They’re calling it the Femke effect: a big spike in sales of motor-assisted road bikes in the Netherlands since Femke van den Driessche was pinged for having a motorised bike in the pits at the cyclo-cross world championships.
According to Dutch TV station NOS, dealers are reporting a boom in sales of bikes equipped with the Vivax Assist motor, which drives the cranks from within the frame and is almost invisible at a cursory glance.
“Femke was really good advertising,” the owner of Dutch bike shop Tweewielerspecialist Van der Eijk told NOS. “I’m going to sell another one on Tuesday.”
Henk van Beek of bike shop Math Salden said: “Previously we sold one or two built-in motors a week. Now it’s five. For us it’s lucky that Femke [was caught].”
Dealers say the motors are popular with older riders, but are now being taken up by younger cyclists with health problems.
“A man of 28 with heart problems can have one retrofitted,” said Van Beek. “Then he can still ride on Sunday morning with his regular cycling club, and his teammates don’t have to wait for him.”
The Vivax system’s distributor confirms the Femke effect. “Since she was caught, demand has soared,” said Stefaan Lapere of Bike Concept in Belgium. “In the Netherlands alone, we have sold several hundred since then, where before we sold at most a few dozen a year. Bike shops used to order one or two motors at a time; now they want at least ten per order.”
Nevertheless, it’s all being kept a bit hush-hush. Lapere said there was still a taboo associated with electric bikes among keen cyclists, so they want a boost that can’t be easily seen.
“But many cyclists don’t find it a problem. They think: I’m moving so I’m alive,” he added.
Pieter van Putten, president of the Kampion cycling club agrees. “Of course there are people in our club who would never use such a built-in engine. But some of our members are over 80 years old. For them, these motors are a very useful, especially in the Alps or the Pyrenees.”
Not everyone in the club in on board though. Van Putten invited the importer of the Vivax motor to give a demonstration before the club’s recent annual general meeting. The motorised bike was received with interest by cub members, but it doesn’t look like there will be many customers from the younger riders. “It’s a bike for wimps or people over 80,” said one club member.
UK trade website BikeBiz points out that e-bike advocates predicted a surge in sales when the news of Femke’s bike broke in January.
Pete Prebus, publisher and editor of ElectricBikeReport.com told BikeBiz that e-bikes are commonly perceived to be heavy, ugly and aimed at older people, so the fact that a 19-year-old athlete was caught at a race with a hidden motor on a lightweight bicycle will have done the e-bike sector the power of good.
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.