Who Knew There Were So Many Cool Uses For Electric Bikes?

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The uses for electric bikes (e-bikes) are extensive. Most people enjoy comfortable, longer range riding with an e-bike. Others reduce the cost of their commute due to affordable electricity vs. gas. For older riders or riders recuperating from an injury, an e-bike helps with hills, inclines, and rough terrain, allowing for a smoother ride, thus reducing stress on joints. People of different fitness levels can ride together when e-bikes are involved.

Other than the customary uses for electric bikes, however, there are some inspiring stories emerging about how e-bikes are providing extraordinary and unexpected benefits.

Poachers Beware! No Bells On These E-Bikes

The night poachers use torchlights to blind whole herds of antelopes. Brutal and full of bravado, the poachers hear the rangers’ noisy motorbikes from more than a mile off. With thousands of square miles of terrain surrounding them, the Mozambique national park poachers identify the location of rangers through sound and orient their hunting away from the authorities.

But, in an ironic twist of cleantech fate, the poachers have become prey, as a team of rangers in off-road e-bikes descend on them without sound. As reported by Wired, having e-bikes means an illegal hunt can be halted.

“The petrol bikes we’ve used previously have all been loud, heavy, and expensive to keep running in these areas. These bikes are quiet, which makes it easier for us to approach poachers undetected,” says Mfana Xaba, anti-poaching team leader of Southern African Wildlife College (SAWC), a nonprofit organization based near South Africa’s Kruger National Park. SAWC supplies trained rangers to 127 parks across Africa, including the one in Mozambique.

The rangers’ e-bike weighs 80 kilograms (176 pounds) and can reach speeds of 56 miles per hour, with around 5 hours of ride time. CAKE switched its standard tires for 18-inch off-road tires like the ones used in motocross. It also supplied a software system providing navigation, communication, and location identification, enabling CAKE to retrieve vehicle data and continue to monitor and improve each bike’s performance.

Fifty Kalk anti-poaching bikes, made by the Swedish company CAKE, are now being used across SAWC’s African parks, after being tested across the continent’s varied terrain, including plains, forests, and jungle. Originating from the Anti-Poaching initiative, CAKE’s Electric Bush Bike demonstrates durability, functionality, and the opportunities of creating innovative solutions to urgent and difficult challenges. As CAKE reminds us in its promotional literature, with combustion engine motorcycles, buying and transporting fuel to the remote areas prove both costly, inconvenient, and unsustainable. The fuel is shipped long distance via petrol-driven trucks or even helicopters, driving both costs further and polluting the area.

With the new electric Kalk AP, rangers are equipped with a power kit and solar panels from solar power company Goal Zero, which outfits the bikes with renewable power from the sun. The bikes can be charged via the power kit independently from any power outlet, creating less pollution in the area.

Several park poaching attempts have been stopped this year already, saving a variety of animals, including tiny antelopes — suni, red duikers, and blue duikers — which poachers kill in huge numbers for bushmeat. While these species are not classed as “at risk” themselves, they form an essential part of fragile ecosystems on which endangered animals rely, says Alan Gardiner, an ecology professor and head of the Applied Learning Unit at SAWC. “Suni and the other small antelope form prey items for many predators such as leopards, crowned eagles, and pythons, as well as influencing vegetation growth. When any species is impacted in a system, it has a knock-on effect.”

Solar-powered mobile charging points mean rangers can camp in the bush for weeks. The charger, called the Goal Zero Solar Hub, can charge at least two bike batteries from empty to full in just 3 hours, and it takes 18 hours to charge itself from zero using the sun’s rays. “The charging points are a bit heavy — 45 kilograms — but they can be pulled around on their built-in wheels like a suitcase,” says Ytterborn. “That means that at every station, there is a fresh battery on charge and ready to be swapped to the one on the motorcycle.”

What’s All the Excitement about E-Bikes?

An e-bike is a pedal-assisted electric bicycle. It is equipped with a central motor that’s either integrated with the cranks or placed in the front or rear hub, which aids pedaling by reducing the effort. E-bikes can be classified based on different criteria such as power, speed, and design. The provided power of e-bikes can be classified into 3 types including pure e-bikes, power-assisted e-bikes, and the combination of the pure and power-assisted types.

Of course, the Kalk e-bikes being used in Mozambique are quite heavy duty — 176 pounds. My Lectric Lite is a mere 45 pounds, with an entirely different purpose.

E-bikes are the fastest growing means in the transport market in several regions of the world. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen them explode in popularity in Europe, and now that’s expanding to the U.S.,” says Kate Fillin-Yeh, director of strategy for the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). “Ebike prices are poised to go down, while distribution is increasing.”

Electric cargo bikes are expected to become a preferred answer for last-mile deliveries in cities. They have zero carbon emissions and need far less road space than cars when parked or in use. Logistics companies are using data to find out when using electric cargo bikes instead of cars or vans improves delivery times and reduces costs.

Deloitte predicts that between 2020 and 2023 there will be 130 million electric bikes will be sold around the globe.

Final Thoughts about Uses for Electric Bikes

A research study for the Bureau of Transportation Statistics focused on the number of daily trips taken in the United States. In 2021, 52% of all trips, including all modes of transportation, were less than three miles, with 28% of trips less than one mile. Just 2% of all trips were greater than 50 miles. If a substantial number of those trips, especially shopping errands that might require hauling some heavy items or bags of groceries, can be replaced with trips on an electric bike, the emissions savings would be significant.

A randomized controlled trial with GPS data from 98 frequent drivers in Sweden was conducted to investigate the effect of the e-bike on modal choice, the number of trips, distance, as well as perceptions of the e-bike as a substitute for the car. The results demonstrate that the treatment group increased cycling on average with 1 trip and 6.5 km per day and person, which led to a 25% increase in total cycling. The whole increase was at the expense of car use, which on average decreased by 1 trip and 14 km per person and day, a decrease in car mileage of 37%.

Yes, electric cars and trucks get the most media attention these days when the topic of decarbonizing transportation comes up. But, with the extensive and varied uses of e-bikes available to huge segments of the global population — including park rangers trying to stymie poachers —  the transition to all-electric transportation is continuing on full force from a whole bunch of sectors.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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