IRVINE, CA (BRAIN) — Debuting the Bosch system to U.S. consumers for the first time, four bike companies are offering e-bike demos at the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon at Irvine’s Great Park in southern California. The event opened last Thursday and closed Sunday. A second public session will run from this Thursday through Sunday.
Held every other year, the eight-day Solar Decathlon is a competition that challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar houses that are cost-effective and attractive. The houses are on display at the event and open to the public. The event draws thousands of people from all over the world to view the latest innovations in green building, design and alternative energy, including transportation and farming and agriculture.
This is the first year the Solar Decathlon has featured e-bikes. The e-bike pavilion is sponsored by Bosch and showcases models from Haibike, Felt, Cannondale and BH Bicycles—the four brands that will be selling the Bosch system in the U.S. in 2014. Retailers could demo the bikes at Outdoor Demo and Interbike, but this is the first time consumers have been able to ride them.
Although the Solar Decathlon is not an event that would typically attract cyclists, attendees typically possess two qualities that have made having demo bikes at the event a success: they’re open to innovation, and they are eco-minded.
“The people getting on our bikes today, they are a totally different clientele. They aren’t cyclists,” said Zach Krapfl, an e-bike design engineer at Felt Bicycles. “But they are curious consumers who ‘get’ the utility and practicality of an electric-assist bike.”
Nearly 800 consumers visited the e-bike pavilion to demo bikes on an old airstrip during the first four days of the event, and many rode bikes from every manufacturer, which far exceeded the organizers’ expectations.
“We can’t keep our bikes on the racks,” said Rob Kaplan, vice president of sales for Currie Technologies, parent company of Haibike. “Everybody who comes back has a huge smile on their face—whether they are a cyclist or not. I’ve been in this category for 11 years, and it’s all about getting the consumer on the bike.”
Kaplan went on to say that it comes down to a change in perception, and that’s where the work will be in the industry when it comes to e-bikes. “The e-bike is a solution not only for the bike industry—we need new customers—but for the country as well, to help solve transportation problems, obesity and dependency on foreign oil,” he said.
“There is a perception that people have that you’re being lazy if you use an electric-assist bike, but the reality is, you still have to pedal,” added Krapfl. “There is no throttle here, and you absolutely have to ride. If you’re getting out of your car and onto a bike—electric-assist or not—that is good for the industry.”
Consumer response was overwhelmingly positive, according to Krapfl. “Most people out here have never ridden an e-bike before,” he said. “But they are coming back really surprised and excited.”
“If I wasn’t a poor college student, I could see having one of these bikes for my daily commute,” said Chris Pasco, electrical systems coordinator for Team Ontario. “Maybe someday, when I’m done with school and have a job it will be a good solution.”
The Bosch system will be approved for sale in the U.S. fall of 2013 and on the market by late spring 2014. All four of the brands that have partnered with Bosch are looking for retailers.
Kaplan said that the e-bike market has become the bike industry’s elephant in the room. “One retailer put it to me this way: ‘The e-bike chatter is getting too loud to ignore’,” he said. “And this is from a guy who has been telling me for three years ‘someday, someday’. That someday is here and he’s ready to bring them into his store.”
The Solar Decathlon will re-open to the public on Thursday with free e-bike demos available from 11 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. through Sunday. Admission is free.