BILLINGS - It was a light blue cargo bike branded 'spicy curry' that helped Billings resident Kevin Odenthal take the leap to sell his car and commit to a daily bike commute.
"For me, it's just about extending what I already do," Odenthal said. "I can get almost everywhere on a bike in about the same amount of time it takes to drive."
Odenthal's bike is designed to carry cargo, allowing him to make trips to Costco and the grocery store, then pedal up the hill to his house.
But his bike helps him do the work.
"Contrary to what people might think, an e-bike doesn't do the work for you, but it does give you more power for each pedal stroke. Depending what type of bike you get, it might double the power of your pedal stroke, or it might do four times the power of your pedal stroke," Odenthal said.
“The way I like to explain it is, it’s you only stronger and it’s further, faster, funner," says Dean Cromwell, owner of The Spoke Shop, a Billings-based bike shop celebrating its 50th year in the community next year.
Like bike shops around the world, The Spoke Shop is seeing a boom in the e-bike business.
"Five years ago people came in and we said ‘hey you should try one of these e-bikes’ and they’d say, ‘what’s an e-bike?’ to now, where they come in and go ‘where are all the e-bikes?’ So it’s changed significantly," Cromwell said.
Cromwell says e-bikes make up a significant part of The Spoke Shop's business, which reflects a global trend. According to Precedence Research, the global e-bike market was around $16.5 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $40 billion by 2030.
They already have established customer bases in Europe and New Zealand, and the fastest growing markets are in Asia and Africa.
"We expected the growth because we were told by the industry that this is the next big thing. And if you want to be part of the next big thing, you need to embrace e-bikes. We just had no idea how big that was going to be," Cromwell said.
E-bikes are attracting consumers who are mostly interested in recreation, and Cromwell says they're making a big stride in accessibility.
"On an e-bike, especially for people who are getting older, they’ve had a hip replacement, a knee replacement, I’ve got a million stories of people going ‘oh my god, I feel like a kid again,’ and that’s what makes them awesome.”
But along with recreation, e-bikes are helping people re-think their commute—whether the motivation is to save on gas money, reduce commissions, or both.
"For me, carbon emissions for sure," Odenthal said. "I was already making this transition before gas prices went up, but it's certainly a bonus."
Odenthal says Billings has made big steps in becoming more bike-friendly with more extensive networks of trails, maps and apps to access them, and an increasing courtesy between drivers and bicyclists.
Cromwell says if you're interested in trying an e-bike yourself, head on down to the shop and he will help you out.
"There was this crazy bike boom during COVID, which has pretty much tapered off, however, e-bikes were gaining momentum before COVID, have continued to have momentum, and we expect that to continue pretty much forever. It really is the next big thing," Cromwell said.