In the past few years, we’ve seen an explosion of electric vehicles, but whether we’re talking electric skateboards, hoverboards or electric micro-scooters (to name a few), this surge in popularity can appear a little gimmicky. Sure, they can be fun and are meant for the short (urban) journeys of (generally) younger people but are e-scooters, e-rollerblades, e-unicycles etc that much better in the long run than keeping your $500 and sticking to their non-electric forebears? Or, for that matter, just taking an extra 5 or 10 minutes to walk and soak up the streets? Time will tell.
What about electric cars? Well, after a sluggish period entering the market, electric vehicle sales are picking up. Tesla’s stock value has gone stratospheric this past year and more established car manufacturers have upped their electric vehicle game. While this is good news for urban air quality, the fact is these cars are still way too expensive for most people and this will likely remain the case for quite some time.
Another problem with electric cars is they don’t offer an alternative vision of what an urban environment could look like. Replacing dirty engines with clean batteries is great, but they still take up a whole lot of space!
This is where electric bikes come in. Though ebikes are still often seen as a niche recreational product rather than a practical transport solution, this is changing. Electric bikes sales already far outstrip those of other electric vehicles, and will most likely continue to do so by quite some margin. Since 2014, ebike sales in the US have grown more than eightfold. In the Netherlands – as good a barometer of cycling trends as any country – more electric bikes were sold in 2019 than standard pedal bikes. According to consultancy experts Deloitte, this momentum is increasing. Between 2020 and 2023, they predict 130 million ebikes will be sold worldwide.
So, what is driving this surge in popularity?
Here’s our top five reasons why electric bikes are now so popular:
Electric bikes are zero-emission and require much less battery power than heavy electric cars, not to mention much less energy and resources to manufacture. Zero-emission doesn’t mean no CO2 is produced in either the build or powering of an ebike, but even then the levels are near identical with a standard pedal bike.
The value of electric bikes to environmental sustainability goes beyond energy efficiency though. They make it possible to reorient cities away from cars. Unlike any other electric rideable, for many mid-distance journeys, ebikes are a truly viable alternative to cars. As such, ebikes are an opportunity to radically disrupt the rule of automobiles – electric or otherwise – and create healthier, cleaner systems of congestion-free transportation within and beyond cities.
In many European cities, the sharp drop in car traffic due to the Covid-19 pandemic meant many urban residents were able to enjoy their streets like never before. The absence of cars throughout the day and night freed up space on the roads and in parking lots which people started to use for community activities, child’s play, or simply to share a coffee outside with a neighbour. It’s been a bright spot in otherwise difficult times and city residents are now more anxious to hold on to their car-free streets and embrace cycling. Electric bikes offer a way to make this happen while ensuring everyone can get to where they need to be.
Electric bikes encourage people to cycle who otherwise wouldn’t give it serious thought, whether that’s down to age, an injury, physical disability or simply because they live in an area with lots of steep hills. The option of electrically-assisted cycling means people who would have taken journeys by car are instead building up fitness and having fun doing so.
Some traditional cyclists have been quick to question whether using an ebike is all that good for your health since the “motor does all the work.” Studies, however, have shown ebike users exert just as much energy as standard pedal power cyclists. What’s more, another study demonstrated ebike users took longer, more frequent journeys than regular cyclists, meaning they derive greater health benefits in the long run.
Electric bikes are typically more expensive than standard pedal bikes but the gap is narrowing. Competition between ebike manufacturers is heating up, and as a result, the quality is improving and the prices are coming down. It’s now possible to buy a well-designed, solidly-built entry-level ebike for little more than $1,000.
The main extra cost consideration for an ebike rider compared to a pedal biker is the battery. A good quality, well-looked after battery should last at least 3-5 years (or around 1,000 charging cycles) before it starts to lose capacity. Eventually, it will need to be replaced and prices for decent batteries start from around $500 (£350 or €500) but can creep up to $1,000 (£750 or €1000) for high-end models with greater capacity. Still, compared to buying a new car, a couple of thousand bucks isn’t much at all.
4. Hassle-free commuting
One of the main drawbacks to commuting with a regular bicycle is arriving at work sweaty without the option of taking a shower before settling at your desk. Electric bikes don’t replace pedalling but they allow you to manage your exertion better. The motor can kick in to assist with hills or provide an extra boost from a standing start at traffic lights. This means you get a morning workout without working flat-out.
For most people though, commuting by car is the obvious, and perhaps only, choice. The average American commute is 16 miles, or around 26.1 minutes. But these are broad stats – many Americans live in congested cities where commuting by car is not only expensive but makes little sense. Public transport infrastructure is also often sorely lacking, overcrowded and pricey over the longterm, not to mention the risk of coronavirus transmission. For workers stuck with these options who are put off by a standard bike ride every morning, an electric bike may well be the solution.
5. Low maintenance, little bureaucracy
You don’t need a license to ride an ebike. You don’t need to register your electric bike with road authorities. You don’t need to sort out insurance, though it could be advisable. There’s very little bureaucracy to deal with for electric bikes. Just charge and ride. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any regulations. Just a hell of a lot less than with other vehicles.
Ebikes are also relatively low-maintenance vehicles. Like with any bicycle, you’ll need to change tires, brake pads, cassettes and chains – as well as the battery – over its lifespan, perhaps multiple times depending on how intensively you use it. The motor will also require general maintenance but should last you 10,000 miles if it’s a good quality product that’s well looked after.
Time to Buy an Ebike!
That’s five great reasons to love electric bikes. If you’ve not already, now is the time to buy an ebike! I can really recommend it…not that I’m biased or anything…