I sure hope so iain. It wasn't that long ago that I can't remember my frustration trying to realize my dream of an electric bike and the sacrifices along the way trying to scrape up the $1500 it cost me to put together my first conversion. But boy was it worth it as I braved the below zero weather for my first test ride and felt that thrill and sense of freedom.
Being older and in poor physical health I thought I had left those days of high performance far back in my youth. I guess that is something you don't hear discussed too often in this forum, it's understood but goes unsaid. Kind of like the kinship motorcyclists feel knowing you share a common experience. I got a sense of it just the other day when sitting around enjoying a few adult beverages with some recent converts/former skeptics (you spent how much on an electric bike?). We were discussing various experiences such as how we had to be cautious on the bike paths because we are so stealthy that we even startle the dogs being walked. But most of all I noticed the undertone of passion for the experience bordering on an addiction we all had.
As an employee at an ebike shop I see it on the faces of my customers on their first ride, that broad smile and expressions such as amazing and wow. My favorite is our business neighbor who said in her broken English " I feel like I have superman's legs". But I also see the disappointment and frustration from those who come for a test ride and feel that thrill but leave because it is out of their financial reach. I so much hope that you are right iain the world really needs an affordable ebike. Something of good quality, reliable and within the reach of the people that really need it. The ones who don't ride a bike for the joy or recreation but because it is all they can afford. I sure hope this industry does not go the way of automobiles which for new ones are ridiculously beyond my means and most of the people I associate with too. I've had to make sacrifices to feed my addiction and add bikes to my stable and I've helped out some friends who I know who needed it by piecing together some used machines who had seen better days.
I think the industry as a whole could use a model T. There are some great affordable ebikes out there like the eZip Trailz as well as inexpensive kits but it would be great if they were lighter or just a little higher quality. I don't think ebikes are the answer for everyone but I really enjoy them.
I think lower price points are the key. Right now you have to spend over $2500 to get a quality e-bike. I know the battery cost seems to be the limiting factor but prices will come down and range will go up. I really wonder how many units per month are being sold through to the consumer in the states? And just who are the consumers of these bikes? And once purchase how much are they being used?
I owned a bicycle shop for a number of years and I know only a small percentage of the bikes I sold saw a lot of use. Most of them ended up with flats and still hang from the rafters to this day! Back then $500 could buy you a decent bike and even today you can get quality bikes under $1000.
The industry is in a huge growth spurt right now with a mind boggling number of manufacturers. I am sure there will be a huge shakeout sooner rather than later.
I look at the bicycle industry too and see technology and pricing going through the roof. $10,000 road and mountain bikes are not uncommon, but if you look at the statistics bike sales are flat and bike usage is down except for the small percentage of enthusiasts and that demographic is 50 plus years old! Kids don't bike anymore at least in the numbers they did when I was a kid (61 years old now).
Another key is better and safer bicycling facilities. With our roads getting more crowded and falling apart it is not so attractive in many parts of the country to ride a bike or e-bike. The key to changing this is advocacy groups and getting involved.
Biking should be simple and I think E-biking should be simple too. Bells and whistles are fine but if they add to the complexity, cost and lower the reliability of an E-bike then I don't think it will appeal to the masses. If a complex bike is sold with a lot of proprietary parts and the manufacturer goes out of business then a lot of people will get left holding the bag.
The market will be driven by two demographics: Retiring Boomers, we have a lot of cash and time and we want to try new things, or old things in new packages... And professional women and men who like new toys.
So ST2 is floating the balloon on the high end, and the Copenhagen wheel is floating the low end... by that I mean simplicity, not technology.
I personally hope Copenhagen has a strong following, as this will encourage others to perfect the bolt on eBike, and that will fit perfectly with existing LBS. Plus there will be many more bike choices if you're able to just bolt on an EBike.
As an ebike technician at Crazy Lenny's and a longtime member of the Midwest Renewable Energy Association as well as running a repair shop of my own for close to forty years off and on I have an interest in all kinds of emerging transportation alternatives.
Building my own conversions when the technology was in it's infancy in the US gave me a great appreciation of the challenges and advances that have come so far. Customer questions about the present models of course center on some knowingly unobtainable goals it seems that everyone is chasing after the perpetual motion machine without an understanding that there is no free ride.
In five years realistically I see an exponential growth in range, speed and power. As the market grows and a greater understanding of the limitations are met we will see a move away from the weight and configuration of previous human powered bikes and designs more in line with electric powered transportation from the onset. Regulatory agencies will struggle with the legal and social issues as they always do while the technicians push beyond the boundaries into new waters. I see a wide range of transportation options developing which will resist classifications such as bicycle, car or whatever.