The last few years have seen incredible changes in the way people live and work. Not just how they work, either, but where — and, as more people work from home and spend more time in their communities, the way they get around is changing just as much. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, electric bike sales have been booming.
What does “booming” mean? The market research firm NPD Group said sales of e-bikes grew 145% in 2020 compared to 2019, outpacing sales of all bikes, which were up 65% during the lockdowns. They’re not slowing down, either. For 2021, sales of electric bicycles were up another 64% compared to January-June of 2020, and companies like RadPower and Super73 are planning further expansions into the future, with hundreds of millions of dollars invested in a ramp-up of production that industry analysts estimate will see more than 12 million electric bikes sold in the United States alone between now and 2030.
That’s a lot of electric bikes, and a lot of questions about how they work, what they cost, and the ways they can fit into our lives. Let’s get started!
E-Bike FAQs | What is an E-Bike?
In the simplest sense, an e-bike is a bicycle fitted with an electric motor that helps to push it along. As simple as that sounds in theory, though, there are a number of different ways it plays out in practice.
1. Pedal-assist: Pedal-assist bikes, sometimes called “pedelec,” for “pedal + electric bikes,” are the most common type of e-bike, and it’s exactly what it says on the tin. As you pedal, an electric motor helps push the bike forward. You’re still working, still riding a bike in the way you’re probably familiar with, but each kick sends you further than faster than before.
“It takes the suck out of cycling,” Aaron Frank, Brand Director at Serial 1, said on my Electrify Expo podcast. And, when the hills seem flat and you’re passing cars around town without breaking a sweat, it’s hard to disagree.
2. Mopeds: If you’re a child of the 1970s, you already know what these are. They’re usually bigger electric bikes with more powerful motors, higher top speeds, and sure, you can pedal them, but they really come into their own when they power along under “pure” electric power.
Some of these moped-style e-bikes have twist-grip throttles, like motorcycles, while others, like the ZugoBike Rhino, have a thumb throttle. Both systems offer similar performance, but the experience is vastly different, and you might have a strong preference one way or the other. If you’re not sure which style you’d prefer, definitely try both.
3. E-bike INO: These are e-bikes “in name only,” which are electric motorcycles or Vespa-style scooters with a pair of pedals in place, but these are there to skirt motorcycling classifications or eliminate the need for special licenses, but not as a primary means of propulsion. The Segway C80 falls into this category, as does the nearly 50 MPH Xion CyberX (above).
E-Bike FAQs | How Fast & How Far Will Electric Bicycles Go?
This is a tough one to answer, because there’s just so much variety out there. It seems like most pedelec models — even the budget-basement kind — offer electric assisted range in the 15-20 mile range, with premium bikes like the Serial 1 MOSH/CITY offering up to 50 miles of range. As ever, the answer to this one has more to do with your needs, and your budget, than anything inherent to electric bikes as a whole.
As for how fast, it’s more of the same. The Xion CyberX (above) and CAKE electric bikes can top 50 MPH with relative ease, and travel well over 50 miles in the right conditions. A pure pedelec will usually top out around 20 or 28 MPH (depending on the laws in your state), but that assumes you can provide enough muscle to keep it going. Again, the conventional wisdom here is, “go far, go fast, go cheap … choose any two.”
E-Bike FAQs | Are There Different Types of E-Bike?
Yes, there are just as many types of electric bikes as there are conventional bikes. Are you an aggressive mountain biker? There are budget options and options that cost more than a car. Are you a hard core roadie? There are bikes for you, too.
If you’re looking at getting an e-bike for yourself, any kind of of bike that’s caught your eye in the past has an e-bike equivalent. What’s more, bikes that you may have been interested in in the past, but that seemed impractical or out of reach may become suddenly accessible with a bit of electric boost. Cargo and passenger-bikes fall into this category, for sure, but even commuters can benefit from folding electric bikes for that “last mile” ride they may have been putting off trying.
If you still can’t find an electrified version of the bike you want, but love the idea and sense of freedom an e-bike promises, you can always get a local bike shop to convert that bike into an e-bike. Don’t let “nobody makes the one I want” stop you. The bike you want is out there!
E-Bike FAQs | What are Some Benefits of E-Bikes?
Cycling, exercising, moving your body has tremendous benefits, especially if you had previously, lived a much more sedentary lifestyle, commuting back and forth to work each day.
One of our friends, Deb Escher, told us that her life was transformed by e-bikes. She had a serious accident that led to spine and knee surgery, and cycling was recommended as a way to help her rehab her injuries. The experience wasn’t wholly positive — like many people, she bought a “cheap” bike and couldn’t get it repaired — but it led to great things, and Deb eventually lost 30 pounds, became a more outdoorsy-type person, and became such an e-bike evangelist that she ended up finding a career with electric bikes. She’s now the head of marketing at RadPower.
If you’re not the type to be motivated by stuff like that, think of the subversive nature of cycling. Being a healthy cyclist is a full-scale revolt against the unhealthy, consumerist lifestyle that shouts, “Buy, buy, buy!” at top volume. Indeed, there’s a widely circulated quote that’s attributed to a General Director of Euro Exim Bank, Ltd. that reads …
… and, yes, that has something of an obviously fake/urban legend-y vibe to it, but it’s food for thought, regardless. And, if you like the idea of speaking truth to power, it’s hard to argue for a more effective form of speech than “opting out of consumerism.”
The benefits don’t end with a deservedly smug sense of superiority, either. “A global shift to increased cycling and electric biking could cut energy use and carbon dioxide emissions from urban transportation by up to 10 percent by 2050,” says the Institution for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). “Society could save more than $24 trillion.”
The ITDP is also quick to repeat the health benefits of cycling we listed, as well. “Globally, one in four adults and four out of five adolescents do not get enough physical activity, putting them at high risk for cardiovascular disease,” they report. “Regular cycling reduces this risk, as well as the risk for other conditions like anxiety, diabetes, and obesity. It also expands access to jobs, schools, and other destinations by 10 times compared to walking.”
The benefits to the planet may be even more substantial. A study by The Energy Research Institute (TERI) claims that, “A 50% substitution of work trips undertaken by cars and two-wheelers under the average distance of 8 km can reduce annual CO2 emissions by 1 million tons.” And that’s just in India! Here in the US, Cynergy E-Bikes claims that, “it takes the carbon footprint of over 60 e-bikes to equal the carbon footprint of one single occupancy, gasoline-powered car. In states that depend more on coal, it might be around 20-30 e-bikes compared to one car. No matter how you calculate it, even though an e-bike uses electricity that might come from fossil fuels, the amount of CO2 emitted compared to a car is miniscule.”
E-Bike FAQs | Can I Ride My E-Bike in the Rain and Snow?
The good news is that quality e-bike batteries and motors are capable of withstanding some pretty extreme weather. That’s because, while they might be something of a toy to US buyers, electric bicycles are an essential transportation solution for millions of people around the world, and they’re built to be able to work in heat, cold, rain, and snow.
The bad news is that winter conditions can be just as dangerous for bikes as it is for cars, but by taking the proper steps, cyclists can be just as safe as a well-prepared motorist. Make sure you have sufficient tread on your tires to clear a settled layer of snow, and check that your brake mechanism isn’t frozen over or blocked with ice or debris. Wear a helmet, weather-appropriate clothing, get a rust prevention product that you can spray onto your bike’s exposed metal surfaces (to protect them from road salt), employ some common sense defensive riding techniques, and you should be fine.
At the end of the day, e-bikes offer a lot to the right kind of customer. For city dwellers and near-suburbanites, there’s hardly a better way to get around. If you’re out in the desert 20 miles from the nearest Walmart? They might still get the job done, but it’s a different value proposition, isn’t it? What do you think? Are electric bicycles a solid alternative to a car in the right conditions that will just keep getting more popular as North America starts to better resemble Western Europe, or are e-bikes just another passing fad? Let us know, in the comments.
Original content from CleanTechnica.
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