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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Electric Bicycle Sales Up Up UP!

Bicycle manufacturer Derby Cycle says its profits are up 40%, mostly due to electric bicycle sales which are up 134%.

And they`re not alone. Other e-bike manufacturers are seeing similar rises in the popularity of electric bicycles.

And not just manufacturers... some bicycle mechanics are now taking old bicycles and turning them into electric bicycles...

Like Velo Wrench Bike Shop (Vacaville California), which has been adding a battery-powered electric kit above the rear wheel which transforms almost any bicycle into an electric hybrid.

Vincent Coons, the bicycle mechanic who owns the shop, is being paid $1,200 for each conversion he makes (minus the cost of the kit, its a healthy profit). Increasingly Vincent is being asked to perform the conversion that takes a few hours to complete.

A retrofitted e-bike kit adds a battery and motor with enough juice to travel 40 miles (64 km), making it a lot easier for people who hate cycling up hills, but still want the option of using their own steam when they want to.

E-bikes go up to 20 to 25 mph, which means they are still classified as bicycles and don`t require licensing.

Electric bicycle usage worldwide has experienced rapid growth since 1998. It is now estimated that there were roughly 120 million e-bikes in China as of early 2010, and sales are expanding rapidly in India and the Netherlands (Holland is the capitol of bicycle usage).

The Electric Bikes Worldwide Reports estimated that 1 million electric bicycles were sold in Europe in 2010. The report said that sales in the United States reached roughly 300,000 in 2010, double the number sold in 2009.

NOTE: Car usage is down in the USA. In 2008 there was 250 million cars in the USA. In 2009 it dropped to 246 million as approx. 4 million Americans scrapped their old cars and opted for other forms of transportation.

E-bikes come in different varieties but share common characteristics: They can be powered by pedals alone, a mounted battery pack, with a power output starting at 250 watts, and an approx. 1/3rd horsepower motor connected to the rear wheel.

Often there is 3 modes: Pedaling, Assisted Pedaling, Electric. Some models don't have the full electric mode, providing only assisted pedaling. A simple throttle switch on the handlebars controls the power.

The e-bike ends up feeling lighter and easier, the amount of effort needed is significantly reduced.

E-bike sales in the U.S. have been growing at roughly 21% per year clip and could reach 785,000 a year by 2016, according to Pike Research, a clean energy market research firm.

In the USA bicycles are generally not considered a viable form of transportation, according to Dave Hurst, a senior analyst at Pike Research. Americans are just too lazy and obsessed with gasoline cars. The same is true of electric cars and hybrid cars, which many Americans openly scorn. Still, Hurst says, the e-bike is winning an increasing number of converts among people who wouldn't otherwise be on a bike, particularly in cities that have added bike lanes.

Deborah Fortier, a 60-year-old piano teacher who lives on Manhattans Upper West Side, had been riding a traditional two-wheeler to her lessons but she was arriving tired and sweaty. After she bought an e-bike 3 years ago, Fortier started scheduling her lessons 15 minutes apart and arriving fresh. Fortier is now an e-bike evangelist and wants more people to abandon their cars for e-bikes.

That would get more people thinking about going out and putting a basket on their bikes and doing shopping, says Fortier. You get a whole wonderful new sense of yourself and the city.

Its also effecting the tourism industry.

Bike tour companies are bringing in more customers by offering e-bikes as an option. They’re leveling the playing field between the fit and the less-so — and assuaging would-be riders’ fear of hills — by adding electronic bikes to their fleets.

“There’s no learning curve to using these bikes,” assures Dan Lehman, owner of the bike tour company Austin Lehman, the first North American outfit to use e-bikes widely on its tours. “They’re very intuitive, with brakes that are the same as on a normal bike.”

Austin Lehman’s announcement this spring that it would be adding e-bikes spurred such interest that the company is planning to purchase 10 more Diamont Trek Ride+ bikes than expected, a sign that many people are welcoming the addition of e-bikes to their roster. Use of e-bikes incurs a $25 per day surcharge over the regular cost of the week long tours.

“We just got a call from a multi-generational family, and it was the availability of the e-bikes that convinced the older folks that they could handle the trip,” says Dan Lehman.

E-bikes are now available for one-day excursions in tourist destinations too. Austin, Texas has them via Austin Lehman Adventures ( austinlehman.com), which offers two-hour overview tours of the city for $48 (less for kids).

The London Electric Bike Tours ( londonelectricbiketours.com; 35-50 British pounds depending on tour length) offers tours of the film locations, as well as more classic cycles along the Thames and to such tourist must sees.

Paris Charms and Secrets ( parischarmssecrets.com; 45 euros per four-hour tour) introduces visitors to both the famous sights and the hidden gems in the city, including the hillier routes.

Napa Valley Bike Tours ( napavalleybiketours.com) in California rents electronic bikes on its day-long and half-day wine tasting tours, for $25 over the normal price (which starts at $89, including lunch, maps and equipment on a self-guided tour).

I Bike Tuscany ( ibiketuscany.com; 129 euros including lunch) does the same type of wine cycle, but transports guests in a van from Florence to the starting point in Poggio in Chianti for rides through medieval towns and wineries.

This is not a complete list of e-bike tours, but you get the idea.

The point I am making is that 20 years from now the roads could be filled with a lot more electric bicycles than any of us were expecting, especially if the price drops considerably.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bicycle Insurance Rehashed

I've decided to revisit the bicycle insurance topic (previously covered in Bicycle Insurance + Other Goodies) because I have found a number of businesses that do offer bicycle insurance, and I've also come up with an innovative way that bicycle shops could offer insurance.

First my innovation...

What if bicycle shops (large retail chains) offered Bicycle Insurance when people bought new bicycles or came in for a tune-up? To make it easier they might team up with an insurance company to handle some of the financial aspects of such a deal. The insurance would be two fold:

Theft Insurance

Vandalism Insurance (this happens more often than you'd think)

Some market research would have to be done to determine what rate to charge customers, but presumably the rate would be equal to that being charged by some of the companies below or other major insurers.

Canadian Banks have been offering insurance for years now, part of their effort to control more of Canada's financial industry. I can't speak for other countries, but I imagine there's other industries trying to get into the insurance industry there as well.

My idea draws inspiration from the above idea, except that it has one major benefit for bicycle shops: It guarantees return business. If someone's bicycle is stolen or vandalized (which can only be proven by submitting a police report), then the customer comes back to the bicycle shop where they purchased the insurance to have the vandalism repaired or the bicycle replaced (thus allowing the bike shop more profits).

Teaming up with a larger insurance company to handle claims would make this process easier. The bicycle shop would get a commission for every customer who signs up for insurance.

In the meantime here is a list of companies which offer bicycle insurance:

Cycleguard (UK)

Cyclecover (Australia)

Velosure (Australia)

And there is also a number of general insurance companies offering bicycle insurance in addition to home insurance, car insurance, life insurance, etc. I recommend searching for local companies when comparing rates.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Higher gas prices = More work for bicycle mechanics

Its simple economics...

When gasoline prices soar (ie. its above $1.40 / litre in Toronto right now) people have a tendency to go out and walk more, buy scooters, bicycles, etc. Worrying about the environment might factor into this, but for most people that is just a side perk.

And in some cases they look at that rusty 18-speed in their garage and realize "Hey, the tires are still good. It just needs a tune-up."

Its a strange little phenomenon that I've noticed...

Most people, if something goes wrong with their bicycle (usually the derailleurs on the gears) they have a tendency to toss the bicycle in the garage and forget to fix it. If its the brakes they might try and fix it. Essentially if its anything complicated they won't bother to fix it.

And this is true of most people. Only the adamant "I NEED MY BICYCLE" people will bother taking it to a bicycle mechanic, because most people figure they don't have the time.

But when gasoline prices start soaring they look wistfully at their old broken bicycle once more and realize there is some cost savings at having it fixed.

The more flamboyant people will even go shopping for a new bike, maybe even purchase an electric bicycle or a folding bicycle if they're the type who likes that sort of thing.

I just think it is an amusing phenomenon, that's all. With gasoline prices expected to continue soaring in the future, we can expect a lot more work for bicycle mechanics.

Maybe its time we raised how much we get paid? (The average bicycle mechanic gets minimum wage or barely above that.)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Amusing Bicycle Videos

ENTERTAINMENT - These are just for fun.

Monty Python - Bicycle Repair Man


I also recommend checking out Monty Python's Flying Circus 3x08: The Cycling Tour.

Zen and the Art of Bicycle Repair


Peanuts Cartoon - Rerun riding on the back of a bicycle

The Bike Shop as a hangout place...

Imagine going to a bicycle shop where they serve coffee and other goodies behind a bar, has a place to sit and talk bikes with other cyclists.

Thats the idea being pushed by new bike shops... like The Bicycle Source in Anaheim, California.

The Bicycle Source was original founded and opened by Steve Potts in the 1980s and was a place for cyclist to hang out and talk, in addition to selling and repairing bicycles, and a variety of bicycle gear. The shop later closed in 1995.

However there is good news for cyclists in Anaheim California... the Bicycle Source is back. Reopened by Dan Hubbard and Steve Blackey. Hubbard is the original shop mechanic and manager and Dan Hubbard was a team rider. Both were key players in making it a happening place during its heyday.

If you have a favourite bicycle shop you know its a fun place to hang out. Indeed sometimes local businesses spring up nearby just because of the bicycle shop across the street.

In Toronto for example, check out the cafe "Jet Fuel" at 519 Parliament Street. Its just north and across the street from Cycle Solutions at 444 Parliament Street.

True, Cycle Solutions doesn't sell coffee or biscuits, but Jet Fuel (as a bicycle themed cafe) certainly does.

In the case of The Bicycle Source and similar locations its more than just a retail store. Its a destination, a place to hang out. The Bicycle Source for example is more for BMX riders, and comes fully equipped with an indoor ramp area, movie screening lounge, and an indoor space for hosting events. The shop also honours legendary riders with museum-like displays of bicycles/equipment and photos of famous BMX bikers throughout the shop.

There aren't many bicycle oriented museums in the world. But maybe there should be.

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