Grey beard wrote:One of the mistakes business people can make is looking at the world from only their own perspective, and that of their friends.
66,000,000 Boomers in the States alone. Equally large demographics in other countries as well. Retiring @ 600,000 per month.
I'm a boomer, rode a beautiful green Raleigh Sport 3-speed as a kid, and have gotten back into bike riding after spending time in Italy in 2010 where the villages were too small to drive the rental car. We would ride over to the next village for morning coffee along tractor roads not used by cars, that took us through lovely fields with ancient farmers still stacking rocks by hand (how there can be any rocks left after thousands of years of farming is a mystery to me).
On the flat, I actually like bicycling (meaning pedalling to move me forward), not accessory speed where all I do is move my thumb. But on hills, my age creeps up. Surely it was not that painful when I was a kid. When I discovered electric motors, I first went with the 500W Mac, 52v, 30 amp, 9 fet, and soon realised my mortality (something I never thought of when I was a youth). The bike was going to kill me. I've owned big motorcycles and appreciate the value of brakes, suspension and DOT rated tyres selected and engineered to match the power. So my next motor went to the extreme the other way: a Cute 100F with 36v, too weak. Then, through our charitable trust, we began to test motors to find the sweet spot. For us, it was to flatten the hill, nothing more. Make it so going up the hill required the same pedalling as on the level. It took a while to work it out. Cute and MXUS too weak, Mac too strong. Bafang CST getting closer but still too strong. Bafang BBS01 - sweet spot (and better balanced). We found detuning the grunty motors was not satisfactory. Just did not feel right and it runs the risk of being in a grey area with the law.
In your first sentence you make an excellent observation, but then in your second paragraph you commit the very error that you postulate. You and your peers went for speed. But not all of those 66 million boomers did so. Some, like me, did a bell curve.
In my 40's I was racing Alfa Romeos on the track at very high speeds; driving Mercedes and BMW performance cars at three digit (MPH) speeds on open highways; flying the biggest motor Piper ever hung on a 4-seater plane. But a decade or two later, the Alfa sits on stands in the garage, the German cars, the plane and motorcycles are sold, and frankly, I'm just not interested in speed anymore. My last European holiday was my very first without a rental car, and the first where I did not travel at 135kph (or more). We bought two Bella Ciao classic bikes in Berlin (http://www.bellaciao.de/en/
) and with two cousins of a similar age, my wife and I rode them back to the airport in Prague, following the Elbe River route and staying in lovely hotels along the way. It ranks as one of our finest holidays, and rekindled my interest in bicycles. I'm also back to wearing the clothes I bought 30 years ago (yeah, never tossed them out) and feeling a lot healthier. At a recent reunion I was one of the folks everyone recognised. Except for the change in hair colour, I looked the same... thanks to bicycling. We now are down to one car because we find that we ride to the village to shop and dine. Given the 15 degree, long upward hill just outside our house, it is the motor that is the game changer. With it, we bike. For the first 14 years we lived here, we drove while our expensive bicycles sat in the garage slowly rusting.
With 66 million boomers, some will be like you, some like us, some who will dust off that 1960's bike still in their parents garage and ride as is, while others will pay silly money on eBay to buy a restored bike similar to that of their youth. Most of course will do nothing of the sort, as they face aging differently, but with such a large demographic one only needs a very small fraction to make a good market.
Overbuilt and detuned
is a nice catchphrase, but at this time, the market is in its infancy, it is changing rapidly and it is divided between East (cheap, makes millions of units) and West (expensive, companies make hundreds or perhaps thousands of units) with manufacturers trying to work out the best markets. From what I can see, in responding to the European Market, Bafang of Suzhou China is getting it right more than any other Chinese company.
In my day job, we analysed a company that makes fractional horsepower motors suitable for HVAC, refrigerators and other home/commercial appliances. They make them by the hundreds of thousands and the cost of each motor is $15. They are very high-tech, use far less copper, no steel jacket and are controlled by a very smart circuit board. In looking at ebike motors, I see less technology in them than in these fractional horsepower motors with their electronic controls. So why do they cost so much when made in the West? Because of volume. As volume goes up and prices go down, we may see ebikes creating a new form of transport. Not the zoom-zoom kid, or the MTB rider who emulates a trail motorcycle, but ordinary people who find the ebike extends their range and lets them enjoy out-of-door riding. As more bike lanes go in, demand will rise. In Holland, I read 20% of new bike sales are ebikes... and that's flatland. The big market will be hilly land. It will take a few decades for road engineers to accommodate the rising interest, and in some regard it will be a push-pull form of planning, but it is proven both in Europe and in parts of Asia. If the US catches on to long-distance bike tourism, with smooth paved roads reserved for bikes, and the hotels providing charging stations and lock-ups, there will be a whole new, profitable industry that emerges. It will take time, but it is happening, and it has nothing to do with overbuilt and detuned.
It's about extending cycling range and flattening the hills.
Finally, do not underestimate the law or its potential to change. In the USA some states allow 750W motors to be treated as bicycles. In Europe the laws are much tighter. In New Zealand, the law is 300W, but no speed restriction, and it is clear the law is loose because use is not widespread. As more people get ebikes or convert ordinary bicycles with kits, accidents will happen. Safety experts will do the analysis, and speed demons like you will probably see a backlash. Yes, you will be allowed to have the power, but you will be classified as riding a moped... with lots of regulations governing what is allowed or not. You will pay licensing fees, perhaps be required to carry insurance, and the police will take notice. If we are lucky the law will not apply this to all ebikes, but that is a risk. At present, as long as my motor is legal, the only worry from the police is running red lights or (here) not wearing a helmet.
Bottom line: There will be markets for all sorts of buyers, just as there are markets for Toyota econo-boxes and Chevy Corvettes (and Tesla Roadsters). For us, as early adopters, the job is to report on forums about our experience so that next round adopters can benefit from our views and our real-life experiences.