Bring on the e-bikes and get more people out of cars

Brad's ebike
CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter/ Brad's e-bike

Many who promote cycling have mixed feelings about e-bikes; many riders of regular bikes complain that “if you're able, save a little bigger piece of the environment and use your human power.” Now Tom Babin has a look at the issue in the LA Times. He notes that only 152,000 were sold last year in the US, “a figure that would be more than 5 million if Americans used them at the same rate as western Europeans.”

Tom lists the usual issues: crazy rules that don’t distinguish from scooters with vestigial pedals that are too big and too fast, and lack of good bike infrastructure. California has just changed its rules to separate low power pedelecs from the bigger faster scooters, which is needed all over North America. (In Europe, pedelecs are limited to 16 MPH and 250 watts, far less than you see on American e-bikes.) And attitudes are changing:

After years of consternation over mixing pedal and motor power, cycling advocacy organizations also are finally throwing their support behind e-bikes. Dave Snyder, the executive director of the California Bicycle Coalition, backed the state’s new legislation based partly on the idea that e-bikes help out those who “just can’t ride as far or as fast as they need to.”

faraday side© Faraday bikes

Babin says he still gets sneers.

The e-bike I recently borrowed from California company Elby drew curiosity from many people I encountered, especially from older riders who thought the machine would help them maintain their endurance and speed as they aged. It also, however, prompted a few upturned noses from those who consider themselves cyclists. “What’s the point?” one neighbor asked, falsely assuming the motor removed all of the exercise involved in pedaling.

It doesn’t; a University of Colorado study looked at a group of new riders on pedelecs (electric bikes where you have to pedal for the motor to kick in). Result: “The researchers noticed improvements in the riders’ cardiovascular health, including increased aerobic capacity and improved blood sugar control.”

Troy Rank with bike in BuffaloLloyd Alter/ Troy Rank with Maxwell Bike in Buffalo/CC BY 2.0

I wrote about that study:

There is no question that pedelecs and e-bikes are less exercise, cost more money and there is a real concern that they are more dangerous than conventional bikes. But let’s stop bashing them; for some people, some cities and some commutes, they are a really useful alternative for getting people out of cars and as this study shows, getting them healthier and fitter.

Babin concludes that “the biggest barrier now seems to be the outdated attitude that sees bikes only as a recreational athletic opportunity rather than a practical transportation option.” This seems to be the case in much of the english speaking world, where bikes are considered toys, not transportation.

As the population ages, and as bike commuters consider longer distances, e-bikes can be a boon. It is time to make them part of the solution instead of thinking of them as a problem.

Bring on the e-bikes and get more people out of cars
They can make a big difference for people and a big help in hilly cities

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