Pete Prebus is the guy at Electric Bike Report, a website dedicated to getting the word out about electric bikes through e-bike news, reviews, guides, and general e-bike advocacy. Pete wants to encourage more people to ride bikes by providing good info about e-bikes and all the benefits (all the time) they have over driving a car. Pete has been a long time cyclist (racer, mountain, road, cyclo-cross, commuter, bike polo, etc.) and sees the e-bike as a great way to get the non-cyclist into bike commuting as well as just having fun on a bicycle.
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This is the second in a series of interviews with commuter and electric bike specific shop owners exploring how their niche businesses may be getting more people on bikes. Click here for part 1 of the series.
Gary is a former commercial helicopter pilot who runs Hybrid Cycles, an electric bike specific shop in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
It seems that some people have an issue with a bicycle being a few thousand dollars. However, price was not a big thing holding people back from buying an electric bike at Hybrid Cycles. The reality is that when you break down the life cycle cost of an e-bike compared to an automobile it is much, much less.
Commute by Bike (CbB): A little background on you. Why did you decide to start your business specializing in commuter and e-bikes?
Gary: I started my e-bike business 18 months ago after not being able to find a local e-bike dealer to make a bike purchase. Our customers are proof that this is going be a very promising industry; we have not had a single person who purchased an e-bike, either for commuting or leisure, who is not completely happy with their bike.
CbB: Could you give the readers a description of your store?
Gary: Our full service 1400 sq ft store is located in West Chester PA. We have up to 22 bicycles on our showroom floor from four different manufactures. We have an outstanding maintenance department that serves the entire bicycle community. Our best selling brands are HEBB and e-Moto. We also carry unique bike and sports related items such as Air Sports Watches, Nutcase helmets and Sock Guy socks.
What is unique about our business is that our management team consists of three individuals with diverse backgrounds who have joined together with the goal of being the best in the e-bike industry.
As president and owner, I am a former commercial helicopter pilot with over 26 years of business management experience.
My business partner, Jim Wylie, is an electrical engineer who spent 28 years with the Unisys Corporation. He provides sales, communications and technical expertise. He is dedicated to reducing carbon emissions and gets very excited when someone moves from their car onto any type bike. Jim also walks-the-talk, he has put over 1000 miles on his e-Moto Velocity 2.0 this past year.
Matt Spohn, manager of our bicycle repair shop, is a graduate engineer pursuing his masters degree in Engineering Management. He is a professional bike racer and sees e-bikes as a means of allowing people to ride bikes that may not otherwise be able to do so. His goal is to build the most sought after maintenance shop in our county, for all type bikes.
CbB: What is your average customer like? Currently a cyclist? Hasn’t ridden a bike in years? Young, old, middle age? Environmentally conscious or not?
Gary: Our customers range in age from age 22 to 70 and older. We have serious commuters wanting to save on auto expense or reduce their carbon footprint. They ride their bikes every day on trips between 4 and 13 miles. Our prominent customer is the leisure rider over 50 who love to bike, but hates the hills. Others use our e-bikes to keep up with their spouse, some have to deal with knee, hip or back problems. We had a couple purchase two bikes to carry on their RV while traveling thorough the US.
One of our customers, Doug, described his perspective this way: “The same way the iPad hasn’t taken away my love of books on paper, e-biking has not ‘replaced’ conventional biking for me. On longer tours and recreational rides, I’ll probably stick with a conventional bike. But when it comes to commuting to work, a quick run to the store, or just a leisurely ride along the trail on the weekends, my e-bike has made all of those things easier and made me think twice about hopping in the car when I can just ride instead.”
CbB: Are people looking for a bike to be their car alternative or do they just want to have fun? or both
Gary: I would estimate that 80% of our e-bike purchases are for fun. But I see the commuting market growing as gas prices continue to increase. We have a 65 year old customer from Wilmington Delaware who dumped her car and uses her HEEB e-bike as primary source of transportation.
A third of the purchases were from individuals already commuting on conventional bikes and switching to e-bikes. The other two thirds were recreational riders on conventional bikes who purchased e-bikes for commuting. One customer who was using a combination of bus and conventional bike for commuting found that she couldnt lift the e-bike onto the bus rack. She has gone back to her conventional bike for commuting but is still very happy with her e-bike for recreational riding. Not having the e-bike for commuting was not too much of an issue because her commute is mostly on flat ground.
CbB: What are your thoughts on the future of commuter and e-bikes in your town and around the world?
Gary: I think the commuting market will be significant in the US as it already is in other countries. We are just starting to see a trend of more customers asking about using bikes for commuting.
CbB: What are some of the hurdles that you face in getting more people on bikes/e-bikes?
Gary: The most significant hurdle to getting people on e-bikes is the serious lack of awareness in the Eastern United States. I dont see price as a factor. Commuters see a quick return on investment in place of using their automobile and there is an awareness by most people of the high cost of regular road bikes. We do well with bike priced between $1400-2200.
CbB: What accessories do most customers buy to make their commute more convenient and fun on a bike?
Gary: Items commuters purchase for their e-bikes are a quality front and rear light, extra battery or charger, lock, vest, front rack, odometer, rear saddle bags or other types of soft carrying cases . Most already have a helmet.
I like the point that Gary made about people who may have a serious injury being able to ride an electric bike. I would be so bummed if I couldnt ride a bike at all because of an injury. E-bikes are a great way to get someone back on the bike.
Its interesting that a majority of his customers buy a bike for recreation. That can lead to more extreme activities–like bike commuting!