By Jarid Kahn
Colorado state officials deserve a hearty round of applause for wooing the German electric bike brand, Haibike, to locate some of their facilities in Denver. This is a critical first step for the company, moving all of their US operations, including manufacturing, to Colorado. This achievement is but one of many fruits borne of the State’s focus on the bicycle industry.
In September 2015 Governor John Hickenlooper announced a $100 million initiative to make Colorado “the best state for biking.” The initiative is to be known as the Colorado Pedals Project and will be implemented over the course of 4-years. Roughly seventy percent of the funding will come from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), in conjunction with money from federal programs. While the remaining $30 million will be provided by the Great Outdoor’s Colorado initiative.1 The money will go to a variety of programs including infrastructure, trails, and education.
To get things rolling, Colorado state agencies wisely commissioned BBC Research & Consulting to conduct a study, which is titled Economic and Health Benefits of Bicycling and Walking – State of Colorado. The study contains a wealth of information and is well worth a full read. Its headline number is that the biking industry in Colorado is worth $1.1 billion annually, with $185 million coming from retail and manufacturing exports, $434 million from biking events, races and vacations and the final $448 million accounted for by out of state tourists coming for a biking holiday. There are a number of other bright spots in the report, such as healthy participation rates for high earners and a deep enthusiastic community. However, problems were also identified, a common pain point for both industry and participants was the current unsatisfactory state of infrastructure and the declining bike participation rate for younger adult age groups.
Considering the active healthy stereotypes Colorado embraces, the bike commuter statistics were disappointing, with only 17% of state residents having used a bike for transportation within the last year. Of those that did use a bike to commute, 62% did so less than 30 times in the year, and the majority of this group did so less than 10 times. Furthermore, their average weekly distance was 12.5 miles, yet the average daily commute in Denver is 8.1 miles. Two possible explanations for this showing are the lack of satisfactory bike infrastructure and the unpalatable distance, ultimately hindering the development of biking as keystone form of transportation. Fortunately, the state is addressing both of these issues, the former with Governor Hickenlooper’s initiative and the second with the state’s increased fondness for electric bicycles.
Electric Bicycles, commonly known as E-Bikes, are bicycles with an electric motor, which is either used to power the bike on its own or to assist the rider in pedaling the bike. The design of the bike gives you the shape and ease of a bicycle but the resources of a motorcycle. Currently, E-Bikes have a global market worth $15.7 billion and that is expected to grow into a $24.5 billion market by 2025.2 Asia makes up the large majority of this market, with China alone having an estimated 200 million E-Bikes. In comparison, the US is lagging behind significantly, with an estimated 152,000 E-Bikes sold. Perhaps one of the largest barriers to growth for this market is that between 90% and 95% of the population does not even know what an E-Bike is.
To help remedy this problem, Bosch’s E-Bike division put on a number of E-Bike expos across the US. One of their chosen cities was Denver, where in June 2016 they hosted an expo at the Colorado Mills Mall. At this event, people were exposed to over 100 E-Bike models and given the opportunity to drive them around a test track set up in the parking lot. In addition to educating the consumers, it was also important to educate the government, encouraging them to enact E-Bike friendly laws.
As far as Colorado is concerned, it is ahead of the national curve. In 2009 the state enacted a law that allowed E-Bikes to use bicycle lanes and does not require riders to obtain a license. However the law requires individual municipalities to opt-in, this has lead to some patchwork enactment. For example, if an individual wanted to commute from Boulder to Denver along the US 36 bike path, they would be unable to use their motor all the way. Another area in need of education is the mountain biking community, there is a rapidly growing market for mountain E-Bikes but the community is often hostile to these easy going individuals. Besides the resistance within the community, the Federal government also acts as an obstacle, banning the use of E-Bikes from any sort from trails on federal land.
These barriers create only a momentary pauses in Colorado’s forward progress. The state’s director of Outdoor Recreation Industry, Luis Benitez, has been proclaimed a champion of E-Bikes.3 In a July 2016 Denver Post article, he foretold of new state legislation that would broaden access for E-Bikes. In that same article, he showcased his eye for the future, expressing a desire for Colorado to lead the nation in this growing market. He saw the state attracting E-Bike manufacturers. Currently, we are on well on our way to accomplishing this goal with Haibike, and under his leadership he sees us being the first state to craft a framework that would enable E-Bikes to utilize Federal land.
When viewed as a whole there is an air of confidence in Colorado’s biking industry. Governor Hickenlooper’s Colorado Pedal Project is sure add even more heft to an already beefy community, while the state’s burgeoning E-Bike cluster will hopefully become the leading light to the future of the bicycle industry.
Sources and Further Reading:
State of the industry: