as Bafang or Bosch, just as engine diversity could sooner or later explode for E-Mountainbike: “We are at a stage in history where engine trends can be widely diversified.Some manufacturers are pursuing a kind of arms race in terms of battery capacity, range and engine power, while others are focusing on integrability, lightness and agility.”
“It is interesting to see the differences that exists today between the different engine manufacturers,” says Felix Kuffner, Fazua’s press spokesman. “At the moment, two versions of systems are setting standards in this area: the rear wheel motor and the small compact intermediate motors. This may well change, as the S-Pedelec versions would certainly make a lot of sense – as would the smaller, lighter, but still powerful engines, which can be easily carried above legal values,” adds Uwe Weissflog, press officer at Bafang.
A strong position in the road bike market
New engine models – the industry is convinced that the importance of the electric bicycle will continue to grow. “We are convinced that the electric road bike allows people to have more experiences together. As a result, it will become established in the long term – although naturally it will not reach the importance of the E-MTB segment,” says Moritz Failenschmid, an expert at Focus. Matthias Grick of KTM is also convinced that “in a few years’ time, it will no longer be a question of whether the electric road bike can develop positively, but rather whether manufacturers’ sales are clear proof of success”. Andreas Weigl, Marketing Director of Corratec, said: “The electric road bike is brand new and has just been launched. We will continue to work on it and develop our products.”
“In our opinion, the electric road bike has a bright future and will firmly establish itself in the world of cycling.” Uwe Weissflog, press officer from Bafang, conveys the optimism of the engine manufacturer and summarizes: “The subject of electric road bikes as a whole is still at its very beginning. ”
But you can already see at events like the Road E-Bike Grand Prix that a lot is happening in the field of competition. And this will continue to stimulate the world of cycles, engines and transmissions, as well as consumer demand. Compared to other categories of bicycles, the road bike – and therefore the electric road bike – certainly plays in a niche, but a lucrative niche aimed at a well-off clientele.”
As for the first edition of the Road E-Bike Grand Prix on October 19 in Aix-les-Bains, France, he and his team are already dreaming of a European, if not a global, series for electric road bikes. “By 2020, we already want to be present in four European countries,” he says, “In addition to France, there should be Germany, Italy and Switzerland. In the long term, Ngwana could even imagine a series of global races – for example with stations in the Middle East. The race organiser is certain that electric road bikes are not a temporary phenomenon. “We believe that electric road bikes are not only a trend, but much more. In the long term, they will bring a whole new dimension to cycling.”