NJ bicycle dealers hope US is the next big market for electric bikes
You might consider it a new breed of bicycle, but it's been around for years — New Jersey and the U.S. are just catching on to the trend.
Electric bicycles, or e-bikes, use battery power to assist riders with pedaling over unpleasant terrain or while they're exhausted. Some models can also do all the work for you — propelling forward with no pedaling necessary — when you engage the throttle.
In Verona, Electric Spokes Co. believes it's on the ground floor of a booming industry stateside that's already a "way of life" in Europe.
"They're outselling conventional bikes in many countries," said Derek Mithaug, CEO of Electric Spokes, one of just two bike shops in New Jersey selling electric models exclusively. "We're 10 years behind Europe."
Since opening in 2015, Mithaug said, demand has been overwhelming.
"We're expanding, we're franchising," he said. "We have our first franchisee opening in Denville."
That's scheduled to occur on Black Friday, and franchise locations will go by the name Voltaire Cycles.
According to market research company NPD Group, dollar sales and unit sales of e-bikes in the U.S. jumped nearly 100 percent in the 12 months ending July 2017. It's currently considered a $64.9 million category.
"There are not enough sale channels for electric bikes," Mithaug said. "Entrepreneurs, independent business owners, people who might want to be changing careers — this is a great industry to get into."
Electric Spokes carries more than a dozen brands of electric bikes. Some models feature just pedal-assist, others propel you forward at limited speeds with no assistance from the rider, and some can do both.
According to Mithaug, the average price point is around $2,200. Some go for as little as $1,000, while models with the most advanced version of pedal-assist and the ability to run longer on a single charge can cost you $10,000.
The Electric Spokes team is pushing for passage of legislation in New Jersey that would put e-bike regulations in line with the laws surrounding regular bicycles. That's currently the case, but at the risk of confusion or interference in the future as the popularity of e-bikes increases, a law on the books would definitively differentiate e-bikes from a motorcycle or motor vehicle.
"People tend to want to consider e-bikes as mopeds, and they are not," said Jamie Gilson, director of communications for Electric Spokes. "It is not a gasoline-powered engine, and there are built-in speed limitations that are designed for safety and operability."
Legislation sponsored by Democrats Tim Eustace in the Assembly and Linda Greenstein in the Senate, if passed, would limit an e-bike's speed to 28 mph, according to Gilson. It was approved by the full Assembly in June and awaits consideration by a committee in the Senate.
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