Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More bike industry rambling...

Last month, BRAIN reported that Best Buy would be selling "electric powered personal transportation products at some of our stores on the West Coast..." These electric powered personal transportation products (electric bikes for those lower on the IQ scale like me) will be available ranging from $499 to $2,000.

So why is a company like Best Buy (who I'm sure is facing tough times in this retail environment with many big retail establishments shutting down their operations) getting into electric bikes? Is it not hard enough selling a computer? How many gigahertz of internal speedy processing Ram-a-lama ding-dong do you want with that?

It seems "many IBD's have an I don't need no stinking motor culture that has really inhibited them from taking electric seriously," says "e-bike expert" Ed Benjamin. He further states that "Best Buy would be superior (on selling e-bikes) because they are about selling things and making money, rather than a lifestyle or a bike culture."

Okay, I don't have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the fact that an e-bike is not a bicycle. It's as much a bicycle as a moped is a bicycle. Sure it's got two wheels and a crankset with pedals and some of them even have derailleurs. But the dang things weigh as much as 3-4 times what a "bicycle" weighs. Who wants to pedal an 80 pound beast when you have that little switch at the ready to fire up those batteries? It's an electric vehicle that just happens to have cranks and pedals.

I also have a problem with e-bike companies expecting bike shops to carry these e-bikes (or motor bikes with pedals). Focusing on your core business is what bike shops need to be doing. It's also something Best Buy probably needs to do as well. Instead, as Mr. Benjamin states, Best Buy is interested in "selling things and making money." A very noble pursuit, but when it dilutes and strays from your company's focus, the gains are always short-term and short-lived. Best Buy will sell some units (and that's what they are to them - units), but revisit this in a year or two and I doubt e-bikes will be in Best Buy.

Further in the article, Larry Pizzi of Currie Technologies, who is providing Best Buy with Izip e-bikes (now there's an original name - put an "I" in front of anything and it's immediately hip, although it didn't work with Ron Horse) says "bike dealers are just not thoroughly embracing the category." However, once Izip e-bikes start flying out of Best Buy, "dealers will have no choice but to "get on the band wagon."" Don't hold your breath.

Again, dealers have enough going on already keeping up with the new technologies of 11-speed, new suspension system systems, hydraulic brakes...I find it hard to imagine that they have time to devote to understanding electric bikes and diagnosing potential problems. And yet again, this all comes down to focusing on your core business. Are you a bicycle shop or are you an electric bike shop? I'm a bicycle shop and I don't have the time or energy to learn about e-bikes because that's not what my focus is. I actually think e-bikes are pretty cool and a great way for folks to get from here to there without utilizing a fossil fueled vehicle. So don't blame bicycle shops for their lack of interest in e-bikes.

And even if an e-bike comes into a bike shop how in the heck is that skinny, no upper body bike geek going to lift that e-bike into the work stand to work on it? Good luck, Best Buy.

(What's playing: The Kinks Low Budget)


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Oli Brooke-White said...

I am an ornery son-of-a-gun - I just turned down a wheelbuild and told the guy it was because I hate electric bikes...and I do.

Anonymous said...

But E-bikes *are* a fossil-fueled vehicle. When you go to plug it in, how do you think that electricity was generated? 75% of all electricity is produced by a fossil fuel. 20% is done with nuclear powerplants which I don't think the US even uses. The other 5% is hydro and wind etc. Electricity is not very green at all. Nowhere near as green as those self righteous Prius drivers would have you believe.

Where are all these batteries going to go when their life is over? Priuses, electric bikes, almost everything we use has a battery that has a finite life span.

Ben said...

Yup. We had on of the Giant E bikes in a while ago. The shop in the next town over sold it, then couldn't even adjust the "bike" portion of it right, so it came to us. 77 lbs on our scale. I was told it was in the neighborhood of $1500 or so. Just think if that lady had bought a $1500 bike? I bet she would have wet her pants.

I think the angry mechanic has just changed habits. Most just get angry in empty shops, or after hours. God knows I do sometimes! Though I know a few who are still rocking a surly attitude with the right customers.

And hey, some of us bike geeks do pushups;)

Guitar Ted said...

Wow! I could have written the middle portion of this- word for word.

Anything with two wheels and a motor is a motorcycle. Period. It really is simple.

Secondly, I agree- it isn't really a grean mode of transportation. We would just be shifting our "carbon foot" from the right to the left.

Thirdly, the "e-bike" will never be used as a bicycle in practice. It will never produce cyclists from it's ranks. More motorcycle riders riding low poered motorcycles will only fuel the scooter and "real" motorcycle markets sales figures.

I tell folks at our shop, "If it has a motor, try the motorcycle shop. we're a human powered vehicle joint."