E-Bikes: What Are They and What Do They Mean for the Motorcycle Industry?

Giant Liv Thrive e-bike
An e-bike built by Giant under its Liv women-oriented brand. This model, the Thrive E+ EX Pro, comes with a head light, taillight, front and rear fenders and a rear luggage rack. Photo by Mark Tuttle.

It’s official: e-bikes (bicycles with a small electric motor that kicks in to assist the pedaling action) are a thing, and they’re here to stay. According to the most recent (2017) study from market research firm NPD Group, the U.S. bicycle market is a $5.9 billion/year industry, and e-bikes represent $77.1 million of that, up 91% over the previous year. Sales grew more than eightfold since 2014, and seem to be showing no signs of slowing. Contrast that with the stagnation we’ve been seeing in the motorcycle industry recently…we’ll revisit that in a moment.

E-bikes appeal for a variety of reasons: they make pedaling easier, which means you can ride farther and arrive less sweaty. They open up a whole new world to those who aren’t already well-conditioned riders and, most importantly, they’re fun. But what does all of this mean to those of us more accustomed to turning a key and twisting a throttle? 

Well, e-bikes are an obvious and natural crossover point between our motorized world and the human-powered world of bicycles. In 2018, we posted a story on our womanrider.com site that made a case for riding a bicycle as a way to cross-train and improve the skills we need as motorcyclists — balance and leg strength — and increase our fitness at the same time.

Back then we reached out to Giant, the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, which happens to have its North American headquarters just 15 minutes away in Newbury Park, California, to borrow one of its e-bikes for the story. Now here we are, nearly two years later, and Giant has taken the…ahem, giant…step of exhibiting its line of e-bikes at all of the 2019-2020 Progressive International Motorcycle Shows. It’s a smart move for them and a fortuitous one for us. It’s no secret that the motorcycle industry’s future survival depends upon new riders, an infusion of fresh blood — and the rapidly growing e-bike market might be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Read our complete Road Test Review of the 2020 Liv Thrive E+ EX Pro e-bike here!

Let’s consider from a prospective new rider’s perspective: we’re curious about motorcycles and all they entail — fun, exhilaration, new friends and social circles, perhaps consideration for a reduced environmental impact and being #onelesscar — but we’re not sure we’re ready to jump headfirst into that world. Motorcycles are powerful and require special licensing and a whole new wardrobe of protective apparel. There’s the insurance to buy and you gotta have space to park it safely out of the elements and away from prying eyes.

But you already know how to ride a bicycle. In fact, there’s one in your garage right now. Your city painted designated bike lanes a few years back, and when you think about it, your daily commute to work is only eight miles. That sounds like a lot…until you consider the possibility of an e-bike. 

We’re not pulling all of this out of thin air; according to the AAA, more than 50% of all car trips are shorter than 10 miles, and the average is 5.95 miles. And a March 2018 survey of nearly 1,800 e-bike owners found that 94% of non-cyclists rode daily or weekly after buying an e-bike. Among those who already owned a bicycle, the number riding daily or weekly jumped from 54% to 91%. In addition, survey respondents reported that they’d replaced 46% of their vehicle commutes and 30% of vehicle errands with the e-bike; 28% bought one to replace a car entirely.

The way we see it, getting people out of their cars and accustomed to going places on two wheels — especially if those wheels are powered somehow — is a logical way to bridge the gap to motorcycle ownership.

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