E-bikes are booming around the world and South Africa is starting to catch the trend. They are essentially ordinary bicycles, but with a small electric motor which provides a power boost in combination with pedalling and more than 200 million of them already are in use globally.
China is by far the biggest market but in the Netherlands sales of e-bikes now surpass those of conventional ones, and the USA has seen a doubling in volume in the first half of 2017.
Mat Leve is leading the e-bike charge in Cape Town through his company Chilled Squirrel, based at the River Club in Observatory, which he describes as the only dedicated e-bike service and innovation centre in Africa.
He says perceptions are rapidly changing in favour of e-bikes: “The notion was that they were only for the older market or that somehow they represented a form of cheating. While it’s absolutely true that e-bikes enable a lot of people to keep cycling who otherwise would not through injury or age, they also make cycling far more practical for regular users especially in commuting.”
Leve points out that anyone seeking intense cycling exercise can switch the motor off completely and the level of pedal assist that the motor provides is fully adjustable to the requirements of the individual rider; “An e-bike is eco-friendly and can be a brilliant option for a student, delivery companies, tourists, an off-roader wanting to expand their range or someone who wants to enjoy a ride, especially up a beautiful mountain, rather than be exhausted by it.”
E-bikes can be bought ready-made in a price range from R17,000 to R60,000 or you can convert an existing bike at a cost starting at R17,000.
Leve says interest in the e-bike movement is steadily growing, and he’s had great success using online platforms to spread the message.
“Many people respond to our Gumtree ads simply looking to find out more about our product. We often chat to customers for up to 6 months before they invest in their first e-bike.”
Leve developed his passion for e-bikes while living in the Taiwanese city of Taichung which is known as the Silicon Valley of cycling technology: “I became fascinated by the potential for these bikes and was determined to bring them back home to the Cape”. He founded Chilled Squirrel with partner Anthony Leader in 2012.