The Rise of the Commuter & E-Bike Specialist Shop (Part 3)

Pete PrebusPete 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.

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5
Cycle 9 Utility Bike
Photo: Cycle 9

Elise is from Cycle 9 in Carrboro North Carolina which carries both traditional commuter bike and e-bikes. Cycle 9 also specializes in cargo bikes and electric assisted cargo bikes.

I really like Cycle 9’s focus on cargo bike and e-cargo bikes. I personally have an Xtracycle kit on one of my old mountain bikes with an electric kit and it is a great car alternative. I can carry heavy loads and not sweat the hills too much. It is a lot more fun than driving!

It seems that Cycle 9 has a diverse group of customers in their retail shop and online.

Commute by Bike (CbB): A little background on you. Why did you decide to start your business specializing in commuter and e-bikes?

Elise: We started the store because of our experience building up an electric cargo bike in our living room. No existing stores were really willing or able to help us, and the online world was confusing and required a lot of research. So we started something to make it easier for the everyday person. We wanted the electric cargo bike in order to use the car less because of issues with oil depletion, climate change, and everyday quality of life. We don’t live super close to town and have children to transport, all issues that needed an answer!

You can read more about this in a piece I did, found on our blog here.

CbB: Could you give us a description of your store?

Elise: We have a local retail store that specializes in bikes to help you live a more sustainable lifestyle. Commuting, Cargo, Electric-assist, and Touring – all ways to get around by bike. Our number one priority in the store is customer service, something we find (surprisingly!) lacking in other stores. We also have an online store that specializes in electric-assist kits for commuters and cargo bikers. We source and sell only high-quality tested stuff that we’ve personally tried and know to work. There’s a lot of crap out there (we’ve experienced it ourselves) and we weed that out of the stuff we sell.

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?

Elise: For electric-assist, our most common customers online are:

  1. Commuters, especially those who are long distance and dedicated. e.g. 15 miles each way
  2. Cargo bikers looking for help, especially people with hills, distances, big loads (like multiple kids), and women who just don’t want to macho it out.
Cycle 9 e-Bike
Photo: Cycle 9

In the store we get more people who are shorter distance commuters, the cargo bike crowd, and just general fun recreational people. I’d say more men than women, but not hugely skewed that way. Age ranges everything from 20’s to 60’s. The cargo bikers are generally younger (20’s to 40’s). Older people tend to be more recreational cyclists. I think most of them are environmentally conscious (as is our town demographic), but some are just looking for cheaper transportation (those people tend to also want the cheapest kits).

CbB: Are people looking for a bike to be their car alternative or do they just want to have fun? or both 🙂

Elise: Both.

CbB: What are your thoughts on the future of commuter and e-bikes in your town and around the world?

Elise: There’s a lot of potential here. We have some very big hills. We also have a general population interested in cycling. The biggest barriers for most non-cyclists are the impression that cycling is unsafe, and the lack of or missing infrastructure improvements by the town. The towns are actively working to improve this, but it’s a slow road and perceptions are 80% of the battle (not infrastructure).

CbB: What are some of the hurdles that you face in getting more people on bikes/e-bikes?

Elise: As mentioned above, the perception of safety is very big. And the lack of appropriate infrastructure or missing pieces on a commute. I did a survey of local commuters and this was by far the biggest complaint. I’ve also found that the biggest reason most people don’t bike is habit and the convenience of the car. It takes a big effort to overcome the very very easy – hop in the car and go.

I myself find that if I don’t bike for a few weeks (such as the last couple which have been cold, wet, and snowy) it’s easy to get out of the habit. Weather is an issue for some people, but surprisingly not the 1st thing most people mention.

CbB: What accessories do most customers buy to make their commute more convenient and fun on a bike?

Elise: Fenders and lights are big ones. Rear rack and a basket or panniers also critical, although I see a lot of people without these.
We sell people on good tires because getting a flat on the way to work sucks. And a good lock because bike theft is always high on campus.
Fun stuff is coffee mug holders, and even speakers for your ipod/mp3 player!

There it is again: Danger! Rather, the perception of danger holds people back from bike commuting. Bert from NyceWheels said the same thing. It is definitely a concern and something to be aware of. I think one way to avoid dangerous situations is to take the less traveled routes on side streets. Lights and bright colors help to be visible. These help reduce the small risks (relative to cars) associated with cycling. But changing the public perception of cycling will be good for cycling and good for businesses such as Cycle 9.

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8 thoughts on “The Rise of the Commuter & E-Bike Specialist Shop (Part 3)”

  1. Jack Bulkley says:

    I have only been to Cycle 9 once. It is in my area but still close to an hour drive away. I really liked their stuff, both bikes and accessories. I got a nice front rack for my commuter. I want to go back and get a Lazer helmet they had.

  2. Sean says:

    The rise of everyday cycling shops is simply a sign of the times. Regular folks are choosing to ride bikes for many reasons and the average bike shop (meaning, shops that carry road/mtb/race stuff) quite simply have a hard time relating to a person with zero bike experience.

    On top of that, regular bike shops are generally clued out on the cargobike/family transport market further marginalizing them back into their expertise of lightweight, carbon, expensive, race world.

    My feeling is that we will see more “everyday cycling” shops pop up in the future as people continue to reduce their car usage and age.

  3. Chrehn says:

    I like it. I am in favor of anything that will help us to get out of metal boxes and onto 2 & 3 wheelers. Thanks for the good information.

  4. DonB says:

    It’s not just perception. Until laws and espcecially infrastructure changes, bicycles on the roadways are very vulnerable. I live in a large-ish Texas city. Cars are kings.

    I know this article isn’t about road safety, but your last paragraph does bring it up. You mention to “take the less traveled routes on side streets.” This is, of course, a no-brainer. However, that is not always an option. A city laced with highways (like mine) means that all city traffic–cars, bikes, and pedestrian–regularly get funneled through very, very busy underpasses. Some places these underpassed don’t even have sidewalks.

    I’m unfortunate enough to live and work on either side of an intersate highway. Only a 5 mile commute, but a treacherous 5 miles. There’s no avoiding the busy underpass. Very real danger every time I venture through there.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      @DonB: The safety of cycling is highly contextual. I believe you when you say you have a treacherous commute in Texas. But broadly and statistically, cycling is very safe. In the United States, an hour of cycling is safer than an hour of being in a car.

      That means every high-risk bike commute like yours is more than offset by another very safe bike commute. But the perception among prospective bike commuters (as reported anecdotally by Elise and other bike shop owners) is that all bike commuting is more dangerous than commuting in a car.

  5. LBJ says:

    I used to live in Carrboro, and I rode my bike everywhere, all year (I didn’t own a car). I have to say that I had difficulty getting to certain parts of the surrounding areas, parts of Chapel Hill and Durham especially – and it’s not just the hills, in lots of places the road simply was not wide enough to accommodate both a bike and car, nor was there any shoulder on the road. An electric bike would have helped me a lot, I think, since I could have ridden with the traffic on those narrower roads without causing a back-up. In areas like Carrboro/Chapel Hill especially, which are small but pretty spread out, E-bikes could definitely help get more people out riding.

  6. Great point @LBJ! Electric bikes do have the benefit of helping the rider keep up with vehicle traffic on some of the slower streets. When you can travel at the speed limit with cars I think it reasonable to use the whole lane. E-Bikes also help when you have to get through a busy intersection quickly.

  7. @DonB I hear ya. There are situations where going through a busy street is inevitable. The additional boost from an e-bike could help get through the sketchy areas quickly. I have to say that I do see some people risking their lives on busy streets when there are plenty of side street alternatives available. I just think it is worth bringing up because some newbies tend to focus on the traditional car routes.

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