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Saturday, 14 October 2017
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On your bike

On Your Bike

Amid all the talk about electric cars, a quiet revolution is taking place in cycling.

On my visits to Europe I have always been impressed by the way bikes are used and how cycling has developed and is continuing to develop.  There are extensive networks of bike tracks with many serviced by hotels and camp sites focusing on the needs of cyclists.  This is not the Lycra clad super-fit high speed riding we see in Australia and the Tour de France, but a much more universal approach to the bike as a means of getting around and as a recreation.  The super-fit are there following the example of the tour tour de France, climbing the mountains and Cols of the Alps, but so are the families and increasingly the older generation.

The really big change this year is the use of electric bikes, many hard to distinguish from a normal road bike or mountain bike.  Just a small battery pack somewhere and a slightly bigger wheel hub or bottom bracket and you have power for 50 to 100 kilometers.  That’s extended of course by any manual input.  These are not just ‘get to work’ bikes. They are being used everywhere to extend the range of cyclists and particularly to extend the range of those who, for whatever reason, may be a bit down on fitness.  We came across a couple high up in the wonderful Gorges du Verdun in southern France.  He was Lycra clad and enjoying climbing the hills and his partner was enjoying the trip too but in more normal attire, and her pedaling was supported by the battery pack and motor.  She was able to keep up with her much fitter partner who did not have to stop and wait.  As we stopped at the various spectacular viewing points we saw them several times enjoying their trip.  I missed the chance to photograph them and had to make do with a much less adventurous couple in the town below.  The gorge is a very popular cycling route and there were quite a lot of batteries to be seen helping to power bikes up the long steep climbs.

Advocates of the electric bike claim that it’s a health benefit getting less fit people and particularly the older generation out and about whilst improving their fitness.  My observations in France and Switzerland would suggest that they are right.  I see them here in Australia too but not in such great numbers.  The efficiency of these bikes is amazing.  Generally, they run on 200 to 500 watt motors equivalent in power consumption to one or two old type domestic light bulbs.  They are capable of 20 to 30 kph and the fast ones can do 50 kph.  This has inevitably lead to new regulations in most countries. 

Before the adoption of the car was everyone’s personal transport in developed countries, the bike was the working man’s means of getting around.  Various power assisted versions were developed but were never really popular.  Factories had bike sheds not car parks and kids rode their bikes to school instead of being dropped off by car.  With the pressure on city centers it’s obvious that the bike is making a comeback as personal transport as well as recreation.  The basic bike which remained unchanged for years is now a carbon fibre wonder with 27 gears and electronic readouts for every aspect of the rider’s performance.  Some are the price of a small car.  The number of bike shops in the major cities shows just how much the popularity of the bike has increased.

China is the biggest producer and consumer of electric bikes with more electric bikes on the road than cars.  China produced 37 million electric bikes in 2014 and exported about five million.  In 2013 approximately 112,000 electric cars were sold world wide compared to 40 million electric bikes.  The bike battery may be a lot smaller but there are so many more of them.

It would be nice to be able to convert this growth into an investment opportunity but I am not aware of any Australian listed bike retailing companies.  The manufacture of electric bikes is concentrated in China so unless you are into international share trading, that’s no use.  The batteries are a different story.  We do produce lithium and nickel and both are used in bike batteries.  It all adds to the lithium investment story which has been around for a while now.  I’m sure the lithium battery will be around for a long time but there is an enormous amount of research going on in the battery sector in the quest to find a cheaper, more efficient power source.  At some time a new material will be in demand and we will need to be ready to switch.  Hopefully someone will be well enough informed to give us all a heads up through the ‘Insiders’ section of Marcus Today.

Next time you try to park in the city or drive down one of our congested ‘freeways’ give a thought to switching to an electric bike.

Happy travelling.

Harold

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