Sales of electric bikes are soaring across Europe, particularly in the Netherlands and Germany, and three out of every 10 cycles made by Royal Dutch Gazelle are equipped with some motorized help. It's giving a welcome boost to the European bicycle industry as it squares up to stiff competition from Asian companies. The Dutch love of cycling in this flat country stretches back more than a century, and there are more bikes than people - 20.5 million for a population of 17 million. So it's hardly surprising that the Netherlands is at the forefront of developing the latest in cutting-edge cycling technology. "The electric bike has given an enormous boost to the cycling market," financial analyst Gerard Rijk from SNS Securities told AFP. Some 1.4 million electric bikes were sold across the European Union in 2014, compared with 907,000 the year before and just 98,000 in 2006, according to figures from the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry (CONEBI). In the Netherlands, 21 percent of total bike sales in 2014 were electric cycles - more than any other country in Europe. While the figures for 2015 are not yet available, Gazelle says electric bikes have increased to represent almost a third of all sales in recent months.
The company, owned by the conglomerate Pon Holdings, recently invested some 10 million euros ($10.7 million) in renovating its factory in Dieren, where it produces around 275,000 bikes a year.
"In the Netherlands, the normal bike market is flat or declining slightly, whereas the e-bike continues to grow," Gazelle spokesman Ferdi Ertekin told AFP, pointing to an annual growth of 10 percent. Accell, another major Dutch player that owns popular brands like Batavus, Koga and Sparta, has seen the same trend. It recorded a 20 percent increase in electric bikes sales in the first quarter of last year, while sales of traditional bikes only rose four percent. But the electric bike is not just targeted at countries where cycling is well established as a form of leisure or travel. The extra "oomph" such bikes give to pedal power mean people in more hilly and mountainous places such as Austria, France, and Italy are also getting in on the act. Their main disadvantage is the price tag. In the Gazelle catalogue, an electric bike costs an average of 2,000 euros, compared with about 600 euros for a traditional pedal power bike.