Why Haven't Electric Bikes Caught On?


Image credit: Sightline

From a $350 electric commuter bike to fancy German e-bikes that apply electric assist direct to the power train, we've had no shortage of cool motorized bicycles here on TreeHugger. And they've even ignited some important debate, including Trevor's musings on whether his electric bike is lame, and Lloyd asking if electric bikes will get people out of their cars. Now the folks at Sightline Daily are taking up the discussion with a series of posts on electric bikes in our culture—asking why e-bikes are not more popular than they are, and what can be done for them to fulfill their potential. In the first post in the series, titled Juice Hawgs, Alan Durning looks at modern electric bike users—from the mother who uses it as a mini-van alternative, to the injured cyclist who uses electric assist to allow him to continue his bike commute. Durning concludes that there is a clear demand for these things, and they really can take people out of their cars. However, he does caution that there has been much hype in the past about an imminent electric personal transportation revolution, from the Segway to Lee Iacocca e-bikes, but these have consistently failed to take off as the hype predicted.

The second post in the series, titled Charging Up, covers three converging trends that Durning sees as heralding a new dawn for electric bikes: improved technology, rapidly expanding overseas markets, and political trends. With bikes improving all the time, and a greater of variety of products on the market, it's becoming easier and easier for consumers to find the bike that best suits their needs. Meanwhile sales are rocketing in China and Europe, and even in the USA we see local governments getting behind electrified transportation by providing recharging infrastructure and other incentives. And as Durning points out, with bikes weighing considerably less than cars, the laws of physics are on the side of the e-bike when it comes to short range electrified transportation.

Next up Durning covers the idea of public subsidies for electric bikes, noting that Santa Cruz already offered significant support for new e-bike purcases early on in the last decade, as have many foreign Governments. But intriguingly, Durning concludes that these subsidies have yet to deliver the market break through or benefits of economies of scale we would expect.

In fact, says Durning, e-bikes face significant barriers to growth that these rebates are unlikely to overcome. And that should be the subject of today's post, which should be appearing any time now on the Parable of the Electric Bike series landing page. I look forward to the continuing discussion.

Tags: Electric Bikes | Electric Vehicles | United States