E-Bikes Are Radically More Efficient Than Electric Cars

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Electric bikes can get anywhere from 1000 to over 4000 MPGe, and are not only more 20 to 35 times more efficient than EVs in terms of miles per kWh, but are also a way more efficient use of batteries than electric cars, according to a recent study.

Although the lion’s share of media coverage in clean transport continues to be about electric cars, the low-hanging fruit for zero emissions transportation continues to be bicycles and electric bikes and other micromobility options. Perhaps one could argue that because most modern urban and metro areas are extremely car-centric in design, and that many of us, especially in the US, have come to view our cars and trucks as our own little kingdoms that allow us to essentially stay in our own little bubble everywhere we go, electric cars and trucks are much sexier to cover for the media. Cars also serve as status symbols, and many people may look down on someone who chooses to walk, take public transit, or ride their bike to get around. But the addition of an electric motor and battery to a bicycle makes it possible to cut transport emissions much faster and much cheaper than transitioning the entire auto industry over to electric drivetrains. Of course, EVs are more efficient than gas-powered vehicles, and it’s not feasible to replace every car trip with an e-bike, but as a climate solution that’s achievable and attainable right now for many people, e-bikes are a big winner.

An e-bike study carried out by Walk Bike Berkeley in 2019 found that the “fuel” efficiency of e-bikes was anywhere from 2200 to 3800 MPGe, which meant that e-bikes were some 20 to 35 times more efficient to operate than EVs, and they came with with far lower embodied energy and carbon. Some of the conclusions, which may be quite obvious to some but are not promoted with nearly the same zeal as EV statistics, are as follows:

  • E-bikes are highly efficient and produce much less carbon than EVs. Walk Bike Berkeley’s testing revealed fuel efficiency of 2200 to 3800 MPGe, making E-bikes 20 to 35 times more efficient to operate than all-electric automobiles.
  • E-bikes are better than EVs for individual and community health, traffic congestion and infrastructure. They have lower particulate matter emissions, encourage exercise, reduce the underlying cause of most traffic fatalities and severe injuries (high mass, high velocity cars and trucks), reduce congestion, take up much less room on the streets and in parking, facilitate emergency evacuations and reduce road wear.
  • E-bikes are flexible, easy to use and can make cycling attractive to people who won’t or can’t use a regular bike. E-bikes come in many varieties, supporting everyone from the lightly loaded single commuter to the family with children and groceries to the senior who needs a little extra help to get around on a bike. Controls are intuitive and easy to learn. The power adjusts to the cyclists’ needs automatically. Starting from a stop is easier than on a regular bike.
  • E-bikes have the range and capacity to replace most Berkeley automobile trips within Berkeley and between Berkeley and neighboring cities, including first-mile/last-mile trips to transit. They are excellent for trips that are challenging for conventional non electric powered bicycles due to the energy and sweat factor or time – including business meetings, hauling kids and groceries. climbing steep hills and longer distance trips. They excel at trip types that have previously been assumed to be out of range for all but the most fit cyclists.
  • E-bike subsidies are more cost effective and more equitable: With much lower purchase and operating costs than EVs and requiring no build out of charging infrastructure, e-bikes can be a useful tool to expand affordable, equitable transportation access. This can include low income, older and differently abled people. E-bike subsidies have been shown to go farther and can leverage more transportation services and more carbon savings per dollar than electric car subsidies. 

The original report (PDF) helped to inform Berkeley’s Electric Mobility Roadmap, and since then, the work has been built upon by one of its authors, Tom Lent, and published by his personal project, the ClimateAction Center.

As part of this work, an e-bike monitoring study that measured the amount of electricity used to charge e-bikes, along with the mileage recorded by their riders, has come up with some truly incredible numbers for the impact that e-bikes can have.

  • E-bikes get anywhere from 1000 to over 4000 MPG equivalent (400 to 1700 km/liter)
  • E-bikes cost less than half a penny a mile to charge.
  • E-bikes can go almost 70 times farther than a gas fueled car per pound of climate emissions (and more than twice that – over 140 times farther – with California’s electric energy mix).
  • E-bikes are over 20 times more efficient than electric cars at fighting climate change.

With one of the key issues in the EV revolution is batteries and battery materials, and with e-bikes relying on the same batteries (although much smaller batteries), it’s enlightening to learn how much more efficient e-bikes are in terms of battery materials:

E-bikes are part of the answer to the challenge of batteries: Just as every e-bike trip that replaces a gas car trip dramatically reduces climate change emissions, every e-bike trip that replaces an electric car trip dramatically reduces lithium, cobalt and graphite usage. We evaluated warranted battery consumption by e-bikes and electric cars and found that e-bikes get 30 to 100 times more miles per pound of battery than electric cars.

Just as with climate emissions, the battery use of e-bikes is vanishingly small compared to electric cars. Using e-bikes instead of electric cars whenever possible buys time to develop better battery solutions for electric cars.”

The ClimateAction Center’s e-bike resource pages are a treasure trove of information that can be used by anyone looking to clean up and green up their local transportation ecosystem, from personal use to fleets and delivery vehicles. And the e-bike incentive programs page lists a large number of global programs that encourage the use of e-bikes, which could come in handy as reference for anyone trying to build or implement a new incentive program in their area.


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Derek Markham

Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee.

Derek Markham has 524 posts and counting. See all posts by Derek Markham