Cycling

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The Growing Presence of E-Bikes: What Event Owners Should Know

20 Mar, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The news that Wyoming’s bicycle paths and trails will soon be open to those using electric-powered, or e-bikes will be viewed one of two ways, courtesy of pop culture:

  • It’s the end of the world as we know it
  • The times they are a-changin’

There’s no denying, of course, that e-bikes are a growing presence in the market and among users. In fact, Wyoming is now the 12th state to institute a standardized e-bike law. The question, however, is the penetration of e-bikes into the event market is sparking widespread change across the U.S.

So far, the answer appears to be yes – although growth still lags behind that of traditional races. An increasing number of e-bike-specific races are appearing on calendars, and a number of traditional cycling events have added e-bike events with great success. The Sea Otter Classic, for example, added e-bike races to its traditional events in 2017 and the category grew in 2018, and will be offered again this year. Additionally, as of 2018, nearly 40 e-bike companies were present at the related expo. Numerous other events have been held, and are planned, either for e-bikes only, or for traditional and e-bikes.

And the wheels of change continue to turn. In 2018, The European Cycling Union announced the inception of an e-bike racing circuit. The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI, cycling’s international governing body) announced last year that E-MTB had been integrated into the UCI Regulations and that it will host its first events in 2019. The new format joins the Worlds program for the first time alongside cross-country Olympic (XCO) and downhill (DHI).

While there does not seem to be one central calendar for cycling events that single out e-bike categories or races, there is certainly evidence e-bike events (and e-bike-friendly events) are growing; Sports Destination Management has received numerous notifications of such events, which are added to the Event News section of the website.

USA Cycling, the national governing body, has not yet hosted e-bike events.

“Currently, we do not have standalone e-bike events,” noted Guillermo Rojas, director of marketing and communications. “What we are seeing is events are creating e-bike divisions.”

Bicycling Magazine noted that electric bikes have been a point of interest — and contention — in competitive cycling for the last few years. Some view it as a means of cheating on a sport that should be completely human-powered while others argue it’s a way of getting more people, including those less than fit, outdoors. Others simply see e-bikes as a separate discipline that has the potential to generate interest and economic impact. Either way you look at it, it's a market that is projected to grow exponentially.

The lag in acceptance of e-bikes, however, is most apparent in the U.S. – ironically, the country that cycles less than its international neighbors. An excellent analysis of this phenomenon can be found here. The growth in other countries is marked; for example, in the Netherlands, an enormous market expansion in e-bikes was recorded this year. The e-bike’s market share jumped from 31 percent to 40 percent while the total market volume increased by 5.7 percent. In value, the Dutch market reached historical high levels. Stateside, Harley Davidson has announced it will start making electric motorcycles for toddlers.

For event owners planning to add e-bike events to races, gran fondos, touring rides and more, it is essential to plan carefully. Check with the appropriate governing body for any sanctioning requirements. Depending upon the nature of the event, e-bike athletes may need their own race – or they may be able to ride along with others. Educate yourself on the different classifications of e-bikes and ascertain whether specific mechanics and professionals are needed to service each time in the event of mechanical trouble.

SDM will continue to cover this developing issue.

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