It’s tough to be an ogre! I imagine they will be coming for me with torches and pitchforks soon. Let me explain.

Let’s be honest — the bike business is hurting. There was a mini-boom during and right after the pandemic as people were looking for ways to get out and do things, something that wouldn’t necessitate being in a crowd, something that got them outside, something that would allow some travel, albeit limited in distance by how far they could pedal out and back.

As a result, the manufacturers, distributors, and dealers got a little euphoric in their expectations and forecasts. That caused a supply chain issue. Parts to make the finished product and the finished product itself could not be produced quickly enough to meet the perceived continuing demand. Then the demand dried up, leaving a HUGE bulge in the supply chain, with no demand to absorb that much product. Now it seems ridership has fallen, in some cases below pre-pandemic levels.  

You already know this. There has been some enthusiasm that e-bikes will help the business come back to what it once was. There may be logic to that as manufacturers, distributors, and dealers have experienced a significant uptick in e-bike sales. Certainly, the associated dollar volume of e-bike sales has helped. Is this what’s going to help the business get back to where it was? 

Actually, I’m not sure the availability and increased sales of e-bikes haven’t hurt the industry more than it helped. Heresy, I know, hence the mention of torches and pitchforks above.

Mr. Dealer, how many $4,000 to $5,000 or even higher-priced e-bikes have you sold so far this year? How many sales are in your 2024 business plan? How many did you sell in the past couple of years? How many of the people to whom you sold those bikes have come back and bought another e-bike? Or have come back and bought an analog bike? How many have come back with their kids and bought an e-bike for them? Or an e-bike for a spouse/significant other?  

Is this enthusiasm towards e-bikes bringing the industry back real or imagined?

Downstream, kids see their parents riding e-bikes more and more. Typically, kids want to emulate what their parents have and do. I submit it’s going to be harder and harder to get the next generation interested in and on analog bikes.

I know, the rationale is that e-bikes are good for the environment as riders will use them instead of their cars for shorter trips. If more people are on two wheels, because e-bikes take the strain out of regular bicycling and get used instead of cars, that’s a win. Got it. Only my observation is I don’t see many (any?) e-bikes out front of the grocery store when I go, or the Post Office, or at the barber shop, or picking the kids up at school. But the parking lots are always full of cars.

What I do see is an increasing number of golf carts at these places, golf carts that aren’t really golf carts, that seat four to six people with seat belts. Golf carts that have large baskets to hold packages. Golf carts that have headlights, mag wheels, and turn signals. Golf carts that are electric and really are being used instead of a car. I also see a significant increase in parking spots specifically for golf carts. In an acknowledgment of the times, I saw my first handicapped golf cart parking space earlier this week.

Yeah, you say, but those things are expensive. And a $5,000 e-bike that can be used only by a single rider isn’t? I saw a TV ad last week by a golf cart dealer who was selling four-person carts for $3,250, less than a lot e-bikes.

It’s been said video games are replacing the interest in analog bicycling in the next generation. That may still be partially true, but I submit it’s e-bikes, and/or more and more families getting golf carts, that should be considered as contributing causes. Golf carts are being driven not only by parents, but by kids who should be riding bikes. Golf carts are expensive, but when weighed against the cost of an e-bike for each kid, it becomes a more palatable expense. Mom and dad get another conveyance, and the kids get to feel more grown up driving it around with their friends.  

It’s always easier to sell the consumer what they want instead of something they don’t, even if is less expensive. The hype around e-bikes has played into that ethos. It also means there likely will be fewer sales albeit at higher prices. That doesn’t help the sales of analog bikes. How many times has a customer come into your store wanting to buy an e-bike and left with an analog bike?     

Let’s recap. E-bike sales have cooled along with analog bikes. The cost of e-bikes has soaked up a lot more disposable income than what used to be spent for non-electric bikes. Kids aren’t as interested in analog bikes because of the availability of e-bikes so analog bike demand has waned significantly. Plus, golf carts are becoming much more ubiquitous, another analog bike replacement and upgrade. Maybe e-bikes have not actually been as good for the bicycle industry as everyone thinks. It has not been a one-to-one trade of an analog bike to an e-bike. If anything, it is possible the demand for analog bikes will continue to decline because of it.

Uh oh … I think I hear the mob pounding at the castle gate.

Contact Steve Bina: steve@humanpoweredsolutions.com