As 2020 draws to a close, those of us in the electric bicycle industry look back at the year with mixed emotions. While 2020 brought suffering and economic hardship upon the world in a way many of us had never seen, it also shook up the outdated status quo for urban transportation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That made 2020 a huge year for electric bicycles, and now we’re looking back at the five biggest stories of the year. Our readers and viewers voted with their clicks and their eyes, and here are the results.
Harley Davidson’s electric bicycles spun off under Serial 1 brand
This wasn’t just one of the biggest e-bike stories of the year, it was one of the biggest electric vehicle stories of the year, period.
It rivaled Tesla news and other heavyweights in the industry as millions of you tuned in to read about and watch our coverage of the rollout of Harley-Davidson’s highly anticipated electric bicycles.
In October, we first broke the news of Harley-Davidson deciding to spin off an entire new startup, Serial 1 Cycle Company, to manufacturer and market the e-bikes.
Then in November we became the first media outlet to get an early first ride on the bikes.
That’s when we revealed the pricing starting at just $3,399, which shocked many who had feared a Harley-badged electric bike might command a much higher price.
But with a high-end Brose mid-drive motor, Gates belt drive system, four piston hydraulic disc brakes, novel frame design with integrated lighting, and even a built-in glove box, the Serial 1 e-bikes actually stood their own as a competitive new option in the market, rivaling other premium brands in both components and pricing.
Now time will tell just how many people are ready to put a Serial 1 e-bike in their garage.
Jeep’s 1,500W full-suspension electric bicycle
Technically Jeep had two stories in the top five, both when they unveiled the e-bike during the Super Bowl as well as when the Jeep e-bike began shipping. Apparently readers really wanted to know what the heck Jeep was doing building an electric bicycle.
Through a partnership with the overlanding e-bike company QuietKat, Jeep launched its new off-road full-suspension electric bicycle in March for a whopping $5,899.
For comparison, one of the most popular fat tire e-bikes that we’ve covered, the Rad Power Bikes RadRover, is priced at a mere $1,599.
So what makes the Jeep bike so special (and so pricey)?
Believe it or not, it isn’t just the sticker, though that doesn’t help. The bike is a powerhouse of an e-bike with a massive 1,500 W motor known as the Bafang Ultra, though QuietKat told us that they put special emphasis on controlling the power of the motor and making the ride manageable. That’s a good idea, since the motor is capable of putting out as much as 160 Nm of torque and has been known to shred bike chains when unlimited and under certain circumstances.
I personally turned a bicycle chain into a work of modern art with that motor on a different model of e-bike when testing it out at the 2019 Eurobike show, much to the dismay of the dejected-looking Bafang rep when I wheeled it back in.
But I digress; back to Jeep’s crazy e-bike. Together with QuietKat, they outfitted the bike with massive tires, high-end RockShox suspension, and a 9-speed Shimano transmission.
And even if you thought $6,000 was too much for an e-bike, plenty of others have disagreed. I have it from a source very close to QuietKat’s ordering department that the company is pumping out thousands of the Jeep e-bikes. So it’s not just popular on the internet; the bike is making real sales, too.
Electric bicycle sales are booming, but what about customer service?
Not all of the biggest e-bike news of 2020 surrounded new product launches.
In this story, we looked at a new problem being caused by the massive uptick in e-bike sales this year: customer service.
With e-bike companies often doubling and tripling their sales in a matter of weeks or months, customer service became a huge issue quickly.
VanMoof was one of many electric bicycle companies that saw its sales skyrocket. The unveiling and commencement of its new S3 and X3 e-bikes further boosted sales, but also laid the groundwork for an uphill customer service battle.
The Holland-based company originally expected to field service requests or calls regarding around 1% of the bikes, but later found the number to be closer to 10%, requiring a huge increase in resources.
Lectric Ebikes, a US-based e-bike distributor that exploded in popularity this year thanks to their highly regarded $899 folding fat-tire electric bikes, also felt the crunch in their customer service department. They began hiring quickly and set new, lofty goals for themselves, such as having 97% of phone calls being answered in under one minute and emails being treated more like a customer chat with quick responses.
Rad Power Bikes, the largest e-bike company in the US, also went on a hiring spree to ensure the company was prepared to service its vastly growing customer base.
Founder Mike Radenbaugh explained in a call with Electrek during the early days of the pandemic:
We’re already hiring like crazy, our customer support team is up to about 40 or 50 right now, I’m not even sure. It’s hard to keep track. We should be up to around 70 in the next month or so.
That was followed by Rad Power Bike’s unveiling of its first ever sub-$1,000 e-bike when the RadMission was launched at $999. Now up to its standard price of $1,099, the bike is still adding to Rad’s market dominance and the company’s need to quickly respond to an ever-growing community of riders.
Yamaha unveils new full suspension electric mountain bike
While Yamaha isn’t a newcomer to the electric bicycle industry (the company is actually responsible for the first-ever production electric bicycle in the early 1990s), the Yamaha YDX MORO was announced earlier this year as the brand’s first fulls-suspension electric mountain bike.
The e-bike used a novel and patent-pending frame design known as a dual-twin design, which gave it a striking appearance.
Both the top tube and down tube are actually split into two tubes each, with the lower portion of the frame cradling the battery while the upper frame provides deeper travel for the rear shock.
The bike also uses Yamaha’s latest motor design, the PW-X2.
The PW-X2 mid-drive motor system uses a unique quad-sensor setup that detects pedal speed, pedal torque, bike speed, and incline angle to more precisely calculate the required pedal assist output.
The new motor also used helical gears to help reduce the noise of the motor, which is especially welcome in electric mountain bikes that operate far away from city noises that mask the sound of commuter e-bike motors.
The intelligent motor can even operate in Automatic Mode where it auto-shifts between pedal assist modes, depending on how hard the rider needs to work to overcome various terrain.
I bought a $261 Xiaomi electric bicycle straight from China
When I set out on my own personal quest to buy a cheap electric bicycle directly from China, I never imagined it would become one of the most popular e-bike stories of the year.
But with so much of the e-bike industry’s manufacturing centered in China, apparently I wasn’t the only one interested in trying out one of these ultra-cheap electric bicycles.
Xiaomi’s crowdfunding platform hosted the launch of the Himo V1 electric bicycle and I had a friend in China buy one for me for $261. I wired him the money and a bit extra to mail it back to me in the US, and then I got to experience the full effect of a Cheap chinese e-bike unboxing. You can see my unboxing and test ride video here.
The small bike is certainly not designed for a typical American-sized rider. Fortunately I’m on the smaller end of the American size spectrum, and thus I fit on the bike pretty well.
It’s only powered by a cute little 250W motor and is capped at the Chinese legal limit of 15.5 mph (25 km/h), but the tiny e-bike was still super fun to ride. It’s so small that you can toss it in the back of a car one-handed and barely even think about it.
While there’s nothing high quality about it, it still surprised me with what I got for $261. Full LED lights, horn, an onboard charger, fenders, and even a rear rack (that was about the size of my fist) all made it onto the bike.
While it’s not going to rival my favorite e-bikes anytime soon, the value was through the roof when you consider the price. It’s just too bad they aren’t available in the US!
Onwards to 2021
There you have it, the top five e-bike stories of 2021!
I found the variety interesting, with the top stories including everything from new product launches, industry trends, and even e-bike testing.
I’m excited to see what you value most in 2021, so keep checking back here on Electrek and join the millions of others finding our industry-leading electric vehicle and green energy reporting all in one place.
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