New York City, E-bikes, and Tips on Building a Fleet
We take a ride with Manhattan-based Priority Bicycles and glean valuable info on how retailers and outfitters can build partnerships and maintain an e-bike fleet.
Located just off the Hudson River Greenway, Priority Bicycles headquarters and office is right in the thick of Manhattan. And the brand is in the midst of the surge in popularity of urban e-biking. We stop in on a beautiful May day between rainstorms in the city to both check out the space and hop on two of Priority’s hottest models—the plush E-Coast Electric Beach Cruiser (MSRP $1,999.99) and the more progressive Current E-bike (MSRP $3,299 with Shimano rear hub, $3,499 with Enviolo), both feature Gates Carbon Belt Drives, which Priority uses on all its rides. It’s an easy pedal down Canal Street to reach the Greenway and the bikes purr down New York’s best path for putting a ride to the test. We cruise down under the shimmering glass walls of of the Freedom Tower to the Battery for a view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island and then back up along the path to Frying Pan, a restaurant on a boat docked on the Hudson for a beer and burgers before heading back to Priority central. While both bikes performed admirably on this urban excursion, they are meant for two types of customers: The E-Coast, with fat 3-inch tires, for more casual back-and-forth riders and the Current, with fenders and a smooth mid-drive motor with 140nm of torque, for serious commuters. The belt drive means both are extremely reliable and spare riders from the mess of chain grease.
It’s an easy pedal down Canal Street to reach the Greenway and the bikes purr down New York’s best path for putting a ride to the test.
Back at the office, we sit down to talk to Priority Bicycles Director of Partnerships Max Jacob to learn more about how the brand is embracing the e-bike revolution and providing service to retailers and outfitters interested in building up a fleet.
(e)revolution: We see a lot of outfitters getting interested in e-bikes because you can run tours where everyone in a group with different ability levels can keep up. And I know tours like this are common in Europe. Are you seeing a rise in outfitters here in the states looking to use e-bikes?
Max Jacob: Absolutely. We have seen a huge rise. The second we released the Coast, there was a huge uptick in my inbox of people looking. Especially folks who already have a fleet of regular Coasts looking to move into e-Coasts.
Something we get asked a lot is can you limit the motor to be capped at a certain point? We’re seeing the laws kind of progress around what’s allowed in local areas. And one of the great things about us as a company being so small—and that our product developer sits two desks down from me—is that we can rewrite programs onto the motor and the brains of these bikes to be capped at certain speed limits if needed, or change the power curve of the motor. So that’s helping these bikes be even more accessible in a bike tour fleet rental.
So you can customize for a certain retailer or outfitter?
Absolutely. For example, Nantucket is really progressive with its e-bike laws. They’re very accepting and understanding this is the future—and it’s a beautiful area where people want to get out on bike tours. So we are preparing a fleet right now that’s capped at 15 miles per hour with a slightly more gentle power curve to it. And this is doing exactly what you described, which is maybe I’m out with my family and I jump on the regular Coast because I want to pedal my bike and my sister jumps on the e-Coast because she hates pedaling her bike an it’s got the throttle.
Are you also seeing a rise in retailers who want to have fleets that they can rent out more so than they would with a non-motorized bike fleet?
The feedback I keep hearing from my current fleet clients is that if you are not offering e-bikes, you’re behind the curve at this point. And I think that’s wonderful. I’m particularly passionate about transportation alternatives. I love mass transportation and I love bicycles as a way of getting around. I’m somebody who rides a bike seven days a week and e-bikes are making transportation alternatives just so much more accessible.
Priority is based in downtown Manhattan. How accommodating is a massive urban center like New York City to bikes in general and especially to e-bikes?
As somebody who considers themselves to be in shape and races bicycles, I commute most days on an e-bike. I show up here at work and I’m not sweaty and it’s wonderful. I’ll admit that a few years ago I was pretty resistant to e-bikes. I’m a total believer now. I live in Washington Heights so I jump right on the West Side Highway Greenway, a protected bike path, and I ride nine miles to work here in Tribeca. A lot of my colleagues here live in Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge used to be horrifying but recently they took away one car lane on the bridge and turned it into a dedicated bike path. We’re seeing more and more really bike positive infrastructure here in New York.
Do you have any advice or tips for retailers looking to sell e-bikes or start a rental fleet?
I think most importantly, don’t be scared of it in any way. I think people worry that the e-bikes are going to break down or that there will be more complications with them. And it is true that here are more components to e-bikes and when you invite more components into a system, it creates room for more potential issues. So when you’re considering the e-bike that you as a retailer and/or rental company want to carry, you just want to build a good relationship with the company you buy from. You want to know that you can easily get the components that you need and build that into the cost. You need understand that lithium ion batteries have a life cycle to them. They do not last forever (very few things on any machine last forever). They have a life cycle to them so you build that in and you accept and understand that, “okay, this bike is going to get heavy use, it’s going to be charged every day or multiple times a day so this battery is going to have a one-and-a-half to three-year lifespan.” You build that into your costs and you just accept it up front.
The other piece of advice I’d have would be—while being sensitive to budgets—I personally have a tough time getting behind the bikes that are at the $500 to $800 mark. They seem like a dream for e-bikes specifically. But something with Priority Bikes in general is that we are not the most expensive e-bikes, but we are rarely going to be the absolute cheapest e-bike that you find on the market. We are invested in using the highest quality of Gates components, a higher quality battery, a higher quality motor. And we believe that that serves everyone better in the long run. But just know that when it comes to replacing those components that we’re concerned about a tiny bit more investment goes a long way.
The biggest thing that Priority boasts is our customer service and how accessible we are. When you are going to start a partnership with a bike brand, you want to know that you can get in touch with them, ask the questions you need answered, get the component and knowledge support. I think that adds a ton of value for anybody making the investment in a partnership with a bike brand.
(e)revolution is the world’s first B2B2C e-bike expo focused solely on the needs of e-bike brands, dealers, suppliers, and consumers. A four-day event that provides brands and suppliers opportunities to engage directly with e-bike retailers and cyclists, providing education, demonstrations, and industry networking and social events. The show takes place in Denver, Colorado at the Colorado Convention Center in June 2023.
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