Ed Benjamin is what many would consider and eBike expert
Ed provides consulting services and technical training on eBikes. He also conducts studies and provides reports on the eBike industry. Ed says "the bike business is a good place to spend a lifetime. The money is poor, but the people (co-workers, customers) are great. And with electric bikes... we all face a bright future."
Ed got started in cycling like so many of us... "as a kid, I used a bike to go everywhere, and this continued into high school. I was the only nerd in my HS that rode a bike to school every day. My first job (1969), I was working at McDonalds, when a co-worker arrived on a very, very sweet bike (Raleigh Professional MK-1) and I learned that there was such a thing as bicycle racing."
This led to a State Champion title a little later, and a job in a bike shop for $1.00 per hour! That led to more shop jobs that supported me through college and beyond. Eventually my family and I owned and operated Benjamin Cyclery, a 4-store chain in SW Florida. We were at various times a Trek top 25, BDS top 100 and a Schwinn Presidents Club store.
You've owned a shop, you've hired mechanic. What qualities do you look for when you hired a mechanic?
In the decades that I operated a store there were few "trained" mechanics (Schwinn Factory Training was about the only school) and we rarely found experienced bike mechanics to employ. So we expected to train on the job and that meant we wanted good people, not so much experience. I found that the best source of good people was to listen to my existing team for ideas and referrals. Honest, reliable, friendly and genuinely interested in doing a good job.
You've worked in the eBike part of the industry for a long time. How did that come about?
I was fascinated by the idea of combining human (high torque meat machines with low endurance) with electric power (lower torque electrical machines with high endurance) on a bicycle. In 1994, this was a new idea, just gaining traction in the Japanese domestic market. Maybe only a couple of bikes offered in the USA - not very good ones.
One of my customers Dr. Frank Jamerson PhD was also interested, and kept bringing eBikes into my Naples store for assembly and repair. So when he asked me to travel to China and do some research on the eBike market for him - it was great good fortune for me. That led to me starting my consulting company in 1996.
What is LEVA and how did it get started?
In 1998, most of the existing USA eBike companies formed the Electric Cycle Association. It failed to get off the ground, largely because the first (and only) treasurer "lost" most of our funds. So the idea existed, and some of us cooperated as though we were a formal association until 2008 when Sid Kuropchak and I formalized and funded the Light Electric Vehicle Association, today we have about 300 members representing 30 countries, and we are focused on the interests of the eBike industry. A major activity for LEVA has been offering technical training. This was started in 2010 by Dr. Gerhardt, the author of the book on eBike repair and most of the syllabus.
Electric bikes are seeing strong growth. Tell us some of the numbers.
This year I believe that about 34-million eBikes will be sold in Asia, 2-million in Europe and about 300,000 in the USA. There are about 250-million eBikes in use worldwide with about 1-million of them being in the US market today.
If you could offer a forward thinking bicycle shop three pieces of advice, what would they be?
The lesson learned in Asia and Europe is that eBikes make money for shops. The margins are greater, the tickets are larger, and they need more parts and maintenance. Consumers need help selecting and keeping them running.
Consumers like them. A lot! Consumers do not share the "bike snob's" point of view on whether eBikes are "cheating" or otherwise "wrong".
Become the champion and source of eBikes in your community. This is going to the best future niche and in most cities today, it's up for grabs.
You've worked as a mechanic. Did you have any training?
I was instructed by Larry Black at Thornbury's Toys (at the time the largest Schwinn dealer in the USA). By John Battle at Spoke and Sprocket, Gil Morris at Highland Cycle and Bob Peters at Clarksville Schwinn. These men were wonderful teachers (if anyone remembers John Battle, they are lifting an eyebrow at this) and I am grateful. Later I went to Schwinn Factory Training, to programs at the New England Cycling Academy and to a workshop run by Campagnolo on the use of their classic tool kit!
Hmm... I have to say, the old bent metal tire irons given to me by Gil Morris. They had been used for a very long time when I got them, and while nothing special they were polished from long use. The bend was (is) perfect for removing clinchers. Gil started in a shop in the 30's (I think), these levers might have nearly a century of use.
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