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Bike Week attendees happy despite fewer visitors

Published October 20, 2017
E-bikes are hot topic; dates for TBW in 2018 up in the air.

By Tom Kavanagh

TAICHUNG, Taiwan (BRAIN) — Taichung Bike Week drew some 470 exhibiting companies at five hotels in the city this week. Although the timing is late for U.S. product managers, Taiwanese vendors see it as their last chance to attract OE spec for the upcoming model year. 

Bike Week has grown beyond its origins as an OE spec’ing event and now attracts large numbers of aftermarket suppliers. Exhibitors book space directly with the hotels, so the event is essentially self-organizing, said Pro-Lite owner Steve Fenton. Known as the public face of TBW, Fenton stepped back from the role over the past year due to health issues and pressure to run his own business. 

The Taichung city authorities provide free shuttle buses and a welcome dinner, and local publisher Wheel Giant produces the website and show dailies, but the event remains highly cost-efficient for exhibitors, running on a non-profit basis.

Sam Chou, sales manager at the Splendor Hotel, said that exhibiting at Bike Week is a third of the cost of attending Taipei Cycle, while products and pricing can be kept confidential. 

This year, however, exhibitors noted that traffic was significantly down compared to last year, likely due to general market conditions, but there was unanimous agreement that Bike Week continues to be the most convenient and cost-efficient way to meet business partners.

Electric bike suppliers were busy, with Bosch’s two meeting rooms booked every hour of the event. Parts and accessories aimed at the category in some way were everywhere, from lights to forks to e-bike-specific tires.

“People want to see electric drives in a wider range of bikes, from city and trekking to e-mountain, so we want to have products for all these categories,” said Tom Suenaga of SR Suntour. “We see this happening in the U.S. as well. One area that’s growing fast is e-bike disk brakes, and our disk-brake specific forks are getting more popular.” 

Terry Wong, project manager at Taiwanese e-bike supplier Darfon, said growth in the category is obvious. “In 2016 we were the only e-bike vendor here in the Splendor hotel, now there are many other suppliers here, and also a lot more inquiries,” he said. Darfon’s batteries and charger are the first to be certified under the “Approved by Shimano” program.

Japan, the birthplace of the pedal-assist e-bike, is seeing renewed growth in electric bike sales, according to Keiji Taiga of P&A maker Crops. “The only category that’s increasing now is e-bikes, so we have to develop products for e-bikes, even in the aftermarket. In Japan, e-bike sales are booming — 700,000 units were sold last year. E-mountain is really growing now, so it looks like Japan and Asia is following Europe in this trend,” Taiga said. 

Crops is working on GPS-enabled smart locks that integrate with e-bikes, which will launch in Japan next year, followed by Europe.

The e-bike market in the U.S. also appears to be picking up momentum. Electric bicycle consultant Ed Benjamin said that, based on research that is not yet finalized, the U.S. e-bike market is up 30 percent or more this year. 

Bafang and Bosch are the leading suppliers of drive systems, with both companies holding non-stop meetings during Bike Week. According to Jack Brandsen, GM of Bafang Europe, connectivity is one of the main trends. “Everyone is looking for what to connect and how to connect. Our strategy is to be flexible, but the limit is always serviceability,” he said. 

Bosch’s Claudia Wasko said that while she could not reveal the specifics of upcoming innovations, “Integration is a strong trend, where everything is integrated in the frame. We call it ‘integrated design.’ In a couple of years it will be very hard to tell a conventional bicycle from an e-bike,” she said. Bosch launched its Powertube frame-integrated battery at Eurobike in August. 

Another trend is smaller and lighter motors, and increasing range, which can be improved by using more efficient motors and new battery cell technologies. 

Wasko also said connectivity for theft protection, navigation, fitness apps and so on is also in the works. “We have recently acquired connected bike startup Cobi, although we can’t talk more about it until we get final approval from the European anti-trust authorities in mid-November,” she said. 

Although Taichung Bike Week has set its dates for Oct. 16-19 next year, Wheel Giant surveyed visitors on their choice of dates this week: The options were Sept 25-28, Oct. 27-30, and other. Whether an actual date change is in the works remains unclear. However, September would be a better fit for the earlier OE spec cycle, while the suggested October dates would be more convenient for companies who wanted to attend both Bike Week and the Taipei Cycle Show, which runs from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 next year. 

The current dates mean that the two events are separated by 11 days. For some companies, this is a problem. Bosch’s Wasko said the dates meant their team would have to be in Taiwan for three weeks to attend both events, “which does not make sense for us.” 

Some Bike Week attendees said that the date clash could result in more distributors coming to Taichung. Given the choice, many overseas firms prefer the cost efficiency of Taichung, but appear to accept that they’ll be at both shows. “So far our decision is to participate at both Taichung and Taipei. Our expectations for each event is different,” said SR Suntour’s Suenaga. 

With the changes to the international show calendar and uncertainty about the final dates for Taichung Bike Week, Wellgo’s Jennifer Chen summed it up nicely: “Next year will just be chaotic.”

For more coverage on Bike Week, turn to our upcoming December 1 print issue. 

 

 

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