The Emergence of E-Bikes as a Transportation Alternative
In the growing movement to go green in this country, the United States has largely ignored the versatility, affordability, and flexibility of electric bikes (aka E-bikes).
What’s up with that?
A Little Perspective
There is plenty of chatter about electric vehicles in this country but hardly a word about expanding e-bike use to dramatically reduce traffic congestion, carbon emissions and provide an efficient and affordable alternative to public transportation for the masses.
America lags behind Europe in a lot of things and electric bike use is one of those. According to electrek.com e-bikes are projected to outsell cars, electric and otherwise, in the not-so-distant future. E-bikes were already growing in popularity across the pond when the COVID-19 pandemic sparked an explosion in use. People turned to e-bikes for their urban commutes to avoid crowded (virus-filled) public transportation.
The reduced traffic congestion, not having to hunt for limited parking spaces and far less lung-busting carbon emissions were the wonderful side effects of hopping on an electric bike and zipping along in bike lanes, between cars, and to the destination while auto commuters were stuck in rush hour traffic.
In Germany, around one million e-bikes were sold in the first half of 2019, which was more than all of 2018. Vanmoof, an e-bike manufacturer, enjoyed double and triple-digit growth in 2020 and the demand for their product has remained steady in Europe.
“Many European countries are seeing yearly e-bike growth in the 30% to 40% range, compared to the low single-digit growth of car sales. That means e-bike sales could easily overtake car sales later this decade in Europe.” electec.com
Politicians Are Missing The Boat…er, Bike
In November of 2021 a 20-page report detailing the findings from the United States Conference of Mayors, titled "Leveraging New Technologies to Modernize Infrastructure and Improve Energy Efficiency in America’s Cities," revealed 55% of the mayors surveyed saw all-electric vehicles as “the most promising technology from a list of 20 options presented to them.”
E-bikes surprisingly did not make the list. They were not mentioned at all.
A study conducted in Portland, Oregon, and published in ScienceDirect concluded:
“Through applying e-bike PMT (person miles traveled) distance replacement ratios to Portland’s existing mode share and emissions profiles, we estimated that total transportation emissions could be substantially reduced as e-bike mode share increases. This is on the order of a reduction in CO2 emissions of 1,000 metric tons per day for a 15% e-bike mode share by PMT, down 12% from Portland’s current CO2 emissions of 8,000 metric tons per day. A single e-bike could save 225 kg CO2 per year, on average.”
That’s just looking at how e-bike use significantly reduces CO2 emissions, not how it cuts down on the number of cars on the road (fewer accidents, fewer hours spent in traffic jams) and brings relief from the tedium of hunting for a parking space within a mile of your destination (and paying big time for it!).
But e-bikes are not practical for inclement weather, rural areas, blah, blah. Of course, not every little town or village in the U.S. is suitable for an e-bike expansion.
But, and it’s a BUT, “according to Pew Research, the vast majority of Americans live in urban and suburban areas now, which puts 86% of the American population within range of e-bike use and the same logic applies: Suburban drivers travel longer distances by car, so their use of an e-bike instead will reduce CO2 emissions more dramatically than urban e-bike users.” treehugger.com
Even in cities with harsh seasonal weather like Denver, Colorado, or Chicago, Illinois, there are still several months out of the year where commuting on an e-bike would be perfectly doable.
Let's Talk Affordability
An e-bike costs a heck of a lot less than a car. In fact, an e-bike and a bus pass are still a lot cheaper to buy than a car. Both are easier to maintain and bike and bus pass parking are pretty easy to find inside your own house.
Electric cars are great but they are costly to purchase and budget busters that require expensive insurance. They also necessitate a special home charging station (oh goody-another expense). An electric bike can be plugged into a home outlet and is less of a drain on your community’s existing power grid.
While electric vehicles are becoming more popular and the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal just signed into law will invest in more public charging stations, the transition from gas to electric cars is still in the slow lane. Americans are not going to dump their gas-guzzling SUVs anytime soon.
Our country’s politicians and city planners could put cutting CO2 emissions in the fast lane by expanding bike lanes, encouraging more e-bike commuting, and writing legislation to protect riders from road ragers.
Bike On Friends
Recreationally, Americans love their bikes but have been slow to embrace the e-bike commute life simply because it’s not practical in a lot of the cities and suburban neighborhoods they live in.
If bike paths were expanded into city centers and major retail and business areas with safe places to store e-bikes, more people would use them. If city transportation was more biker friendly that would encourage people to ride their e-bike to work even if precipitation was in the afternoon forecast. They can hop on the bus or train and avoid the rain.
If you want to be part of the solution instead of the problem when it comes to clearing the air we breathe, reducing traffic jam stress, and parking tickets, consider an e-bike and a swanky new helmet to get you where you want to go.