Could e-bikes help starve Putin out of Ukraine? In Part 1, I discussed why “Drill, baby, drill!” isn’t the answer to energy insecurity, especially for high prices. The time it takes to increase production and fears of future profitability will keep that from happening in this case. Oil companies aren’t conservative activists; they’re businesses. So, they will only contribute to a problem if they can make money doing it.
So, we need to address demand for both long-term and short-term energy security.
E-bikes Can Be A Big Part Of Solving The Problem
Getting people to switch to electric cars can be like pulling teeth. People are used to what they’re used to, and don’t want to make changes without a compelling reason. Add on top of that the supply issues the automotive industry continues to have, and you have serious delays. So, people seeing high gas prices face a conundrum. Order up a Tesla, Rivian, VW ID.4, Mach-E, F-150 Lightning, or one of the dozens of other electric models, and you’ll be waiting months. One of my relatives recently ordered a hybrid minivan, and they’ll probably see it in 4-6 months.
Past experience teaches us that high gas prices can come and go fairly quickly, so when a car buyer decides it’s time to switch to electric and find out it’ll take forever to get one, they probably think twice about it. “Who knows?” they ask themselves. “By the time it comes in, I’ll probably be paying Trump prices again.”
Don’t get me wrong, many people will make the w-mobility switch regardless because they’re getting wise to the fact that electricity prices aren’t volatile like gasoline prices, and never have been. But, this gasoline price spike couldn’t have come at a worse time for EV adoption. If lots were stuffed with EVs to buy at MSRP or below, things would be different.
You know what you can get TODAY, though? E-bikes. It took me two minutes to find e-bikes that were in-stock at a store within 30 miles of me. One of the places with bikes ready to ride out the door today is just up the road, has 5 different models in stock, and features e-bikes prominently up front both in store and online. There’s even one guy who sells them from his house, and if you call him, he’ll come drop one off to your doorstep. The e-bikes can literally come to you within hours.
But hey, an electric bike can be expensive, especially if you don’t want to buy something junky or underpowered. This is where the idea of e-bike rebates, tax credits, and such comes in. By lowering the price to within affordability for more people, e-bikes are an option that people can consider to immediately put a dent in their gas bill without making serious changes to their life. You don’t need to take on a big payment, add another car to your insurance, worry about road trips, or wait months. Unlike regular bikes, you don’t need to show up to work sweaty and in need of a shower.
Like e-bikes, electric scooters are also available, and today, they’re even cheaper than an e-bike. I wouldn’t want to depend on the $300 one to get to work, but there are other options in other price ranges with more durability and battery capacity.
Making This Idea Better
If we want to make a real difference, we need to sweeten the pot a bit past $500. Lower-end e-bikes would be around 30% covered by $500, but serious transportation machines go for a lot closer to $3000 to $5000. For many people, that kind of money isn’t just laying around. Instead of having a $500 rebate (which should apply at point-of-sale, not as a mail-in or tax credit next year), there should be a percentage of the bike’s purchase price covered. This would make it easier to get a quality bike instead of whatever junk is available for cheap.
There also needs to be a concerted effort to improve micromobility infrastructure, especially protected bike lanes to make people feel more comfortable and safe. Getting people to get bikes isn’t just a matter of money, but feeling like you could actually use it for transportation without becoming the latest news story about how unsafe e-bikes supposedly are.
What About Methane (Natural Gas)?
Oil and gasoline is only one small part of the problem. Getting more people in the US and Europe to adopt EVs, e-bikes, and scooters is great, but there’s also the matter of staying warm in the winter and generating electricity, which mostly doesn’t come from oil. While rising gas prices are a big nuisance, not getting natural gas to run your furnace may just kill you.
European countries are used to importing oil by ship, so getting it from the United States could be a huge help. But they’re used to getting methane by pipeline, and a big chunk of it comes from Russia. Worse, you can’t really tell people to just turn their heaters off, and if you get them to plug in space heaters, you’ll need more power generation to supply those heaters. Once again, the methane running the plants comes from Russia. Ouch.
While getting more people on e-bikes and other micromobility is great, we need to make sure we keep thinking holistically. Renewable energy that the US and Europe can rely on without letting bad players on the global scene get us by the shorts are more important than ever. We need to make sure we don’t lose sight of that.
Helping people buy e-bikes and other micromobility is an essential part of solving energy security and solving climate change, but we need to always be looking at the bigger picture. Bikes need good paths and protected lanes to ride in, and that’s a much wider topic than just buying bikes. The overall energy situation requires renewables unless we want to fire up coal plants every time some dictator with gas and oil decides to play politics instead of business.
It wouldn’t hurt us to become more energy independent, of course. We’d only have to put up with being more resilient to power outages, pay less for electricity, and have fewer problems with the extreme weather events we’re seeing.
Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.