Innovation & Design

Electric Bike Sales Are Zooming Ahead


Biking is enjoying a surge of interest and new designs. But "e-bikes" are this year's hottest trend on two wheels

On Aug. 18, Lance Armstrong brought the traffic to a standstill in Glasgow's Paisley district, when he posted in a Twitter message, "Hey Glasgow, Scotland!! I'm coming your way tomorrow. Who wants to go for a bike ride with me??" Some 200 cyclists promptly showed up to pedal alongside the seven-time Tour de France winner.

Of course, Armstrong is a draw unto himself, but the impromptu caravan also reflects consumer interest in biking.

This year's hottest trend on two wheels: electric bikes, or e-bikes. Last year 23 million were sold worldwide, and the number is expected to double by 2012, says Electric Bikes Worldwide Reports, a biennial publication tracking the industry. Interest in the designs, which contain an electric motor to give a cyclist a helping push, is growing globally, with markets flourishing in China, India, Europe, and the U.S. (Here, see a video review of Schwinn's Electric Tailwind commuter bicycle.)

E-bikes certainly aren't new, but where before they were something of an expensive curiosity, versions have now been designed for most consumers, from kids to parents, racers to hobbyists. The Bridgestone Angelino Assista has elongated handles that allow the rider to peer over the head of a child in a seat in front. The eRockit, on the other hand, is more of a bicycle-motorcycle hybrid. It can reach 50 mph. (It's still pricey, clocking in with a staggering $41,000 price tag.)

Green Machines

Other environmentally conscious design flourishes have been introduced this year. Rides from the Bamboo Bike Studio are made from bamboo, a strong, light wood that grows abundantly. Areaware's $600 Moof model has solar-powered front and rear lights tucked into its elegant aluminum frame. And while folding models that allow riders to haul their bikes anywhere have been popular for decades, few have reached the compactness of Pacific Cycle's $2,239 iF Mode.

For the most cutting-edge technology, though, one must look to racing bikes. After all, riders like Armstrong compete down to the second. Cannondale's $8,499 SuperSix Hi-Mod is constructed from unique carbon molding that wraps layers of the tough, light material over one other. Giant's $7,994 TCR Advanced SL 0 is made from Toray T800 carbon fiber, a material more commonly used in Boeing (BA) planes. It also sports a distinctive trapezoidal top tube and an elongated rectangular downtube to increase stiffness without adding weight.

With its eco-friendly and health-improving attributes, biking might just be in the early stages of a full-blown renaissance. Even Lance Armstrong was surprised at people's biking fervor. After the group ride, he tweeted: "Thanks to everyone who turned up to ride in Paisley! I figured we'd have a nice ride for a dozen or so. But 100's came. Haha! Awesome!"

Joseph is an innovation and design writer for BusinessWeek.

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