I know it seems pretty obvious to say electric bikes aren’t just for the city. We all know that you can ride your electric bike through the country, why couldn’t you? But it seems to me there is a tendency in our industry to focus on an urban market.
In a way this makes sense, the bulk of commuters are in urban settings, and a larger market helps sales. Electric bikes are perfect for rural settings too though. Especially if we believe in electric bikes as a positive force for the community and not just a product to sell.
Many people in rural areas depend heavily on cars to get around. They often have longer distances to travel and very little access to transport if any at all. Of course people rely on cars. I recently moved to the country. My closest shop to get bread and milk is about a half hour cycle each way on a traditional bike. If I got in the car it would be less than ten minutes. What do you think most people would choose?
Honestly if I didn’t have an electric bike I’d probably be jumping into the car more than I cycled. But I do have an electric bike. I don’t need to cycle an hour for the basics on muscle power alone. Importantly though I don’t only own an electric bike I know how useful it can be. If we ignore rural communities in the industry they have no way of knowing how useful our bikes can be.
Some Problems With Rural Electric Bikes
Ok before I go championing electric bikes in a rural setting it’s important to acknowledge some things.
Cars are always going to be more necessary in rural areas than urban ones. As a society we can do a lot to minimise the need for cars in rural areas. Extending public transport routes into rural areas, improving road quality and adding cycle lanes, etc.. But at the end of the day when you’re further from amenities like shops you will rely on a car a lot more.
Not all bikes are going to be equally effective in rural areas. If you live in an area with rougher roads for example then you will need a heavier duty bike. The ultra compact models that suit cities might not put up with the strain of rural cycling. Now this obviously depends on the specific area you live in. Personally, there are some pretty rough roads near me. There are bikes I’ve owned that I wouldn’t take on them.
If people don’t have access to bikes that they know will suit their needs then they aren’t going to put down the money to get an electric bike. Without improved infrastructure then you can’t be sure that a bike will do what you need it to do. What I’m really trying to get at is that people in rural areas don’t always have the confidence to pick up an electric bike.
Electric Bikes Are Great For Rural Areas
Needing to cycle an hour using just your own muscle power is not easy when you need to do it all the time. If you’re older, or, if you have health problems, even if you’re just particularly tired that day, cycling a distance isn’t a nice prospect. Then you get in the car.
More car dependency and longer distances mean that rural communities may need to spend more on petrol. Now that isn’t true on a case by case basis. People in the city might do a lot more driving than people in the country. But if you take the minimum cost of petrol to get to local amenities people in rural areas inevitably pay more.
Someone with joint problems will not be able to cycle from my address into town on a traditional bike. Without any public transport their only option is a car. An electric bike let’s them get into town quickly and cheaply without the discomfort of traditional cycling.
Electric bikes help with all of these things. We know that because they’re all the same problems faced in urban areas. The distance has just increased and the roads are more likely to be gravel. It’s not a leap in logic to say that electric bikes help the same problems in a different setting.
In fact none of the problems that electric bikes help with are unique to either setting. And I don’t believe that rural settings throw any inherent challenges that stop electric bikes from being effective. Even if cars are always going to be more of a feature, electric bikes can still offer some advantages.
What Can The Industry Do?
We’ve talked about this before actually. When we talked about growing the UK market. The same idea applies here. We need to be loud. Customers don’t just know that electric bikes are the solution to their problems. This is especially true when marketing is so heavily focused on a different setting.
If you live in a rural area you don’t automatically equate your trip into town with the commute of an office worker in London. But when you see the marketing around electric bike then that’s the kind of scenario you see. And they aren’t all that different really. There are some things to take into account, like the road quality and everything else we’ve already mentioned. But overall it’s a similar goal and journey.
By changing our marketing to include people travelling into town from their countryside home. By showing cargo bikes in a rural setting, not just dodging the traffic on a busy city street. By just including rural communities in our promotional materials we can increase the number of people on electric bikes. Customer knowledge is a big factor in whether or not they want to buy a product. Would you buy something if you didn’t know whether it worked or not?
We can also be loud in pushing for improved infrastructure in rural areas. Cycle paths on rural roads dramatically increases the safety for cyclists and motorists. Public charging points in towns or villages mean that people don’t need to worry about their batteries dying as much. Infrastructure is a way to increase the number of people on electric bikes, not just a way to serve those that already have them.
Why We Should
This is just another area where out industry can do better. I’m not saying no one markets to rural communities, but the urban market is definitely more prominent. We can expand our market with some easy changes. But we can also continue to create a better world through the industry. By minimising car dependency in rural areas we are able to improve the quality of life of the people that live there. We’re able to further lower carbon emissions. CO2 doesn’t just come from cities after all.
Yes it will always be a smaller market. But Route Assembly was formed because we believe electric bikes can be a force of good in the community. That means making sure we service all aspects of our community. Even if it’s a smaller market. If you agree with us then maybe look to see if you do enough to include rural communities in your business model. Maybe everyone out there already is and I’m just experiencing some confirmation bias. But I doubt it. We can do more and we should.
I know it’s very tempting to just work with the ideal market and maximise reach with lower costs. I think we’re missing out on some important work and if you’re inclined to agree get in touch with us. Our marketing team will help develop a campaign to tap into a rural market. We’ll even design a bike optimized for it.