Electric Bikes Put a Charge into Commuting

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E-bikes could make up half of all bicycles on the road by 2025

Across much of the globe, bicycles are the most popular form of transportation. In fact, some estimates say about twice as many bikes as cars are on the world’s roads, and a growing number of these bikes, around 120 million, are electric. Bicycles may be the most popular form of transportation in countries like China or Denmark, but that’s not yet the case in America – we love our cars.

However, high gasoline prices and environmental concerns could combine with new technology to make e-bikes the future of two-wheeled transportation in the U.S. energyNOW! correspondent Josh Zepps met one of the world’s top e-bike experts, an e-bike retailer, and a family of commuters who wouldn’t want to travel any other way. You can watch the full segment in the video below:

“It’s personal transportation that’s very cheap,” said Ed Benjamin, founder of the Light Electric Vehicle Association. “It’s very energy efficient.” Benjamin thinks that as the cost of gasoline continues to rise, people will turn to bikes as an alternative to cars. “This idea that the best way to get around is to sit in your car, it works in some places…there’s an awful lot of places it doesn’t work,” said Benjamin.

Today, two kinds of e-bikes are on the roads, pedal-assisted power and full-electric power. Pedal-assisted models won’t run without the rider pedaling it, and will give the rider around 250 watts of assistance getting up hills. “This is about four times stronger than you are,” said Bert Cebular, owner of NYCeWheels, one of New York City’s busiest e-bike stores. Wal-Mart and Best Buy currently sell pedal-assisted e-bikes for around $500 apiece.

Full-electric power e-bikes are more like conventional motorcycles, in that they will accelerate without any pedaling at all. The full-power models are almost twice the weight of a pedal-assisted model, and can reach 20 miles per hour, but may cost four times as much – up to $4,000 dollars. “This is the Hummer of electric bikes,” said Cebular.

Energy-minded commuters are taking notice and plugging into e-bike technology. Greg and Jeannie Crist live in Washington, D.C. and are so happy riding their e-bikes that they sold their car. “It’s very lightweight, very low maintenance,” said Greg Crist. “It’s just plug and play.” The Crists get about 15 miles of range on their e-bikes, on about a four hour charge, and haven’t noticed any increase on their electricity bills since they changed their commute.

While e-bikes can save money at the pump, the most promising aspect of their emergence may be the business prospects for e-bike manufacturers and retailers. Nearly 29 million e-bikes were sold worldwide in 2010, with Americans buying about 80,000, Europeans purchasing about a million, and the Chinese riding away with about 27 million. “No matter what happens, we do our steady 20 percent increase in sales,” said Cebular.

Currently, all electric bikes are made in China, according to the Electric Bikes Worldwide Report. But that could change as the market grows, according to Benjamin, who expects half of all bicycles on the road to be e-bikes by 2025. “When Americans start saying, ‘it costs me 80 bucks, 100 bucks, 120 bucks to fill the tank in my car, one alternative is going to be the electric bicycle,” said Benjamin.

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