Electric bikes are categorized by classes: Class 1 ebikes are pedal-assist cycles with a top speed of 20 mph. (Some localities have banned Class 2 and Class 3 ebikes, which are throttle on demand.) The trick to using a Class 1 bike is to, well, pedal. “If the pedals stop, the bike doesn’t go,” says Saltvold, who describes using an ebike as akin to running on a moving walkway in an airport terminal. Whitaker notes that customers say they switch off the pedal-assist to get more exercise, then turn it back on when going up a hill or wanting to increase their speed.
China has experienced an explosive growth of sales of non-assisted e-bikes including scooter type, with annual sales jumping from 56,000 units in 1998 to over 21 million in 2008, and reaching an estimated fleet of 120 million e-bikes in early 2010. This boom was triggered by Chinese local governments' efforts to restrict motorcycles in city centers to avoid traffic disruption and accidents. By late 2009 motorcycles are banned or restricted in over ninety major Chinese cities. Users began replacing traditional bicycles and motorcycles and e-bike became an alternative to commuting by car. Nevertheless, road safety concerns continue as around 2,500 e-bike related deaths were registered in 2007. By late 2009 ten cities had also banned or imposed restrictions on e-bikes on the same grounds as motorcycles. Among these cities were Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Changsha, Foshan, Changzhou, and Dongguang.
Both Vintage Electric and Optibike build more expensive electric bicycles in smaller numbers that are geared towards wealthier clientele. By focusing on what some would consider “luxury electric bicycles”, these companies might be better positioned to either absorb the cost of increased tariffs on imported parts such as electric bicycle motors, or find customers with enough expendable income that the higher prices of the final e-bikes wouldn’t be as large of a deterrent.