20 Years in E-Bikes - What a Ride!
It all started at Eurobike 1997. At Germany's bicycle trade show in Friedrichshafen, 20 years ago, I took a seat in the saddle of an electric bike for the very first time. As soon as I felt that extra push when pedaling, I loved it! It was as if I had a second pair of legs. Suddenly, cycling was much easier and faster, especially uphill. „It’s a kind of automatic assistance like the steering booster in a car,” the experts - a handful of visionaries at the test track of ExtraEnergy, where visitors could test ride electric bikes - explained.
The Biggest Revolution in Bicycle History
It did not take me long to test ride all seven or eight models on display and all the European market had to offer at that time. From looking at them, there was no way of telling how much fun they actually were to ride. They looked like granny bikes. No wonder you’d feel ashamed showing up on an e-bike, especially back then, when regular mountain bikes had just hit mass market.
But here’s the good news: We were literally standing right in front of maybe the biggest revolution in bicycle history - cycling’s digitalisation. Once I realised the enormous potential, my student’s job of trying to convince people to take an electric ride, quickly turned into something much bigger and more rewarding. It started at this very Eurobike when I was pitching the predecessors of today’s pedelecs for test riding.
Coming A Long Way
ExtraEnergy was the first organisation in Europe, that offered such test ride events. It was also the first institution worldwide that tested electric bikes all under the same conditions to provide users with comparable data. Founder Hannes Neupert and I already shared a desk in elementary school. But not even in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would become an “accomplice” in this new mobility movement one day.
The electric tailwind, that makes cycling so beautifully easy today, has seen lots of head wind in the early days. I’ll never forget the - mostly male - trade show visitors who showed up at the test track. I could see in their eyes that they were curious about the new technology. Yet instead of admitting they may love this new toy themselves, they would use their mothers as an excuse to give it a go. After all, such granny bikes are nothing for die hard cyclist, right?! Still, they all came back with a big broad smile on their face, which lasted until they remembered who they originally had tested the bikes for - mom, of course. Even with the bright smile gone, that spark in their eyes remained and gave me the heart to carry on.
Lost For Words
Still, e-bikes were scarce in those days and no matter how hard we tried, we could not offer a test ride to everyone. Instead, we had to explain and promote that new technology but I struggled to describe the ride and feel of the extra watts so that people could understand even without a test ride. My sentences turned into monsters … E-bike as a term was of no use either. Firstly, it described an electric bike that would work without pedaling, like a moped. Secondly, early e-bikes had a bad reputation as uncool, unsexy and for the lazy, and I did not want to off-put those guys brave enough to come for information anyhow.
In Japan, where the pedelec as a production bike originally comes from, Yamaha had introduced the expression „Power Assist System (PAS)“. Yet again, that term had the notion of someone in need of support, especially if translated to German or pedal-assist in English. So, to take this new species into attractive territory, we needed a word…
At that time, I was studying languages at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and the topic for my final theses was right at hand. The word had to be explicit and international. And signify a new category of vehicles. The result was the word “pedelec” - short for pedal electric cycle. It was meant to make communication easier for myself and everyone, who was on the same track.
When I floated the term “pedelec” in 1999 in leading bicycle industry and consumer media (Bike Europe, Japan Cycle Press, ExtraEnergy, aktivRadfahren …), my career as a journalist began.
Breakthrough via Technology, Climate Change and the Media
There was more to the breakthrough in Europe than a word, of course. Manufacturers started hiding, or integrating, the motor and battery in the bicycle design so early adopters - elderly people for once - did not have to be ashamed of their little helper. With the introduction of lithium batteries, more capacity was available at smaller size and less weight. Another kick for the trend was the economic crisis in 2008 with its rising oil prices. At the same time awareness of climate changed increased, while the Copenhagen climate summit COP15 in 2009 failed. In light of those events, the media took on the topic in a positive way and brought electric bikes to the attention of a broad audience. And thus the image of electric bicycles began to change …
From Fleet Testing to Far-Away Dream-Destinations
The image change was not only in the public eye but also in appearance. About ten years ago, electric motors started to appear in all sorts of bicycles, also mountainbikes. An when those e-mountainbikes appeared on the market, they heralded in a new era in e-bikes. For me too, it was a moment to make a dream come true. I had always wanted to travel the world as close to nature as I could be and these sporty pedelecs seemed to be the perfect vehicles for that. So after years of intense bike testing, exciting trips and research all over the globe, after setting up and running the editorial office at ExtraEnergy, I kicked-off ‘Pedelec Adventures’ in 2011.
Since then, I have traveled over 12,000 kilometres across Europe, Asia, Africa, and North-America, using pedelecs of various brands, some with rear hub motors, others with central drives. My journeys led me through deserts, across mountains, steppe and ice alongside amazing travel companions, people and pedelecs alike.
In 2013, the team grew to four and we went on a 4,000-km challenge through Iceland's nordic beauty. This one-month Iceland Challenge was followed by the Berlin Trefected project set in Germany's capital city where we tested a real power bike that just blew my mind on whats possible on an electric bike.
With the start of E-Bike Africa, a planned 20,000 km journey from Glasgow to Cape Town, I have given my work another dimension as I joined forces with the Scottish charity, The Purple Heart Network, to raise awareness of climate change.
Our epic traverse of Western USA with its stunning landscapes and extreme contrasts last year was my biggest Pedelec Adventure to date. The 5k, 10-week Sand to Snow tour was meant to inspire people about electric bikes in a just evolving market.
Re-Define You Limits And Discover New Horizons!
When I am traveling on a pedelec, one thing never seizes to fascinate me. I can constantly discover new horizons in so many ways - my very personal ones and the ones that nature unfolds in front of us.
And it has been my desire to share those amazing experiences with you - in my live reports, articles, posts and videos. I am happy if the lessons I’ve learned, enable you to make your own e-bike trip the best time of your life!
I came to see that it does not always have to be the big adventure under extreme conditions at a far-away dream destination. Sometimes the adventure starts right in front of our door step. Or, at the upcoming Eurobike, where you can test ride dozens of different e-bikes yourself. … Wherever your adventure starts, you will love it!
Let me thank all of you, who have been part of my journey through the e-bike world up to this point, for an amazing trip. I certainly look forward to the next 20 years with you! Just imagine what the review will look like by 2037 …
Keep the flow,
JOIN MY PRESENTATIONS AT EUROBIKE!
Thursday, Aug 31, 5 pm, stage Foyer East
For trade visitors (in German)
Samstag, Sep 2, 3 pm, stage Foyer East
Adventure report for all visitors (in German)