Interbike Blog

Electric Bikes Fill the Void at Tokyo Motor Show

Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking with a very knowledgeable industry expert and the topic of electric bikes came up – as it seems to more and more often lately. We chatted a bit about the opportunities in the category, and he mentioned how Yamaha had made a splash a few weeks back at the Tokyo Motor Show with their line of e-bikes. Not having been aware of the famous motorcycle (and piano, stereo and flute) maker’s e-bikes, I did a quick search for coverage. Here’s what I found.

Video of Yamaha e-bikes from 2009 Tokyo Motor Show

It turns out that many car makers decided to not exhibit at this year’s big Tokyo Motor Show due to the effect the economic slowdown has had on that industry, and electric bikes helped fill the void on the show floor. Click the image to watch a brief video report from the show by CCTV. The video mentions that Yamaha actually created the first electric assist bicycle back in 1993. I can’t vouch for that claim, but it’s encouraging that the company sees great potential for e-bikes in the near future.

On a side note, it’s interesting that these electric bicycles are on display at the Motor Show. I caught a glimpse at an industry survey, recently, of IBD’s and their interest (or lack of, as it turns out) in selling electric bikes and have to wonder if the specialty bicycle dealer channel will be seen as the place to go for e-bikes in the future or if it will be served by others as well in a significant way. These could be motorcycle dealers or mass merchant electronics dealers like Best Buy. I know there has been a debate in the bicycle community about whether e-bikes should be considered bikes or essentially the equivalent of motorcycles that happen to run on batteries. Designed the proper way, I believe that they can fit into the bicycle category.

I have to say, I finally got to seriously try out an electric assist bike (a Giant) at our East Coast Demo event in Providence a few weeks ago, and I’m now convinced of the potential for the category. If a dealer can get the right customer on one, it’s an instant eye opening experience. Providence’s Mayor David Ciclline (in the photo below talking to Brad Klipping from Giant) came out to the event to try some bikes and I had to really talk him into trying the Giant. The mayor is a cyclist himself, and I think his pride was preventing him from giving the bike a try. He gave in and the smile came across his face right after the first electric-assisted pedal stroke as it did for me. To give him full credit as a cyclist, after the e-bike ride we hit the demo trails on a pair of the new Breezer MTB’s.

Providence Mayor Cicilline with Brad Klipping from Giant discussing e-bikes at Interbike OutDoor Demo East 2009

I would recommend a deliberate look into e-bikes for bike dealers out there who are on the fence. And give them a second chance if you have had less than stellar experiences with them in the past – it’s a whole new ball game with some high quality innovations by many companies.


  1. Showing ebikes at a car show is pretty brilliant.

    I was talking with Sanyo the other day about their ebike plans for the USA. They’re getting resistance from IBDs but there are numerous ebike & scooter specialty shops popping up all over the place.

  2. After spending an exhaustive 2 years trying to get IBDs (myself a former one) to consider selling electric bikes, it has become apparent that many have been stung in the past by poor quality and lack of support from the manufacturers. In addition, many of the brand name manufacturers have made feable attempts of launching ill-conceived retrofits of their regular bikes.

    IBDs are reluctant and understandably so.

    Electric Bike manufacturers, frustrated with the IBDs have gone to the mass merchandisers in an act of desperation. As the author corectly points out, there is a new breed of entrepeneurs filling the void – specialty electric bike stores are popping up all over the country on a weekly basis. A few forward thinking IBDs are seeing the opportunity and going after it. Sadly, only a few. The specialty electric bike stores are carrying multiple brands and IBDs should do the same and let the customers decide which products they favor rather than pick for them. One thing for certain, the market is growing here in the U.S. faster than any other category of bikes AND it is all incremental business since the typical electric bicycle buyer would not have purchased any standard pedal only bicycle. As with pedal bikes, Electric Bicycle customers want quality, price and style. Pedego is committed to providing all three through IBDs and specialty stores and NOT through mass merchandisers.

  3. Thanks for the insight and comments, Don. Like I’ve said in past post, I think getting *practical* bikes (e-bikes included) into the stores that non-cyclists frequent that, for better or for worse, include mass merchants like Target and Best Buy, wouldn’t be such a bad thing in trying to reach the 150+ million Americans that don’t cycle. I would guess that many of the potential e-bike customers would fall into that category and don’t currently shop at IBD’s. But the main point I was making at the end of the post is that IBD’s as a group don’t seem that interested in the category and other sales channels (electronics stores, motorcycle dealerships, etc.) might take the lead (and the sales!) away before we know what happened. And that would be a shame since, as I mentioned in that post I just linked to, IBD’s are still by far the best place to buy a bike whether you consider yourself a cyclist or not.