Nathan talks the future of ebikes in this interview. The first instalment of the new Ebike Community interview posts!
Nathan runs Dunedin Electric Bikes, an ebike shop based out of Dunedin, New Zealand.
Not only does Nathan have years of experience with ebikes, he’s also been selling them for a while now too.
He’s shared with us a wonderful perspective of how ebikes can affect communities positively, bring people together and even provide fantastic rehabilitation to certain users.
This one’s a lengthy interview, but is well worth the read for some of the insightful comments you’ll get from Nathan.
Zade: What made you get into the world of ebikes, and how were you introduced to them?
Nathan: I first got into electric bikes in about 1999, when a friend had a recumbent that he was trying to convert into electric. In fact, he actually had two recumbents, and at that stage, parts were pretty limited, batteries very limited and he imported a 20″ bike from Japan to take the wheel and battery out to put into his recumbent. And then he was going to have a trailer on behind with a solar panel and yeah, very very cool idea. Unfortunately, he died, so the recumbent idea didn’t happen. I ended up inheriting the recumbent but I actually got to play around on his electric bike up in Northland for a wee while and it was just like, wow, very very cool.
Zade: So, it was really quite purpose built that one?
Nathan: Well yeah this was a, I mean it was an electric bike that he bought into to actually pull apart. He didn’t actually want the bike itself he just wanted all the parts of it, but you couldn’t actually buy parts in those days.
Zade: Ah okay, fair enough, yeah.
Nathan: Yeah well you couldn’t buy kits I should say.
Zade: What ebike are you using at the moment? Assuming you’re riding one?
Nathan: What am I using at the moment? I use so many actually Zade, I suppose yesterday I rode my Sprint down to the market. And that’s a front wheel drive.
Zade: Just with a hub motor on the front?
Nathan: Yeah, it’s a hub motor, yep.
Zade: I suppose you have so many different bikes that you can’t pick a favourite really?
Nathan: I’m really fickle. I really love fold ups.
Zade: Right yeah, for the convenience.
Nathan: I think they’re just so smart, the ability throw them on a bus, to travel around the country. Just very, very, very practical.
Zade: Yeah, that’s fair enough. And great for city riding as well! Like in public transport you can take it with you then go wherever you need to.
Nathan: Yeah, yeah that’s right, yeah totally. I’m quite convinced that, you know, little 20″ wheeled bikes are great. You can sort of take them places where you probably couldn’t take a big 26″ or you know, a mountain bike sort of style bike.
Zade: What would you say is your main use of your ebike? Just around town or…
Nathan: Probably commuting really.
Zade: Commuting, yeah that’s quite a good option.
Nathan: You know, other than business that’s what I’m doing, it’s a commuter. So, it’s going from town to out here in Warrington.
Zade: And how long is that trip about?
Nathan: It depends on the bike but I can get it down to about 45 minutes on a fast bike.
Zade: Wow, that’s pretty good.
Zade: Have you ever experienced any negative reactions from people when riding your bike? You know, mockery or things from people?
Nathan: Yeah yeah, totally. Definitely, there’s a whole big thing about cheating out there. I’m a cheater. And my response to being a cheater is just to shout out “No actually I’m more like a mountain lion” and then I just roar.
There’s a whole big thing about cheating out there. I’m a cheater. And my response to being a cheater is just to shout out ‘No actually I’m more like a mountain lion’ and then I just roar.
Zade: That’s a great way to go about it.
Nathan: Yeah just add a bit of fun to it eh.
Zade: Yeah definitely! So, you have a store that sells ebikes, how successful have you found it so far?
Nathan: Well, it’s an interesting thing just being in business, just realising that actually, business is not actually as easy as people think it is. You know you can’t just open up a place and just expect people to come along and buy from you. So, you know, it’s definitely a growing market. But from a business perspective, there are all sorts of angles that make it difficult actually. I do wonder about the viability of some electric bike company models. I’m very lucky because it’s a collaborative that I’m a part of.
Zade: True. In Dunedin do you find that there is a strong demand for ebikes, or is there just a trickle of them…
Nathan: Look it’s hard to say, basically things are growing year upon year and others selling ebikes. We might be another 10 to 15 years away before we reach saturation point and even then, there’ll be people who sort of come and go from the industry as well, I presume, within that time.
Zade: I guess that kind of reflects on the changing nature of bikes and all of the components and as they’re created, and as new technologies emerge then they’ll kind of become more popular especially with the limitations with batteries at the moment I’d say, isn’t it?
Nathan: Yeah, well, I mean I think we’re pretty well over all the limitations now, you know like I’ve got bikes that will climb every hill in Dunedin and I’ve got bikes that will take a battery that will run you for you know 5 hours probably. so, you know, we’ve got to this stage where there are very few excuses. I think the biggest issue is cost. People are finding cost is putting them off. Yet actually when you start to do an analysis of the costs, your health benefits, the amount you’re saving on petrol of public transport, and the things such as pleasure, which you just can’t even build into it. You then end up with a huge cost saving to yourself or just a benefit on so many levels. And people haven’t quite got there yet.
Zade: Yeah that’s a very good point, once you factor in, especially those priceless things like you say with the kind of joy of it and experience of it, it’s kind of a different factor.
Nathan: I mean certainly the research I’ve read is saying that basically any bike is getting people out there and prolonging their lives I mean there’s a study that came out of Britain it was 7 years I think, and from an ebike perspective I’m picking up from people who are using ebikes and also from within the medical industry that there’s definitely a push for older people who have had injuries or have had hip or knee replacements to get on electric bikes over a standard bike because it actually has beneficial qualities that a traditional bike doesn’t have. You know, you’re getting rotation and movement of joints but you’re not having to put huge amounts of pressure on them.
Zade: Yeah very low impact kind of exercise isn’t it.
Nathan: Yeah that’s right.
Zade: How do you find the sense of community with ebike owners and riders around town?
Nathan: Oh, look I think it’s quite lovely actually, I think there’s definitely a growing number of people who are connecting with others with electric bikes. I think there are two or three different levels. There are the people who are keen to, you know like yourself, pull a bike apart, add a motor and see what it can do. So, you know there’s the tech people who are, you know, maybe even pushing those boundaries. “Okay let’s put a bigger motor on it”, “Let’s put a bigger battery in”, you know that sort of stuff. Through to people who are just simply buying a bike because of the fact that it’s going to give them exercise or transport. But they’re coming together, they’re appreciating other people who are doing so as well.
I think there’s definitely a growing number of people who are connecting with others with electric bikes.
Zade: And I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, whereas, you know, there might be someone who bought their own bike and then they looked at someone else and thought, “Hey you know, that’s pretty cool. I might see what I can do to my bike, or start fresh with something else and get some help from someone else.”
Nathan: Yeah, that’s right.
Zade: Yeah, it’s quite a well-rounded kind of community that I’ve found so far anyway.
Nathan: Yeah and it’s interesting because of the fact that I have got here from a non-biking background. You know, I’m not a mountain biker, I’m sort of a commuter really, and a pleasure rider. And I think there just seems to be a huge amount of other people who are just waking to the pleasure of electric bikes. You feel like a kid again!
Zade: The whole feeling of just biking somewhere and smelling the roses on the way really isn’t it.
Nathan: Yeah that’s it. You know, totally, tomorrow I’m cycling home from town and my ride will take me over Mount Cargill, and I’ll be listening to the birds, if it’s been raining I’ll be listening to the sound of running water. It’s just an amazing feeling. I think there’s something we put on our Facebook page about, “You’re one ride away from happiness” or something.
Zade: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it really. I’ve found even when you come to a stop and there’s nothing around you, there’s no engine noise from your own transport and it’s just quiet and its really nice change especially being in a city I think.
Nathan: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that I really appreciated and I had not anticipated – I come from a teaching background so it’s all about people – and you know, this is retail, but I’ve found that it’s actually more than that. I just love seeing people in the morning, seeing them heading off to work on their electric bikes that I’ve sold them. I love the fact that there are people who’ve got all sorts of disability issues, that are on bikes, that are giving them so much pleasure. It’s really, really cool. I’ve got some older clients, I’ve got people who I’d never think, you know, 80-year-olds would be riding bikes but they are! And they’re getting on these bikes and finding the love and joy that they did when they were kids.
I’ve got people who I’d never think, you know, 80-year-olds would be riding bikes but they are! And they’re getting on these bikes and finding the love and joy that they did when they were kids.
Zade: Yeah, it’s almost like riding a bike for the first time again when you get to experience it. I remember when I first came down and tried one, without having been on my own bike for a while and never having ridden an ebike, it was just, I couldn’t stop smiling and I think it’s the thing that keeps you coming back and I don’t think you can ever get sick of it really.
Nathan: No, no and in fact, I’m sort of sitting here thinking at the moment that I haven’t been on my bike today. I normally try and get a bit of a ride. And I’ve got this full suspension that I have out here at home and I just love it. Again, I just ride it up and down the ditches and just like a bloody kid. And it’s great!
Zade: Do you own non-electric bikes?
Nathan: Yeah, I do.
Zade: Do you find yourself on those at times as well, or is there more of a focus on the ebikes?
Nathan: Look, I’ve really come to appreciate my non-electrics for different things. I’ve got a couple of old bikes. Because I live out here in Warrington, we take them on the beach and I’ve got a child seat on the back for my grandson and the ability at low tide to be able to ride all the way to the end of Warrington beach, it’s just beautiful. Because non-electrics don’t have any preciousness around them, I’ve been able to use them in that sort of format. You know, take them onto the beach, it’s like wow.
Zade: Yeah, doesn’t matter if you get sand everywhere. You’re not going to gunk up any components or anything like that. It’s really great. So, do you feel like you’re still getting exercise when you’re on your ebike as well?
Nathan: Yeah, I do. And again, sometimes what I do is dial things down so that I know that I’m working harder than I probably need to be. And that helps, the ability to just do that as required. “Okay, I’m going to be on level 5 instead of level 7.” Yeah, you know, it’s great.
Zade: And that allows a great balance between I guess maybe if you’re commuting and you’re in a suit and you don’t want to get sweaty in the morning going to work. But if you’re coming back or even in the weekends you can have very little or no power and it doesn’t really matter, and you’re still getting your exercise, and it’s great for both of those purposes really isn’t it.
Nathan: Yeah look it absolutely is.
Zade: So how does the future of ebikes look to you at the moment? How do you envision it?
Nathan: For me I think, it’s moving out into a wider range really, we’ve now got quads and trikes, and recumbent trikes available. Second-hand stuff. You know, so it’s not just retail of new bikes. And I think that’s a biggy for us. It’s just basically being a place where you can come and get an electric bike. Whether it be a $400 bike to a $4000 bike.
Zade: Yeah and I’ve noticed as well, you can even get – which I guess are becoming more popular now – electric motorbikes which are, you know, a great alternative for someone who really enjoys motocross or going quite fast off roads but also wants the kind of sustainability and I guess also enjoyment of having something that’s electric.
Nathan: Yeah, exactly that’s right. I mean there’s a guy out here in Warrington who he rides a motocross bike. And he is the on the hill, and I can’t actually see where he rides it but he’s sort of above us somewhere. Everybody in Warrington can hear him riding his bike. Whereas if he was on an electric enduro he’d be just blatting ’round and no one could hear him.
Zade: And he’d be having equally as much fun!
Nathan: Yeah that’s right.
Zade: And I guess, I’d probably say it’d be quite a bit cheaper as well on the petrol costs and on the maintenance as well.
Nathan: Yeah, totally. Yeah that’s definitely what they’re finding with cars, isn’t it? Electric cars there’s very little maintenance compared to a traditional petrol vehicle.
Zade: I guess owing to significantly less moving parts and significantly less explosions in the engine!
Nathan: Yeah, that’s right.
Zade: Do you find that you’re more of a build-it-yourself or buy-it-new kind of electric bike enthusiast?
Nathan: Look I’m definitely buy it from new. I don’t have the skills to do that sort of stuff but that’s the beauty of where I am. Is that I’m working amongst people who do have those skills. There’s Steve, there’s Peter. Who’ve got the bike skills and the electric engineering skills. So, I’m definitely buying it from new. But what I’m doing is I’m finding that I’m enjoying the fact that actually a lot of these electric bikes, it’s plug and play. So, the ability for me to diagnose faults and sort issues out is something I didn’t think I would be capable of doing. But now I can do myself.
Zade: Yeah which is really fantastic. I found as well when I got my bike and it was the whole thing of “oh now I need to figure out how to take off my bottom bracket” or “now I need to figure out how to replace my disc brakes and tighten them.” It was really all about learning in that instance for doing it myself. But I guess there’s an aspect of that in buying it new as well. You could learn to do the basics the kind of things that you could take to a bike shop, but there’s also quite a bit of pleasure in fixing it yourself. Whereas people like tinkering with their motor vehicles you can do the same with your bike and it’s great fun as well.
Nathan: Yeah, look that’s exactly right, I mean that’s that whole zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. It’s getting that enjoyment from your skills to pull something apart, put it back together again better than what you had it. I’ve got a little bike on my deck at the moment, it’s for my granddaughter. Dropped into the workspace yesterday, it’s something that I can actually pull apart and put back together again, better, so it’s a much nicer bike for her. And it’s a nice skill to have isn’t it, the ability to solve your own transport problems, and other people’s.
Zade: Yeah for sure. It definitely adds another dimension there. In terms of your customers, we kind of went over this, but would you say there’s quite a wide range of people you get, and maybe do you see more of older or possibly injured customers, or more fit customers, or is there just quite a large range of just random people?
Nathan: No, definitely my clientele are the older people. And a significant amount have had some type of either injury or intervention. So, therefore, it’s almost seen as being a way of rehabilitation, getting older people out in the outdoors. And then I’ve got another group of clientele, of people who haven’t got their license’s, and possibly won’t get their license’s. So, they tend to be young people. And they’re just going, “Okay, alright, I want to do this, I don’t need to be getting my license, I can be travelling around the city with a bike.”
Zade: Yeah, and it’s a really cheap, affordable, I guess when you factor in everything else that goes along with transporting yourself around, more affordable way to do it. maybe you don’t want to get a license and you don’t need to worry once you’ve got a bike and then you can get just get your own way around without worrying.
Nathan: That’s right, and, you know, so you’ve just got yourself a bike and once you’ve got it, these electric bikes, they’re built to last a life. Okay so yes you might have to replace the battery, 3 to 5 years down the track, but that’s what you do, you replace the battery, you know, the motor’s just going to keep going on going.
Zade: Yeah, but I’d say the battery is significantly cheaper than the years and years of car maintenance you’d have to pay in those years as well.
Nathan: That’s right yeah. And for a lot of people, they’ll be able to do it themselves.
Zade: Lucky they make it, at least for batteries that are just kind of anchored onto the bike, they’re fairly straightforward to do. I imagine for, which I guess is now kind of becoming more mainstream, the battery encased in the frame from a fashion point of view, it makes it a little bit more difficult to do.
Nathan: I’m not sure that it will actually, Zade, I think they’re all pretty much the same, they’re all usually fastened together with single cells. At the moment, there are very few people doing up batteries. But it’s going to come. It’s bound to be there. Or we’re in a situation when we send them back overseas and they’re repackaged overseas and sent back to us. It’s going to happen.
Zade: And I guess that opens up another avenue for people to then create other businesses possibly of, “we’ll upcycle or recycle your battery and get you going again as soon as possible.”
Nathan: Yeah, that’s right. So, there’s a company in Germany called Revolt who are using batteries that are no longer holding their capacity, so maybe they’re down to the last 10% or whatever, and they’re using them in conjunction with solar energy as a battery bank. They use 16 of them and 16 is enough to hold a charge for an average family house overnight. And then if one of them goes down, you send it back to the company, because actually you’re just leasing this system and the company just send you down a new bike battery. You know, a “new” old bike battery. And you plug it in and away you go!
Zade: That’s quite a good use of recycling batteries actually. Keeping all the harmful materials away from landfills or wherever else they might end up.
Nathan: Yeah that’s right, and from what I can gather, there’s a significant amount of minerals within batteries that can be recycled or are of a level that would want to be reused for something else. So
Zade: Yeah that sounds about right.
Nathan: Yeah, almost like the lead batteries, you know lead batteries have a value in the weight. People know, “Oh it’s got lead inside it, the weight of this is this”. This’ll be the same for these batteries as well, “Okay, so that’s a lithium-ion battery, it has a flat weight of this or value of.”
Zade: How affordable do you think ebikes are at the moment?
Nathan: Look, I think we’ve got some, I’m just going to talk about myself, I think we’ve got some quite affordable things going down, in that we’ve pretty well always got a second-hand bike or two around. So, they’re somewhere between, at the moment, $500 and $1200. So that makes it much better for people.
And then you know, we’ve got a couple of offers as well. So, one is just the traditional finance which is interesting because it’s through the Motor Trade Finance. So, MTF have been around for years and they’re a Dunedin based company who approached me and said: “Hey, you’re a vehicle, do you want to have some finance available for your customers through us?” And it’s like “Wow, okay, that’s a great idea.” As well as we’re also doing finance through people having the Valley Card. So basically, helping people from a local perspective get into bikes.
Zade: And I mean, what you’re saying with the price before, that’s probably cheaper than your average used car and considering the versatility you get out of your bike, I’d say that’s probably a worthwhile investment compared to a car as well.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And you know people buy cars on tick, why not get into buying bikes on tick. I have a bit of a problem with finance, but I know that’s how the world works.
Zade: Yeah, exactly.
Nathan: The ability for people to go, “Oh, okay, alright, I’m buying my transport.” And, it was lovely, I had this woman about 2 weeks ago who came in and she said to me, “Okay I’m going to go home now. I bought my electric bike from you and we’re replacing one of our cars!” And it’s like, oh yeah that’s just so cool.
I had this woman about 2 weeks ago who came in and she said to me, ‘Okay I’m going to go home now. I bought my electric bike from you and we’re replacing one of our cars!’
Zade: Yeah, yeah that’s kind of the, exactly what you want to happen really isn’t it? It’s a great way to take, especially like a 2-car family if you grab maybe a bike or a bike each. Then you can maybe have just one car for the long trips or doing the groceries if you need a bit more room.
Nathan: Yeah. Look and Zade, I didn’t cover this but that’s one of the reasons I got into electric bikes, is basically, I met this guy up North years ago who was into it and he really opened my eyes to it and then I started using one for commuting up to the eco-sanctuary for my job. And then I was into environmental activism at the time and realised actually, one of the best ways to make an impact is to be proactive around cycling. And electric bikes really fitted the bill for me.
Zade: Yeah, no that’s definitely a good way about it.
Nathan: So, bums on saddles, rather than bums on car seats.
Zade: Yeah, and then you’re getting a lot of great low impact exercise, and helping the environment, saving your wallet as well!
Nathan: Yeah that’s it. It’s a win-win situation really.
Zade: Would you say ebike prices are looking to go down in the future and become more affordable than they already are?
Nathan: No, I don’t see there being a big change. I mean, you’ll probably get a greater bang for your buck. It’s kind of like the whole computer sort of thing that went on. Where ram and hard drive space doubled over x amount of years. But actually, the price of computers stayed relatively the same. I think that’s probably what will happen to electric bikes, is that you’ll find that, and I’ve seen it, a standard sized battery was 14Ah, now it’s 16Ah with Volto. EZee bikes were 11Ah and now it’s 15Ah. You know, just that sort of stuff.
Zade: Yeah so, it’s definitely more of an increase in value and I guess, by extension, the longevity of the products as well. So, you know, maybe better manufacturing processes or better components in general. Which I guess is just as good as a price decrease, you’re still getting a great amount of value for your dollar.
Nathan: Yeah that’s right. And then there’s going to be far more second hand on the market as well. It’s interesting, I had an electric bike donated to me the other day because basically, the battery was dead. The owner of it bought one from me and she said, “Hey, look, I really can’t sell it, the battery does a kilometre, maybe 2 kilometres and that’s about it. I can’t really sell it to somebody. And I don’t have the money to put into it to do it up, and I don’t really want to. So yeah, have an electric bike.” And so, we put a battery on it and now it’s up and running – you know another battery from a different company – but we’ve managed to sort of, make that work, and yeah, it’s up and running again.
Zade: That’s really great. I guess the battery is really the only really consumable part of the bike, and maybe barring disc brakes and pads and all that kind of stuff, but it’s, you know, the rest of it is there to stay and unless you’ve got some serious issues with the frame or, even with the wheels – replaceable – so once the motor’s in and ready to go it can kind of go on between owners and it will still continue to run really.
Nathan: Yeah. I have this little thing at the moment where my step-through bikes, I call them “Forever Bikes” just simply because I’ve actually sold a couple of bikes with top bars and the owners have ended up bringing them back because they’ve had some injury or some debilitation that means they can no longer, sort of, get across on a top bar. So, they’ve gone with a step through. So, I talk about them being a forever bike because you can keep fixing them and repairing them. The bike shop down at VCW [Valley Community Workspace] we’ve got 30, 40-year-old bikes. But we can keep repairing them.
Zade: Yeah, that’s a really great thing about them I guess.
Nathan: Yeah, and I think that will be the same even with the electrical components. You just keep adding different ones and just making them work.
Zade: Yeah, it’s great. For a final question I’ve got here, would you say that the savings from using an ebike are substantial?
Nathan: Yeah, look I did the costs initially just when I started getting into electric bikes for a mode of transport or commuting to work. And definitely, it stacked up whereas a petrol engine car didn’t. By the time I paid for insurance, petrol, repairs, maintenance, all that sort of stuff it was just, there was no way in the world I could be doing what I was doing. I’ve also heard of another woman who, she was a cycle pharmacist courier. So, she used to take drugs from the pharmacist to various people around the community. And nobody in the job had been able to make it work before her. Because they’d always had cars. And since she started using a bike, she didn’t use an electric, but because she was using a bike, all of a sudden, economics works.
An electric bike will allow people to get around, you know people who are doing caring for others. They’re on minimum wage, as soon as they’re using a car to get around, from this end of Dunedin to the other end of Dunedin, they’re basically losing. Losing money. On an electric bike, you know, it’s 20c to charge up. Yeah, they’re on a win, plus they’re getting exercise.
Zade: Yeah and I’ve found a lot of bikes you can generally put them under your contents insurance as well which makes it kind of a lot more viable to get for people. Rather than having to purchase some other insurance from somewhere else for your separate mode of transport. You can just keep it inside and add it to your contents which generally won’t make it that much more expensive.
Nathan: Yeah that’s right. You know, no road user charges, little in the way of insurance, no taxes, warrant of fitness, yeah. It’s huge. It’s sort of a no-brainer really.
Zade: Yeah, yeah. So that’s about all I had for questions.
Nathan: Okay nice one.
Zade: Thank you very much!
Thanks for reading through this amazing and insightful interview with Nathan from Dunedin Electric Bikes.
And thanks again to Nathan for his time and enthusiasm about ebikes.
I hope you’re all excited to grab an ebike, or go riding today!