On a trail run recently, fairly high up the Constantiaberg mountains, I met an elderly man, grinning animatedly. “My first time on an e-bike,” he enthused. “It’s wonderful!” And he was off — heading higher still — too fast for me to ask his name or what bike he was on.
Welcome to the evolving world of cycling: the e-bike as an enabler of more fun, more time in the saddle, and a wider variety of routes. No longer is cycling an intense, demanding pursuit only for the seriously fit and dedicated; e-bikes are gearing renewed lifestyles for anyone just wanting to be active and feel alive.
It’s a genuinely global trend. An astounding Deloitte forecast is that 130-million new e-bikes will be sold between now and 2023, as the world seeks the health benefits and happiness quotient of biking, and craves commuting sanity in increasingly crowded cities. Everyone, it seems, is cottoning on that a bit of motorised assistance goes an enormous way to increasing the pleasure paradigm of a bicycle.
Lionel Murray, co-owner of Freewheel Cycology in Kenilworth, Cape Town, confirms that the e-volution has kept many cycle retailers afloat during difficult trading conditions. “E-bikes have been a game-changer for the industry,” he says. Three to four years ago his outlet sold less than 20 e-bikes per year, then the number grew to 130, and so far this year they’ve sold 180.
Contextually, the Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions spurred cycling’s popularity and a concomitant surge in e-bike sales. Getting outdoors was blissful, for everyone, and e-bikes enabled even unfit novices to get their legs moving. Targeting the premium end of the market — prices for top-of-the-range Specialised Turbo Levo models eclipse R200,000 — the shop is now doing a roaring trade. “We run a waiting list for our e-bikes,” Murray says, noting that the global supply chain is still recovering.
He estimates that e-bikes now account for a third of SA’s bicycle sales volumes, and half the industry’s sales value.
There are e-bikes to match all terrains, and any cyclist’s particular passion, modification requirements, or degree of expertise. Want to wind along trails, climb some major mountains, and bomb down with aplomb? The Cannondale Habit Neo-1 will get you higher, and its “proportional response” customised suspension means the descent will pump the endorphins and still be gentle on your jaws. It’s a machine with attitude, crafted to match the courage and cravings of trailblazers and downhillers.
Roadies will love the breathtakingly beautiful Specialised Turbo Creo range. The S-Works Turbo Creo SL — sleek and elegant despite the unfettered raw carbon frame — has the works; for the ultimate in long, high-performance rides, it costs a cool R200,000.
Or, maybe you need to simplify your commute to work? Check out the Avalanche E-Go, made here in SA. It’s less sexy than aspirational e-MTBs and road-racers, but time-pressures to squeeze exercise into hectic lifestyles, our congested cities — and the cost of petrol — are reasons to consider cycling when heading to work or doing errands.
Avalanche also make a cute fold-up commuter e-bike model, ideally suited to the space constraints of inner-city living.
In the sense that an e-bike’s motor is a talent equaliser, it’s also a social lubricant, making it easier for couples, families, and larger crowds to enjoy the camaraderie of cycling. Errol Pretorius, owner of Oudtshoorn-based Karoo Mountain Bike Tours, says e-bikes have been a blessing: “I want my groups to be able to ride together — the racing snakes with the slower guys, the older men with their fitter wives or girlfriends! E-bikes help everyone keep up.”
Still sceptical? It’s true that some snarkiness still surrounds the e-biking wave. Pedal-assist lacks purity, according to the doubters and cynics. Pay no attention. We don’t all have the same genes, and e-bikes have put the fun back into cycling.
That’s the point: what we want from technology is to make our lives better. In giving cyclists the option of a boost, across the spectrum of abilities and activities, e-bikes create opportunities for new adventures.
The great outdoors just got greater.