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E-bike conference examines the future and sets priorities for growth next year

Published December 8, 2016

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. (BRAIN) — Some 60 industry executives, most affiliated with the e-bike industry, took time at a conference Thursday to review its recent successes and to set new goals for 2017.

But influencing legislation, building a sound research base, developing policy, securing grants, mapping routes and a dozen other goals takes money.

And that's the first message Larry Pizzi, chairman of the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association's e-bike committee, delivered to attendees Thursday in a conference room adjacent to Interbike's offices. Interbike hosted the one-day meeting.

BPSA members dug deep in what Pizzi noted had been a tough year, committing $289,500 to the effort — an amount just shy of the $300,000 needed to earn a $100,000 bonus grant from the BPSA's general budget. But Pizzi said he expects to hit that $300,000 goal soon. "This category is turning into a huge opportunity in North America," he said.

E-bikes have saved the bicycle industry in Europe, Pizzi added.

And hitting that $300,000 goal got a boost when Ed Benjamin, the North American representative for Bafang Motor Technology, a Chinese company, announced that Bafang would kick in $10,000 to support the industry's efforts. Benjamin, also a senior managing director at eCycleElectric, said Bafang has offices near Shanghai and an official there called him at 4 a.m. Thursday morning with the news.

The BPSA's e-bike committee makes recommendations on how funds are spent and the BPSA board approves the expenditures. "I'm very optimistic about what will happen in 2017," Pizzi said.

The conference, a joint program between PeopleForBikes and the BPSA, noted some key legislative gains in three states: Utah and Tennessee adopted an e-bike classification system, while North Carolina legalized e-bikes in accord with the federal definition for powered bicycles.

Representatives from PeopleForBikes and the BPSA also met with officials at the National Conference of State Legislatures to develop a legislative primer on e-bikes for policymakers. They are also working with researchers at the University of Tennessee and Portland State University on e-bike research.

The researchers, Chris Cheery and John MacArthur, said they were embarking on an update of an earlier research project on e-bike usage for next year. Essentially, the pair plan to focus on behavior, safety, sustainability, health, freight delivery by e-bikes, and shared e-bike usage.

But to develop a representative sample of e-bike users, MacArthur said they will need suppliers and dealers to help distribute the survey as well as develop confidential email lists for them to use in the survey. (To learn more about their work, go to www.LEVresearch.com.)

E-mountain bikes were also on the agenda, an area that is of growing importance among U.S. suppliers. Looking forward to 2017, the group lists 12 objectives for the industry to support. Among them are developing and improving relationships with land management agencies; hosting training seminars for land managers; engaging in more public hearings that could affect eMTB usage; and documenting case studies and best practices for land managers.

Consultants Leslie Kehmeier and Chris Bernhardt are spearheading efforts over eMTB policies and trail management issues. They hope to finalize an eMTB map of places to ride and to make available to the public maps as well as maintaining a database of areas to ride. Part of that effort would include six eMTB Adventure hard-copy maps.

Another key project would be to create a tool kit and handbook in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management. It would include a general classification of eMTBs, best management practices, and land-use planning considerations to help educate federal, state and local land managers about eMTBs.

Randy Neufeld, director of the SRAM Cycling Fund, told attendees that building infrastructure is the No. 1 way to build future sales for the industry. After all, he said, e-bikes are just bikes. "It's the infrastructure, stupid," he said.

He cited the fast-growing use of e-bikes in the Netherlands and Germany, where officials are committed to building the proper network of paths and protected bikeways. If U.S. consumers were buying e-bikes at the same rate as consumers in the Netherlands, the industry would have sold approximately 5.2 million units this year.

"Can we get there? We are starting to see a movement around protected lanes," Neufeld said. Politicians in cities like Chicago find that having a defined network of bikeways gives them a competitive advantage in attracting well-educated employees for local businesses.

"Things like this are happening now and it's accelerating. These (trends) can give us the ability to sell more e-bikes over the next five years," he added.

Most key brands — Trek, Specialized, Giant, Felt, Focus, BionX, Stromer, Pivot, Haibike, BH and others — had representatives at the meeting.

 

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