Electric bicycles, or e-bikes, utilize an electric motor, battery, and high-tech software to add power to a bicycle rider’s stroke whenever they pedal. Very popular in bicycle-friendly parts of Europe, e-bikes are classed roughly according to top speed, and whether they have a throttle or rely solely on pedaling action to trigger the electric motor assistance. Electric mountain bikes are typically Class 1, which are pedal-assist only and limited to a 20mph assisted top speed. The popularity of electric mountain bikes is steadily rising, and with it, many debates about trail access, safety, and whether these are bicycles or motorcycles.
Some e-bike brands are capitalizing on the blurry line between bicycle and motorcycle by offering their bikes in powersports dealers. Specialized, one of the most popular bicycle brands worldwide, began selling their e-bikes in select powersports dealerships in 2019. Giant Bicycles displayed several e-bikes at the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach in 2019, and also sells e-bikes through certain powersports dealers. Yamaha even has their own lineup of e-bikes, typically sold in bicycle shops, but according to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, 10% of Yamaha’s e-bike retailers are powersports dealers.
The connection between electric mountain bikes and off-road motorcycles might be obvious to some, but e-bike brands have been careful not to step on the toes of their traditional dealers – the local bicycle shop. Yet the lure of increased sales, and tapping into a new market segment that views a $6000 electric mountain bikes a both a bargain and a great cross-training tool, is too much for some of the brands to resist.
But while the e-bike brands may profit from the increased sales, the powersports dealers need to temper their expectations when it comes to margins and add-ons. Whereas a motorcycle sale can often include a lot of gear, GPS units, extended warranties, and is typically financed, e-bike sales are typically cash, and have far fewer profitable add-ons that go with it out the door. Some extra training in the service department and on the sales floor is also in order for motorcycle dealers looking to sell e-bikes.
How blurry does the line between e-bikes and motorcycles get? Not to be left behind by Yamaha, Harley-Davidson is waiting in the wings with their own line of electric bicycles. If you thought their LiveWire electric motorcycle was a big departure from the storied brand’s traditional portfolio, wait until you see their selection of tasseled Lycra cycling shorts.
Specialized’s Turbo Kenevo electric mountain bike in action.