Munich, Stuttgart Harald Schmiedel is currently tearing the bikes out of his hands. “There has been a global bicycle boom since mid-May,” says the European boss of the bicycle manufacturer Trek. The American family company cannot deliver as much as it receives orders from dealers.
Customers are queuing up for e-bikes in particular. “For many people, they have become an alternative to cars and local public transport,” says Claus Fleischer, head of the E-Bike division Bosch. Corona lockdown, canceled vacations and thus more money for alternative purchases for customers have also fueled demand.
According to the Cycling Industries Europe trade association, sales of e-bikes in Europe have jumped by almost a quarter in 2020, to around 4.5 million units. Sales of conventional bikes have remained stable. Nobody had expected this at the beginning of the year, because the sales figures had previously fallen for a long time.
It’s a boom that is pushing the industry to its limits. As an engine and battery supplier, Bosch has always been able to deliver, asserts Fleischer. The wheel division of the world’s largest auto supplier has invested heavily in recent years. “The market trends were clear,” explains the manager.
Others weren’t that far-sighted. For months there has been a lack of mechanical components, many of which come from Asia. Companies like Trek usually source the frames from the Far East, as do many other parts, for example the gears from Shimano.
Long delivery times for components
For Bosch, the decision to rely heavily on e-bikes has paid off. A project that was supported from the start by Bosch boss Volkmar Denner, a passionate two-wheeler. Bosch is regarded as the world market leader in drives and uses the Group’s know-how to network e-bikes and their on-board systems. Bosch does not provide any figures for the area. Industry circles estimate the turnover at one billion euros.
The Swabians, who specialize in industrial mass production, have the right supply chain: The extremely light magnesium die-cast for the motor housing of the e-bike drive comes from Stihl. The chainsaw specialist, whose hand-held machines have always been about weight, has just expanded the production of supplier parts for Bosch in Waiblingen.
For other components, however, the supply is stagnating. By spring, Trek had ordered the individual components from suppliers five months in advance, explains European boss Schmiedel. In the meantime, he calculates with a lead time of twelve to 15 months.
This means that what Schmiedel orders today will not arrive at Trek’s factories until the end of 2021 at the earliest. Trek screws 80 percent of its bikes sold in Europe together in Hartmannsdorf near Chemnitz. At the beginning of the millennium, Trek took over the East German bicycle manufacturer Diamant – and with it a plant that now has 500 employees. Having a factory close to the customer is of little help if the parts are not available remotely.
The warehouses are empty
The bicycle dealers’ warehouses have been largely emptied for months. Business was seldom as good as in 2020. In the past, only one bike category boomed, says Schmiedel. Sometimes the racing bikes, then the mountain bikes. This year is different: “Everything is possible,” says Schmiedel. While November used to be quiet in the bike shops, Trek recently posted weekly sales as usual in August. “The bike is increasingly becoming a means of transport for the whole year,” says the manager happily.
The industry association CIE assumes that the boom will continue for years. If the forecasts come true, Europeans will buy almost 50 percent more bikes in 2030 than in 2019.
E-bikes are likely to be the most in demand: According to the CIE, their sales will climb from 3.7 million units in 2019 to 17 million in 2030. That means they should make up more than half of the market. Today, in terms of numbers, e-bikes account for around a quarter. However, because they are more expensive than conventional bicycles, their share of sales is higher. Engine manufacturer Bosch assumes that the market will not be saturated until a share of 60 percent.
“We are preparing for further growth,” says Bosch manager Fleischer. For 2021 he expects sales figures to stagnate “in the worst case”. But only if the economy collapses even more and consumers run out of money.
In the future, Bosch wants to ensure that e-bike fans are safe on the road. Because significantly fewer car occupants will be killed in accidents in 2020. Since people used their bikes more often, according to the ADAC, four percent more cyclists died than in the previous year.
“More must be done to ensure the safety of cyclists,” says manager Fleischer. First and foremost, this means giving them more space. Bosch is also trying to push its anti-lock braking system (ABS) for bicycles onto the market. This prevents a rollover when braking and also prevents the front wheel from slipping. Although the Swabians have been marketing wheel ABS for a number of years, the business, according to their own estimates, is still in its infancy. Fleischer estimates that a quarter of accidents could be avoided with the ABS bike.
Bad times for bargain hunters
Anyone interested in a bike, and an e-bike at that, should look around soon. “2021 will be a strong year,” says Trek manager Schmiedel with conviction. “Customers have to be patient.” Not every model they want will always be available. “Make a reservation now,” advises Fleischer, a Bosch man. The advice sounds promotional, but it is well meant. Times are bad for bargain hunters. At large retailers such as Fahrrad Walcher XXL near Stuttgart, the discounts barely exceed three percent and do not go beyond a cosmetic effect.
On the contrary: customers will soon have to dig deeper into their pockets. Freight costs are rising and suppliers are using the order boom to raise prices. A plus of five percent is not unlikely in the new year, says Schmiedel.
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