SURU went to Interbike in Las Vegas in September, and what we saw was shocking.
The show that calls itself the biggest in the North American bicycle industry was, to put it mildly, an underwhelming trade event that brought little in terms of breakthrough cycling technology to the table. What it did display, however, was the overwhelming expansion of the electric bike business.
Positive and Negative
Of all the brands represented, it is not an exaggeration to say that at least a quarter of the manufacturers had electric cycles of some kind. From the people we spoke to, veterans of Interbike going back twenty years, the year-over-year growth in electric bikes at the show roughly correspond to the double digit growth seen in the consumer market.
In 2015, the last year with full data available, Europeans bought close to two million new electric cycles of all descriptions (the EU has several classes of electric two-wheelers), up about ten percent from 2014. In the US it is harder to account but even the pessimistic data points to nearly 20% growth.
Sadly, most of the electric bikes on the market are nothing more than conventional bicycles with batteries and electric drive kits slapped on. Even the more attractive and integrated designs, such as the Stromer, Haibike or Faraday are extremely expensive, lack suspension, and feature the same wheel and brake components found on regular bicycles. It doesn't really add up to good value, or suggest robust quality on vehicles that weigh twice or three times as much as conventional bikes.
But riding the many e-bikes available for a couple of hours on the indoor test track meant that SURU staff got a very good breakdown of what the state of the art is. The good news? Overall, the electric cycle is a fantastic concept regardless of the execution. Fast, effortless and addictive fun that makes a lot of sense for a lot of people.
Canadian startup brand Elby, a company created by automotive parts billionaire Frank Stronach, has what in our opinion is the most refined and best value e-bike on the market. Unsurprising really, when you consider that unlike 95% of electric cycle brands, it was properly capitalized, and developed using automotive standards of engineering and design. The Elby sets a high bar for integration and quality that SURU had to work very hard to match.
Las Vegas is an artificial place with fake monuments, fake rivers, and a lot of fake brands fighting for tourist dollars. In the stark, searing brightness of the desert sun, the glamour fades and one can see the reality of the downtown strip. It is not what is seems.
Similarly, Interbike promised to be a showcase of the world cycling industry. But after a day of concerted study and walking through every hall, a different reality set in. Shimano, Campangolo, Mavic, Giant, Trek, Specialized... these titans of the pedal world were not present, in any official capacity. Shimano did have a stand to promote its STEP pedal-assist e-bike system, plus another small one, but it came across as a dealer show rather than a trade show for manufacturers.
Next year SURU will travel to EICMA, the one week orgy of all things two-wheeled near Milan, to see what is really in store for the year to come. We enjoyed Interbike, and we enjoyed our stay in Las Vegas. Both were fun and provided SURU with opportunities to see and test the concept on the market. But as a place to experience the best of what's out there? Not quite.