'Bike country No 1': Dutch go electric in record numbers

E-bikes now outsell standard bicycles in Netherlands, with quality prized more than price

In what was already a long-running purple patch for the Dutch cycle industry, domestic sales records have been broken in the last 12 months despite spiralling prices, as technological developments push the standard push-bike into the annals of history.

The Dutch love affair with the bicycle is well chronicled – there are 22.5m of them in a country of 17 million people – but has moved up a level, according to a study by the RAI Vereniging, an organisation representing the automotive and cycling sector.

More than 1m bicycles of all types were sold last year in the Netherlands, up 5.7% on 2017, and at the same time Dutch consumers appear willing to spend big on their bicycles, particularly on e-bikes, statistics show.

E-bikes accounted for €823m of €1.2bn in bicycle sales in 2018. It was the first year that overall sales passed €1bn and the first time more e-bikes were sold than standard bicycles (excluding racing and children’s bikes). In terms of units, 409,400 e-bikes were sold, up 40% on 2017. As a result the average price of a bicycle in the Netherlands rose by about €200 to €1,207. In 2011 the average was €734.

Asked whether rising prices would begin to put the Dutch public off the two-wheeled mode of transport, RAI’s Floris Liebrand said: “Not in the Netherlands. It is in our culture, in our blood.

“We are bike country No 1 in the world so we are used to investing in innovative bikes so there is difference there compared with other countries, including the UK.

“For us it quite normal to spend €1,000 on a bike. An average for an e-bike is over €2,000 but that is in our culture. We believe in the quality of our products. There are e-bikes of €700 or €900 but they are from south-east Asia and the quality is lower.”

The buoyant sales are partly being put down to the good weather of the summer of 2018.

But Liebrand said there had been a change in the Dutch mindset as electric bikes have moved on from being seen as the choice of older people. “In the future we will not talk about e-bikes, but just bikes,” he said. “E-bikes will be the new normal, I think, within 10 to 15 years. We think that all bikes will be supported by small engines.

“In the Netherlands, 60% of those who work live within 15km [9.3 miles] of their work and that is perfect for an e-bike.

“There are consequences. We have fewer traffic deaths but an increase in severe injuries because people cycle more and [are also doing so] when they are older. People cycle when they are 80.”

The RAI Vereniging is pushing for an increase in investment before provincial elections on 20 March.

• This article was amended on 5 March 2019 to make clear that 2018 was the first year in which more e-bikes were sold than standard bicycles – excluding racing and children’s bikes.

Contributor

Daniel Boffey

The GuardianTramp

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