According to Larry Pizzi, e-bikes are an integral piece of the modern bike industry. He would know—as Chief Revenue Officer and lead of Product Development at Accell North America, a division of Accell Group NV, the leading global developer of electric assist bicycles, Pizzi is at the frontline of the revolutionary retail segment. And it’s at that frontline that he’s been since 2002 (yup, e-bikes’ history is longer than you think), when he first got involved with Currie Technologies’ electric bicycles program.
Despite his longevity in the boundary-pushing and decidedly modern sector, Pizzi actually got his start in good, old fashioned IBD (he owned and operated a three-store chain of specialty retail stores for 12 years), making him the perfect liaison between old school and new school in the bike industry.
We tapped the e-bike aficionado for his opinions on e-bikes’ place in the bike industry, the need for adaptation, and what IBDs can do to stay in the race.
You’ve long been a leader in the e-bike sector—could you give a quick synopsis of your history in the industry? How did you get your start in the bike industry and how did you transition to the e-bike industry?
I’m a lifer. I started working in a neighborhood bike shop in Elkins Park, PA in the ‘70s to support my racing habit, and after finishing university, owned and operated Bike Tech, a progressive three-store retail operation in Philadelphia. I transitioned to the distribution side, and while working on the brand side, met Dr. Malcolm Currie, who was an early visionary of electric mobility. Long story short, I went to work at Currie Technologies in 2002 because I shared his vision of making cycling more accessible.
What initially drew you to e-bikes, and why do you remain rooted in that industry?
My first experience on a pedal-assist e-bike made me think about all the reasons that most Americans don’t ride a bicycle, and how e-bikes had the opportunity to change all that. Now that battery and drive system technology is ready for prime-time, e-bikes are a total game changer for so many, making cycling more accessible and practical, leavening the playing field of athletic differences, while keeping older riders from aging out of cycling. I believe that while they will never replace non-electric bikes, I do believe that they are the future of cycling for recreation and transportation.
More and more folks are beginning to see e-bikes as part of the bike industry, rather than separate from it. Where do you stand and why?
They are definitely part of the industry, like it or not for those that don’t see the light. Interestingly enough, sales through the IBD, while growing fast, are just the tip of the iceberg. More e-bikes are being sold through e-commerce and through brick and mortar e-bike specialty stores, primarily because many IBDs are not throughly embracing the category with the same passion as these other retailers. Personally, I think this is really unfortunate, because I know that when an IBD does embrace the category, they deliver the best possible experience for the end consumer. These bikes are ridden ten times more than non-electric (I like to say, acoustic) bikes and riders need service, accessories, and apparel. No one does this better than an experienced IBD. The bad news for IBDs is that these other guys are rapidly catching up.
Do you think e-bikes are the key (or at least one key) to the evolution and success of the bike industry?
They are certainly part of the evolution, but I believe that IBD’s need to embrace their reinvention and engage with consumers any way the consumer is shopping today. At Accell, we launched Powered by Beeline (read our 2017 article on the introduction of Beeline here) which is a software subscription model that can help to bring bicycle retail into the 21st century, offering customer acquisition through fulfillment of bikes purchased online, service scheduling via a website interface, and mobile deployment. These are also critical elements of survival of the IBD, in my opinion.
What are some words of advice you’d offer to bicycle retailers considering incorporating e-bikes into their inventory?
Don’t do it unless you are completely committed. You need knowledgable and trained staff in sales and service. You need to commit to flooring a wide range of products from more than one brand and in each category of product offering, including recreation, mountain, and commute.
Any other thoughts you’d like to add on how the bike industry (and/or the e-bike industry) can continue to grow?
Get involved with our efforts to move our model 3-Class legislation in every state and in Canada. Join our efforts in working on access for e-bikes on public lands open for mountain biking and utilize the resources we have built to educate yourselves and your customers. They can be found here, on the People for Bikes website.