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Birmingham Show: New Sectors Opening Up for E-Bikes in UK?

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BIRMINGHAM, UK – As the dust settles on the well-established and popular Birmingham Cycle Show, which took place last week, this year’s UK trends clearly indicate that all e-bike categories are on the up. Even including e-Road bikes for capturing older ‘MAMILs’.

Birmingham Show: New Sectors Opening Up for E-Bikes in UK?
Many firms (e-bike firms in particular) from outside UK are using Birmingham to scope out UK market. – Photo Richard Peace

The UK’s Birmingham-based Cycle Show mixes consumer and trade, whilst London is out-and-out consumer oriented (Birmingham has a trade and press day whilst London does not and the London Bike Show also runs alongside the consumer Triathlon Show and the Telegraph Travel show). For the past couple of years it has been noticeable that many firms (e-bike firms in particular) from outside the UK are using Birmingham to scope out the UK market. This year such firms ranged from German based giants like Continental to smaller concerns both from the UK and abroad.

Rise of the e-road bike in UK?

But before more talk of e-bikes – which were as strong as ever – what of regular non-assisted models which are account for the bulk of UK bike sales in terms of units and value? Despite forecasts of the death of the British MAMIL (middle aged male in lycra in case you hadn’t heard the humorous acronym), stands from the likes of Boardman, Pinarello and Condor testified to the fact that there is still plenty of interest in non-powered road bikes and there were plenty of traditional non-electric MTBs too, noticeably from US’s Pivot and Canada’s Rocky Mountain.

But look further and just about ALL the major players have introduced or are introducing e-bikes, even those with a reputation built on road bikes, Pinarello and Bianchi being just a couple of cases in point. Whilst Pinarello’s stand didn’t feature any e-bikes – despite the recent announcement of a forthcoming e-MTB – it was confirmed that the e-MTB will be coming to the UK in 2018, showing the perceived strength of the e-MTB market here. It was also strongly hinted there will be an e-road bike in the fullness of time.

Over at Bianchi’s stand e-bikes were out in force (they even have their own separate e-bike catalogue) with a range of e-MTBs and several takes on the emerging category of e-road bikes, including the Polini mid-drive powered Impulso range and what they class as a ‘sport’ e-bike, the E-dorado, powered by the removable Fazua drive. Is this the emergence of a new class of e-bike in the UK that can capture older MAMILs who, you might think, would be amongst the last group of cyclists to consider an e-bike? Cube also certainly seemed to think so, as they premiered their Agree Hybrid e-road range, also using the lightweight Fazua drive. KTM have also seen potential in electric-minded roadies with their Macina Flite model which was on display.

Scope out your market

Others were exploring the UK market from a different perspective: e-MTBs are now undoubtedly a fast-growing and successful sector and Rocky Mountain were trying to outpower the competitors, saying they had already sold out of their first two UK shipments of their Altitude Powerplay, carrying their own design of super-powerful motor. Cube on the other hand were stressing their battery frame-integrated Bosch models – the only ones doing this in the UK they tentatively suggested. “E-MTBs are going crazy.” Cube’s Carola Noordermeer told Bike Europe. Wisper, a UK that has traditionally targeted more budget minded commuters with their own design of hub motor range were launching their own brand Shimano-powered e-MTBs, even featuring a premium-priced carbon fibre framed version. Interesting they had chosen fatter tyres than average across the whole range. Wisper’s Jeremy Crook felt that was a natural thing to do – “You have all the power you need so why worry about the extra resistance?”

Continental had their new 48V system, 48 Revolution, with integrated mid-drive motor and CVT unit, not only on display but on the test track. This is despite the fact that they are still looking for OEM partners, so they clearly think it’s important to introduce the system to the UK public and bike trade well ahead of actual availability to consumers here. The fact that motor manufacturers themselves – like Continental, Bosch and Shimano – now have a stand-alone presence at UK bike shows is testament to the importance they attach to gaining market share here.

On a rather smaller scale, UK firm ESKUTA were looking to target very specific areas of the UK market with their moped style (but still pedelec-classed) models. Parts are mainly sourced in the far-east but the bikes are assembled in the UK. “We are looking to target both delivery firms and the student market,” confirmed ESKUTA’s Niall Devine, “and we have just signed a contract with national Pizza delivery chain Dominos so their delivery riders can use our bikes.”

S-Pedelecs to spring big surprise in UK?

Over at Riese & Müller’s stand e-cargo bikes were much in evidence, but perhaps even more surprising was the prominence of speed pedelecs. There is no separate legal category for s-pedelecs in the UK as there is in Germany or the Netherlands. By default the category falls into the class of mopeds, and up until now has been subject to under the counter selling or the ‘dongling’ of standard spec bikes because of the near impossibility of actually registering the bikes as mopeds. Riese & Müller UK Sales Manager, Daniel Jones, wants to change all that and told Bike Europe he is working with the DVLA (the UK government department responsible for motor vehicle registration) and dealers to put together a fact sheet allowing for the streamlining of the registration process and getting 45kmh machines out there on UK roads legally. Watch this space…

Whilst Brompton themselves weren’t at the show to exhibit their recently announced e-bike model, others seemed to the doing well from the ensuing publicity. Cambridge’s ARCC and London’s Panda E-bikes were both putting their Brompton motor retrofitting service centre stage.

The lightweight factor

Two contrasting conversations highlighted the importance of the fun factor in hitting the right market – ICE make a wide range of recumbent trikes and their main export market is not bike obsessed continental Europe but less bike-mad US. Why? According to ICE’s Chris Parker, UK buyers in particular may like the idea of trying a recumbent but may simply not feel outgoing enough to take the plunge and buy one and be seen on it regularly, whilst over in the US they see the fun factor involved in the machines and want to grab it! Chris was clearly hoping their recent announcement ICE would use Shimano Steps to offer an electric-assist option on all their models would broaden their appeal in the UK. Similarly he felt offering Shimano’s first class backup service to electric recumbent riders worldwide was a key factor in choosing STEPS – aside of its excellent performance characteristics.

Conversely, Lithium Cycles – visiting from California with an extremely fat-tyred single speed e-bike – admitted the Super 73 is a design based entirely on fun and were looking for opportunities, markets and the UK terrain where it would appeal most (in true US style it even has a built in cup holder…).

There is usually at least one newcomer to the Cycle Show exhibiting the truly innovative nature of the small UK cycle manufacturing industry. This year it was Hummingbird. Once upon a time new designs of folding bike were everywhere but Brompton’s dominance of the UK market seems to have deterred innovation…until now that is. Hummingbird designer Petre Craciun told Bike Europe Hummingbird have teamed up with UK carbon fibre manufacturing (and motor sport) specialists Prodrive to produce a 6.9kg folder (multi-speed versions weigh slightly more) – claimed to be the world’s lightest folding bike. The Cycle Show saw it launched onto the UK market. Why Birmingham and not London? ‘There are more bikes here’ said Petre.

Connectivity creeps into bike show…

With trade customers and consumers being increasingly aware of how digital connectivity functions are finding their way into more and more items, it’s no surprise to see a small but noticeable number of stands with such smart connected devices. For example UK firm See Sense were exhibiting a smart light that can alter its flashing pattern in response to road conditions (e.g. flashing more frequently when it detects oncoming traffic).

Lumos smart helmets were certainly getting a lot of interest from the general public with helmets featuring front and rear lighting plus turn and hard brake signals (the latter controllable wirelessly from handlebar mounted buttons).

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