It seems like I’ve read the same story for several years claiming that this will be the year of the e-bike. Then every year, e-bike sales grow modestly, but nothing akin to a revolution.
Seattle, with its steep hills and technology-driven economy could easily be the American city where e-bikes finally take hold and become mainstream.
Capitol Hill-based Clean Republic makes an easy-to-install electric front wheel they call the Hill Topper (a brilliant name if you ask me) that has become very popular. Electric Bikes Northwest has been selling e-bikes in Ballard for years, and a recent surge in new e-bike shops begs the question: Could it be that Seattle is nearing its e-bike tipping point?
Here in the Northwest, electric bikes have enjoyed an elevated popularity for years, at least according to Google, which ranks Oregon’s interest highest, Washington’s second. (“E-bike” is apparently a Californian term.) Seattle’s cliff-faced hills have long prompted a certain surreptitious interest in some kind of help getting up them. Electric Bikes Northwest was founded in the misty past of 1996. They remain the go-to source for e-bike information, with a guide to picking out the electric bike for you, and four different kinds of electric conversion kits.
But as of just two years ago, Sightline could run a whole series wondering where the e-bike excitement was. It still makes good reading, but the market is catching up fast. E-bikes can now be a low-end or high-end purchase. In Portland, you can pick up a top-of-the-line Kalkhoff for just $4,999. (Or you can rent a Kalkhoff and pretend you own a very expensive electric bike for the weekend.)
Here in Seattle, most of your new-bike options are in the $1,000 to $3,000 range. Besides Electric Bikes Northwest, there’s also Greenwood’s Seattle Electric Bike, who sell OHM electric bicycles; Pioneer Square’s Seattle E-Bike, who sell Prodeco when they’re in stock; and Laurelhurst’s Bicycle Center of Seattle, who have an electric bike department with a variety of brands. (They also sell an electric trailer, which will push your regular bicycle around.)
Like with non-e-bikes, the tipping point will truly arrive when separated, safe bike facilities become the norm. I’m guessing—with exceptions, of course—that many of the people who will find e-bikes appealing are not cycling today. They would fall into the “willing but wary” segment of the population, and AAA (all ages and abilities) bike facilities are the key to getting them to try cycling with or without an e-boost.
So when e-bike sales spike, we’ll know the city has done something right.