Electric Bikes & Scooters Are Doing The Heavy Lifting On Climate

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A recent article at The Conversation makes a great point. Four-wheeled EVs might get most of the attention, but electric-powered two-wheelers are reducing emissions a lot more than their big brothers. For readers who’ve read my articles about two-wheeled EVs before, the reason why is obvious. But, for people who haven’t heard me drone on about Corollas, SuperCubs, and Flying Pigeons, I’m going to have to start there.

Two-Wheeled Vehicles Rule The World

In terms of global cumulative sales over all time, the most popular car is the Toyota Corolla. The company has made tens of millions of them over decades, and they’re still on sale today. So, you’d think that something like the Corolla fleet going electric would make a huge climate impact. Taking all of those piston engines and replacing them with rotors and stators would mean a lot less fossil fuels burned.

But, the most popular motor vehicle of all time is the Honda SuperCub, and all of its variants. Why? Because the little low-displacement motorcycle is a lot cheaper, and many more people globally can afford one. Its sales dwarf those of the Corolla, and it’s not even close. But, the most popular wheeled vehicle of all time is China’s Flying Pigeon bicycle. It lacks a motor, but the sheer number sold dwarf that of the SuperCub.

But, these are just three nameplates. If you look at global car, motorcycle/scooter, and bike sales, you’ll see a similar story. The number of bikes out there dwarves motorcycles, and the number of motorcycles is far greater than the number of cars.

The big takeaway from the story of these global champions that I keep telling over and over on here is that four-wheeled vehicles don’t rule the world, and they’re not anywhere close to doing that. They probably never will be.

Two-Stroke Emissions Are An Even Bigger Issue

On the surface, gas-powered motorcycles and scooters look like the better environmental choice. They sip fuel, sometimes getting MPG figures that rival EV MPGe numbers. But, there’s a dirty little secret: many cheap motorcycles and scooters globally produce horrendous emissions. They’re only using less fuel because the engine and the vehicle are both very small, but they’re not terribly efficient cubic inch for cubic inch (or cc for cc).

In countries with giant fleets of motorcycles and scooters running around dense urban areas, this makes for some very poor air quality. But, countries like Taiwan are showing us that when people embrace electric scooters, the air pollution drops a LOT.

The end result is that replacing an ICE scooter does more to clean up the air than replacing a higher-quality and more regulated automobile engine.

E-Bikes Are Doing A Lot Of Heavy Lifting, Too

I love e-bikes, but I have to admit that an e-bike is dirtier than a regular pedal bike. The environmental impact of building the motor, power electronics, and battery pack is all on top of the emissions of building a bike. Then, the power for the battery pack has to come from somewhere, right?

But, e-bikes aren’t competing with regular bikes in many cases. There are many people who would gladly ride an e-bike (especially one with a throttle) but wouldn’t consider arriving at work sweaty from a normal bike ride. So, we have to consider what e-bikes are really replacing: ICE scooter and ICE car miles.

Between all of these things (the sheer numbers, the dirtiness of two-stroke engines, and replacing vehicle miles), two-wheeled EVs are silently but surely killing emissions a lot faster than electric cars. We need to keep this in mind!

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.


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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1868 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba