Sylvia Halpern is a known and recognized American recumbent influencer or a Youtuber, celebrity, or however you want to call her. In one of her last videos, she has mentioned her concern about recumbents being able to survive the e-assist boom in the cycling industry. And she calls for a discussion. So here I am with my 2 cents and some European and manufacturers’ insights.
She has made several statements and based on them, she has expressed her doubt that recumbents, especially two-wheeled ones, can survive the boom of e-bikes. I would like to comment on some of them, plus I will add a few to express my view on that issue. So let’s have a look at this topic.
Statement no. 1: “Upright e-bike is half the price of the recumbent w/o e-assist.”
Well, that can be even worse than that. A cheap e-bike costs far less than a top-of-the-line recumbent, but you can buy some recumbents for around 1,000 USD, which is pretty close to a very affordable e-bike. E-assist adds quite some amount of money to that sum, but still, you can have an e-trike for around 3,500 USD in 2022, which is a very favorable price, I guess.
I need to say that there has always been such a gap between the price of the upright bike and a recumbent. And it was even worse when talking about trikes. I have always imagined my father buying a recumbent bike, which was impossible. He wouldn’t have the money to purchase one. So that has been an issue ever since. What I feel from working in the recumbent business is that after the e-bikes came into the market, people started to be used to the fact that bikes, in general, can cost 3 or 5 or even 10 thousand USD, because that is what the upright e-bike sometimes cost. Hence, they are not so surprised when hearing such a price when talking about a recumbent. Even not a motorized one.
Statement no. 2: “There doesn’t exist recumbent two-wheelers with integrated factory-built a-assists.”
This is not the truth. HP Velotechnik and AZUB have e-versions of their two-wheelers in their offer, the same for other brands. You can find the list of such bikes with an option of factory-installed motors in the recumbent catalog here.
Statement no. 3: “The market of the two-wheel recumbents is shrinking.”
Well, in a way, this is a kind of truth. There have been companies going out of business, and one of the reasons has been the fact they haven’t had a trike in their offer. But there were also some other reasons. And we can see new projects coming, like the Metabike Mystique or the e-Phoenix. From what I know, the numbers produced at AZUB have been pretty much steady in the last couple of years, and I have asked at HP Velotechnik as well and got the same answer. So I wouldn’t call it “shrinking”. I would call it “steady”. Also, an investment in developing an e-assisted recumbent is meager. You don’t need a unique frame for the e-bike version with an integrated battery and a shell for the motor (except for the e-Phoenix, which is kind of a first such recumbent I am aware of). What you need is a custom-built boom with the motor, if at all, and a battery bracket you can buy from T-Cycle, for example. Of course, some extra wiring and a few other minor details are needed, but that is pretty easy at the end.
Statement no 4.: “There are many trike producers that don’t offer an e-assist option.”
Well, there are very few of them. And that is probably only because they don’t have that option easily visible on their web page, but I am pretty sure every company producing trikes can build one with e-assist. Even the Bacchetta Carbon Trike had that option when it was available. Out of 125 trikes listed in the recumbent catalog, 66 have the motor option. Many others are simply trikes that are sporty, so they obviously can’t be equipped with the motor.
Statement no 5.: “Tour with e-assist is half as long as without it.”
This might be the truth for some, but from what I often hear, people spend the same time riding but cover longer distances or go to places that would be unreachable for them. And that is great and very motivational, I think!
Now, I have a few of my comments.
The two-wheel recumbents definitely lost their appeal. And it is primarily because of the trikes, and it happened a long time ago. With all the respect to my readers in their senior age, it is a bit because of them. From what I see, the younger generation (understand people in their thirties or forties) doesn’t want to belong to that group of slow-riding grey-haired, experienced people, often with bellies. The cool factor of the two-wheel recumbent simply vanished, and young people are no longer that excited. You can see also on the races that there are not so many participants anymore. That young group buys a two-wheel recumbent only when they have a genuine reason for that. They want to be faster, go very long distances, have some health issues, etc. But the cool factor is no longer a reason to buy the bike.
And I have to agree with Sylvia that when somebody felt uncomfortable on a bike 10 years ago, after some research, they ended up trying a recumbent and making their decision. Nowadays, if you feel uncomfortable on a bike, the easiest way is to go to the nearest bike shop and buy an e-bike with balloon tires, a wide saddle, suspension, and a very upright position. It doesn’t matter that it is heavier and that it would be very slow without the motor. Because with the e-assist, all that is no longer a problem. So in my eyes, recumbent manufacturers have to promote e-trikes and also e-recumbent-bikes as a “full comfort option”. Not only when talking about the comfort of muscles, but also about the comfort of all body.
One last thing. Because the e-bike market develops in the USA with a 2 to 4 years delay compared to Europe, we can see here (in Europe) that nothing has changed much. The e-assists allowed the manufacturers to build new products that draw the attention of the new type of customers. Maybe handicapped or wishing to spend time off-road. Or all the cargo bikes are a great example too. So I am not really afraid of the recumbent market in general. The two-wheel recumbent market is a question, for sure, but trikes? No. They will easily survive!
Finally, thank you Sylvia for your amazing work and your YouTube channel full of useful information and hard-earned recumbent experience!