Where E-bikes are Made, and Why it's Important

Christa E

Member
The Growing Market of E-Bikes

According to academic journal Taylor & Francis, electric bikes are “the largest and most rapid uptake of alternative fueled vehicles in the history of motorization.” By many accounts, it is estimated that by 2023, international sales of e-bikes will reach around 40 million units, worldwide. Currently, China is one of the most influential markets for electric bikes globally, as it is predicted they will sell 34 million units. The remaining units will be sold by Taiwan, Europe and a small but emerging market in the USA. Considering the rapid uptake and manufacturing of electric bikes, does it make a difference where they are made?

Where E-Bikes are Manufactured

Many electric bike companies don't actually manufacture their own product. Instead, they either design bikes to be built elsewhere or import and re-brand e-bikes that are manufactured by another company. There are many bike companies that design and create a bike with parts sourced from a global supply chain which are upheld by strict quality control. There are also many bike brands that simply buy wholesale from a manufacturer without strict quality control or deviation from the standard design.

With a few exceptions, almost all e-bike frames are manufactured in Asian factories- located either in China and Taiwan. What is the difference between these two markets? Most reputable companies in the U.S. use Taiwan-made frames, in fact, Taiwan is the biggest bike manufacturer in the world and they produce for some of the most well-known brands like Trek, Specialized, QBP, Tern- all of which have different models and frames that are recognizable for their quality. China mass produces cheaper bikes that are attractive to big buyers and generic brands.

One thing bike aficionados are aware of is the difference in labor and factory standards in China and Taiwan. Chinese factories manufacture lower quality frames that fall apart, may not ride as straight or precise and aren't as strict with quality control and waste management of production. If you're choosing an electric bike as an environmentally friendly alternative to a car; the irony would be buying one that pollutes its local factory environment.

European and U.S. Manufactured E-Bikes

The more expensive models are actually made in the US and Europe. However, as stated before, many bike brands don't manufacture the e-bikes. Riese and Muller are a popular German made brand that started out manufacturing in Taiwan but now produce their own frames. Raleigh is a UK based company but most likely get frames from Taiwan. Kalkhoff in Germany is designed and produced in Germany, adhering to certification standards and producing around 500,000 e-bikes every year. Brompton is another UK based company that manufacturers their frames.

riese-muller-factory.jpg

Reise Müller Factory in Germany


The U.S. bike industry is experiencing a surge in production in the last few years. Assembly plants in South Carolina, Nevada, and other states are opening up. With Tesla's Gigafactory producing lithium-ion batteries, we can expect to see a widespread development of advanced electronic manufacturing in the U.S. Speculators think that with the increase in local battery production, battery prices could see a production in cost, which in turn would fuel more U.S. based e-bike companies.

E-bikes that are sold in the United States, Europe or Australia just to name a few are held to product safety regulations. Some regulations are specific to the entire assembly of electric bikes, such as European product safety standard EN 15194, while other regulations, for example, RoHS and the Low Voltage Directive, apply to batteries and other components.

Most mid to high end established brands make sure that their products are safe and compliant, and not just the frame. Important components like the gears, battery, motor, petals, handlebar, brakes, charger, tires, etc. are usually bought from outside suppliers, making the assembly of a high-quality bike the difference between putting together different scraps at a low price or ensuring that each component will work and has been tested.

Tawain Manufactured E-Bikes

The e-bike export market has historically been dominated by China, but Taiwan exports are catching up quickly, especially in the mid to high-end of the market while Chinese exports continue to stay at the low to mid range.

One of the biggest factories to export e-bikes to the US and UK is Giant, with 9 factories worldwide. A Taiwanese company started in 1972, Giant manufacturers their own bikes- including the carbon bikes, which is unique in the industry.

Giant-factory-rooftop-view.jpg

Giant Factory

Giant has a reputation for being the best manufacturer of carbon frame bikes. Interestingly, they buy their carbon in raw spools that look like carbon thread to make their own wide carbon sheets using their own resin formula. Additionally, they own their own aluminum mines and smelters! Research into the production process of each factory and the working conditions and quality expectations reveal precision and attention to detail. In addition to making their own bikes, Giant also makes or has made, bikes for many other brands such including Trek, Specialized [now part of Merida], Schwinn, and Bianchi.

China Made Bikes

China-made frames are used in generic brands and cheaper bikes. When you go into a reputable bike store that carefully sources their product, like Propel, New Wheel, they most likely sell high-quality bikes that are probably not from China.

The price of the electric bike is entirely based on the component composition, like which battery models and the type of motor, etc. Therefore, you cannot compare the prices between e-bikes, but rather compare sets of components against each other. What’s more, Chinese suppliers, including those in the e-bike industry, tend to lack strict internal quality guidelines. In practice, this means that most manufacturers basically use any components that are available unless otherwise specified by the buyer.

An interesting turn in events is the tariffs being enacted on e-bikes made in China. The E.U. has tariffs ranging from 80 to 170 percent, while the U.S. is considering a 25 percent tariff. What made Chinese e-bikes so attractive was the fact that they were lower-priced and mass produced, now that that advantage is drastically reduced, Taiwanese manufacturers are at the perfect crossroads to take over the market.

This Wikipedia list shows a list of popular and established e-bike companies and where they manufacture their product.

If you're in the market for an e-bike and wonder at the different costs for different brands, or if you are concerned that your super cheap bike will not last long, in this case, the old adage is true: you get what you pay for.

Sources

Fishman, Elliot. (2014). E-bikes in the Mainstream: Reviewing a Decade of Research, *Taylor and Francis Online, 36*
https://www.chinaimportal.com/blog/importing-e-bikes-china-complete-guide/
https://www.aaaspolicyfellowships.o...c-bikes-tell-us-about-future-us-manufacturing
https://aushiker.com/where-was-my-bicycle-made
(Link Removed - No Longer Exists) https://www.pinkbike.com/news/we-went-to-taiwan-and-started-a-bike-company.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_electric_bicycle_brands_and_manufacturers
https://www.bicycleretailer.com/sit...dustry Backgrounder 2018 - ENG_27.06.2018.pdf
http://www.bicyclingtrade.com.au/features/inside-giant-s-c-tech-carbon-fibre-factory
 

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Interesting article, but it does seem more like an advertisement for the super expensive brands. I see people everyday with relatively cheap ebikes, I would guess with parts from China, and they love them. I don't know where Rad Power sources their materials, but I know people around here who ride those things over all sorts of terrible terrain. I've never seen a frame collapse, as this article suggests is often the case on cheaper bikes. It would helpful if we had some people on these forums who've experienced that.

I was under the impression that all ebike batteries have a decent sized carbon footprint during the manufacturing process. Is that correct? If so, buying an expensive bike doesn't get you off the hook in that whole polluting thing. Still better than driving a car, though.
 

Christa E

Member
You bring up some really valid points! It's true that there are good cheap ebikes, and really with many ebikes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It's the collection of everything: handlebar, brakes, tires, battery, motor, etc that make a bike great.

And it's definitely true that there are significant environmental issues in making batteries, so as of now nothing is actually pollution free, that is absolutely true.
 

Big Tom

Member
There is a guy who makes his motors and frames in the USA with parts made in USA. His battery packs are Panasonic cells made in the USA as well. 95% of his components are sourced from the USA. He also provides kits with his 48V + geared motor rated at 700W and peaks at 1400W mounted on a nice rim with thick stainless spokes. It has cruise control. You can choose any rear gearing up to 10 cogs. Three year warranty on everything!
That means you can choose any bike you want and turn it into an electric bike. How cool is that?
I ordered one for a 24 speed GT Mtn Bike and will review it somewhere once it is put together.
 

Ann M.

Well-Known Member
@Big Tom, Panasonic cells are NOT manufactured in the US, ever. Someone could use Panasonic cells from China or Taiwan and then fabricate a whole battery pack claiming it was made in the USA. Please understand the distinction :) Same for the motor and possibly the electronics, too.

We would need details of who this person is and where they are located in the US to verify the statements you make. It would be wonderful if it proves true; however, research to back up your claims is needed and we're ready to do it. BTW, are you a distributor, dealer, representative or friend of someone in this company? We want all members to be clear about their relationships with manufacturers to keep it fair and open knowledge for everyone on the site.
 

Big Tom

Member
@Big Tom, Panasonic cells are NOT manufactured in the US, ever. Someone could use Panasonic cells from China or Taiwan and then fabricate a whole battery pack claiming it was made in the USA. Please understand the distinction :) Same for the motor and possibly the electronics, too.

We would need details of who this person is and where they are located in the US to verify the statements you make. It would be wonderful if it proves true; however, research to back up your claims is needed and we're ready to do it. BTW, are you a distributor, dealer, representative or friend of someone in this company? We want all members to be clear about their relationships with manufacturers to keep it fair and open knowledge for everyone on the site.

https://electrek.co/2017/10/25/pana...n-tesla-gigafactory-1-other-factories-report/

Here is a press release - Panasonic is part owner of Teslas Nevada Gigafactory. They manufacturer batteries in Nevada. They don't use the typical 1860 cell they buy a 3450 from Panasonic that's made at the Nevada factory.

FYI AllCell makes a battery pack for ebikes here in the USA. Both 36V and 48V.

My relationship with this company is this: The owner is a smart guy who says he makes a great motor. I have confirmed everything he has told me and has been a great source of information. The company is small, maybe 100 kits per year. I have one coming to install on a GT 24 speed bike and promise a fair review.

Forget about the batteries, it is the kits that excite me. I haven't shared any names as I assume that's against forum rules but the guy makes a great product that the community should be aware of. It is a 700W - 1400W geared rear wheel designed for aggressive hill climbing at an affordable price that is made in the USA from USA components.

I found him looking for electric bikes and motors made in USA to sell to the USA government through the GSA. IF we develop any business relationship it would be for Government business. I am not going to share the business plan. In conversation he mentioned his batteries were made from cells made in the USA. We had been talking to Dakota Lithium Batteries (Clean Republic) about representing them however they only assemble cells here in the USA, not manufacturer, so this intrigued me. I have asked for documentation on cell origin and will post that when it comes in.

In the future I may help them with sales and marketing but right now I have no contractual or financial agreements. I'm showing his wheel to friends in Costa Rica and trying to get business from there and he made me buy the kit for retail.

The guy is smart, I like the way he does business. He helped me brainstorm a way to come up with a 7AH 48V battery that I can take on an airplane to use the wheel when I get to my destination. Wheel fits in a suitcase, batteries carry on. Now I can go anywhere that rents Mtn Bikes and have an ebike. I'm using the Dakota Lithium Batteries in series.

The knowledge this guy has is amazing. I also found a company that makes bike fairings for all weather riding AND greater performance. These are guys who helped build bikes that have gone across the USA, the fairing guy has his fairing in the Smithsonian on the bike that holds the land speed record.

I sit on the board of our local governments Environmental Sustainability Board and see ebikes as ONE of the answers to reducing the use of cars. Making government aware of ebikes and their potential is one of our goals. We are trying to use the LEED transportation credits that become available when you build bike paths to show the payback the county will have for investing in the paths. Ebikes answer the problem of a quicker commute while not sweating your butt off - being able to be productive in the work environment.

When I found a 500W Gary Fisher 21 speed for $500 I saw that these could be in most peoples budgets and not only provide alternate energy solutions but solutions to affordability issues we see in high rent areas. By using a bike to get to and from any job, including retail, would allow someone to get rid of their car and save a lot of money each month. Enough to perhaps move out of a homeless shelter. That's why I like the kits.

So, my desire is to make ebikes affordable and suitable to use as a commuter vehicle in all environments. I'm retired and have the time to invest in making change happen. I owned my own sales company for twenty years and it's natural for me to promote a product I like and use.
 

Ann M.

Well-Known Member
Tom, the Tesla plant is focused on car batteries and large commercial storage cells first. The small cells like what would be used in an ebike are way down the road with them. AllCell assembles packs with special cooling features but does not manufacture 18650's or the 21700's. I think they do manufacture some pouch style lithium batteries

I agree with you that electric bikes are a very important part of an overall transportation plan, been involved with the industry for 17 years now.
 

Big Tom

Member
Ann. they said that they are buying the 3450 cell made by Panasonic at the factory in Nevada.

What is your involvement in the ebike industry? I would love to pick your brain on the problems you have seen introducing ebikes to the USA.
 

Ann M.

Well-Known Member
Thanks for the info, @Big Tom! I'm always open to learning more.

Would be glad to share what I know from 13 years running an ebike shop with involvement with bike advocacy and a rebate program in Austin TX followed by 4 years of a bit repairs with my primary work, here with EBR :) You started a conversation with me yesterday that I didn't see until late last night- let's keep that one going; easy way to share.
 

David Berry

Well-Known Member
Chinese factories manufacture lower quality frames that fall apart...

Chinese-made frames "fall apart". Say it isn't so.

Will my Trek Powerfly’s "lower quality" frame "fall apart"? I have noted that it is one of the most referenced ebikes on the EBR Forum... and no one ever seems to have had a bad word to say about it.

Perhaps, they haven't seen the Made in China sticker - it's discreetly placed.

... David
 
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JRA

Well-Known Member
First of all there is no such thing as a 3450 cell. The Giga Factory is focused on the 2170 cell.

Second of all I severely doubt that there is a hub motor built in the US without some overseas components. Grin designed and had the components made for their Any Axle front hub motor and assemble it in Vancouver is about as close as I know of. They also make flight approved 100wh potted packs that can be run in series once you are at your destination.

Bottom line is that you are happy with your purchase once it is received.
 

Trail Cruiser

Well-Known Member
First of all there is no such thing as a 3450 cell. The Giga Factory is focused on the 2170 cell.

Second of all I severely doubt that there is a hub motor built in the US without some overseas components. Grin designed and had the components made for their Any Axle front hub motor and assemble it in Vancouver is about as close as I know of. They also make flight approved 100wh potted packs that can be run in series once you are at your destination.

Bottom line is that you are happy with your purchase once it is received.

I think Grin made the prototype in Canada but it is cheaper to mass produce most of the parts in China. The completed units are combination of Chinese and Canadian made parts but completely assembled in Canada.
 
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Big Tom

Member
First of all there is no such thing as a 3450 cell. The Giga Factory is focused on the 2170 cell.

Second of all I severely doubt that there is a hub motor built in the US without some overseas components. Grin designed and had the components made for their Any Axle front hub motor and assemble it in Vancouver is about as close as I know of. They also make flight approved 100wh potted packs that can be run in series once you are at your destination.

Bottom line is that you are happy with your purchase once it is received.
Do you know for sure that Panasonic doesn't build a 3450 in Vegas? Do you purchase lithium batteries for a living or work for Panasonic? If you google 3450 lithium cell you will see that it is available.
Just because you don't know doesn't mean it isn't available. 95% of the components that can be used used to make electric motors are made in the USA, they just aren't cheap. They are used for other industries, not just ebikes.
 

Big Tom

Member
Chinese-made frames "fall apart". Say it isn't so.

Two days ago I parted company with my German-designed, German-engineered and German-made ebike. Its makers promote it (correctly) for the way it melds function and aesthetics. The model's name is even a play on the word integrate, referring to how the frame, motor, battery and components look exactly like they were designed for each other (and that is correct, too). So why was I prepared (actually relieved) to sell an ebike that I bought just last year for US$3000 less than I paid for it?

My made-in-Germany ebike was a dud. It broke down again and again and yet again. Junk.

Now, the real point of chipping into this discussion with my experience is to admit that the dud ebike's replacement (bought for half the cost) came with a Made in China sticker on it. Will its "lower quality" frame "fall apart"? It is too early for me to comment on my new ebike's durability, but I have noted that it is one of the most referenced ebikes on the EBR Forum... and no one ever seems to have had a bad word to say about it.

Perhaps, they haven't seen the Made in China sticker - it's discreetly placed.

... David
That's why I'm such a big promoter of the kits. You can put them on any frame you want. Frame cracks? Go on craigslist and buy another bike - I see nice Trek and GT bikes for under $100 all the time. Motor burns up? The importer I buy my 500W motors from will sell a new rear wheel with Motor for $105.
I am not a dealer, I buy the used bikes, cheap battery from China, and a 500W geared kit off ebay , assemble them, and use them to show my friends how cool ebikes are. TOTAL COST $400 or less. They end up buying the bike from me for $500 once they see what the bike can do. If I were a bike shop I would build some of these bikes and sell for $650 - $700
 

J.R.

Well-Known Member
There are TWO different descriptions for lithium cells discussed in this thread. Tom is describing cells using mAh, 3450 mAh and others are using the industry size standard of 18650 mm and 21700 mm. Size is the standard way to describe cells because different chemistries, within the sizes, have different capacities.
 

Big Tom

Member
There are TWO different descriptions for lithium cells discussed in this thread. Tom is describing cells using mAh, 3450 mAh and others are using the industry size standard of 18650 mm and 21700 mm. Size is the standard way to describe cells because different chemistries, within the sizes, have different capacities.
Thanks for the clarification. Is a 3450 mAh cell considered high capacity?
 

J.R.

Well-Known Member
Thanks for the clarification. Is a 3450 mAh cell considered high capacity?
I believe that's the GA 18650 cell you're referencing. It is an energy dense cell. Made quite a splash when it hit the market a couple of years ago. Opinions abound with this stuff, some now think the cycle life is too short and the cell apparently isn't optimized for ebiking distance, but does well for high speed. It would appear the industry is now excited about the 21700 cell. There were a few ebike systems using them in 2018 and 2019 looks to be a much bigger year. Time will tell what the downside is. We always want more.
 

Big Tom

Member
I believe that's the GA 18650 cell you're referencing. It is an energy dense cell. Made quite a splash when it hit the market a couple of years ago. Opinions abound with this stuff, some now think the cycle life is too short and the cell apparently isn't optimized for ebiking distance, but does well for high speed. It would appear the industry is now excited about the 21700 cell. There were a few ebike systems using them in 2018 and 2019 looks to be a much bigger year. Time will tell what the downside is. We always want more.
Thanks. Great info and I really appreciate it.
 

JRA

Well-Known Member
Do you know for sure that Panasonic doesn't build a 3450 in Vegas? Do you purchase lithium batteries for a living or work for Panasonic? If you google 3450 lithium cell you will see that it is available.
Just because you don't know doesn't mean it isn't available. 95% of the components that can be used used to make electric motors are made in the USA, they just aren't cheap. They are used for other industries, not just ebikes.
The gigafactory is in Sparks, NV closer to Reno actually but their battery science lab is in Nova Scotia. And I do know for a fact that they are set up for making up to 5A (5000mah) 2170 batteries.

Not trying to be a know it all just trying to keep the record straight. While I don’t work for Panasonic I am currently finalizing the design of a 48v 2170 5A battery that will adapt to the Rad etc. type bikes that will increase range and have a higher C rate.
 

rannyv

Active Member
China is perfectly capable of manufacturing quality products. They manufacture iPhones, after all. If a US or other company uses a Chinese contract manufacturer, it is up to them (the customer) to impose quality requirements on the manufacturer and to audit them regularly. But supply chain management is no easy task, nor is manufacturing a quality product in China. It is not something a small company could likely do easily. Which is why the Apples of the world can afford to do this, but the smaller, startup companies, not so much.

Anyone old enough to have lived through the 50's - 70's will recall that the 'Made in Japan' label was a mark of shame. That has not been the case since the late 70's. Which car is most likely to last a quarter million miles with minimal repairs - a Japanese or US made car. Yes, I know many Japanese branded cars are assembled in the US. But the Japanese company controls the supply chain and is ultimately responsible for the overall quality.