French e-bike mania spurs entrepreneurs to design their own models

Electric bicycles are becoming a viable alternative to cars and scooters in urban areas in France, helped by government grants and the perception that they are greener.

Most are made overseas, usually in China, which weakens some of the ecological credentials unless it has been used regularly for several years.

Asian import wave

France was once a leader in the development of electric-assisted bicycles before many manufacturers were swept away by the Asian import wave.

One example is ISD, which began manufacturing and selling its first models from a workshop in Sireuil, Charente, in the early 2000s, before struggling against a flood of cheap Chinese e-bikes.

It seems to have stopped selling bikes but for a while continued to sell spare parts, although now the phone is not connected.

100% French in the design and assembly phase

After the Covid lockdowns, the tide started to turn and now there are few electric bike companies in France.

Almost all rely on Asian parts but design and build bikes in France.

Grégoire Lieurade, co-founder of the e-bike company Voltaire said The Connection: “Above all, it is the design that is French and makes the difference – so you can say that our bikes are 100% French in the design phase, and then also 100% French in the assembly phase, but the production of everything of parts are made in Asia.

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“We looked to see if it was possible to use frames made in France, but at the moment the prices and the volumes mean it’s not something we can do.”

International expansion

The company started selling e-bikes last summer and sold 1,000 in its first 15 months.

It convinced investors to spend €5million on international expansion, with the UK, Germany and even the Netherlands as target markets.

“Our style is to make a simple-looking, almost retro-style bicycle, but with all the technology of a good quality e-bike,” said Mr Lieurade.

‘Culture change’

He said the company’s business plan sees the overall market for e-bikes increasing by 10% a year for the next decade.

“I’ve seen a cultural change in France, and especially in Paris, over the last decade,” he said.

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“After living abroad for a while, I came back and was amazed at the number of bikes on the road, and a large part of them were e-bikes. You can use them to go to work and your heart rate will be the same as if you walked.”

Government grants

It is estimated that around 660,000 electric bikes in total were sold in France in 2021.

Means-tested grants are available for purchase, from the government and often from communities as well.

Read more: French MPs roll back more cycling aid including for electric bikes

Both Mr Lieurade and his co-founder Gabriel Ecalle have previously worked in cars – Mr Lieurade for Porsche and Mr Ecalle as a finance specialist in the motor industry in London.

They are convinced that new forms of transportation that are better for the planet will continue to be developed.

The company started selling its bikes through the Decathlon sports chain – for €2,190 – and specialist shops.

Read more: Will our French house insurance cover our new electric bikes?

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Reconditioning old batteries

The growth of e-bikes has also focused attention on the batteries they use, which often cost €500 in price.

Regular users will find that batteries start to lose efficiency after three years, with bike shops willing to sell them new, expensive replacements.

French firm Doctibike specializes in renewing old batteries instead, at half the price. It estimates that only 15% of electric bike batteries cannot be reconditioned.

The company was founded in 2014 by Anne-Sophie Caistiker. It has a factory in Lyon, and is opening in Germany and the French island of Réunion.

Last year, it reconditioned about 15,000 batteries.

Earlier this year, it saw one of its clients, Green Riders, an importer of electric scooters, become a majority shareholder and hopes to expand further.

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