Norwegians consider themselves to be pretty environmentally friendly, but though they buy a lot of bicycles, they neither bike as much as their government would like them to, nor do they buy many electric bikes.
So new research by the government-funded Norwegian Institute of Transport Economics (Transportøkonomisk institutt) set out to see whether giving people e-bikes for a few weeks changed their minds – and their habits.
In the study, 66 people in the capitol city of Oslo and smaller city Akershus were recruited to receive an e-bike, while the remainder (160 people) served as the control group.
Prior to getting the e-bike, the most commonly reported barriers to biking were lack of infrastructure, the hills, the need to carry cargo, and the problem of getting sweaty (!). Men tended to report these barriers slightly less frequently than women, and women seemed to be slightly more positive to the idea of buying an electric bike.
What was most interesting in the survey was that most participants weren't very open to paying a lot more for an e-bike than the cost of a regular bike. Men were a little more willing to pay more than women were, though both were only willing to spend around US$200 more for an e-bike.
As a result of having an e-bike, the test group increased the percentage of bike trips they took, and the overall distance they traveled by bike. This decreased the car trips and public transport trips they made.
According to the researchers:
E-bikes increase the amount of cycling; both expressed as number of trips and as distance cycled.
E-bikes have a larger effect on female than male cyclists.
E-bikes have similar effects on all age groups.
E-bikes affect commute travel as well as leisure time travel.
Last but not least, the participants' few weeks of e-biking increased the amount they said they were willing to pay for an e-bike, from around $200 to closer to $300.
But that's a telling figure and may explain why e-bikes have not caught on in vast numbers, either in Norway or here in North America. A quick look at Kickstarter and Indiegogo show that there is plenty of innovation going on in the e-bike space _ from wheels that can make any bike an e-bike, to pretty urban electric bikes that have batteries that look like a thermos and detach, to sleek, folding, chainless e-bikes.
All of these innovations, whether they get funded or not, cost users far more than that extra $300 that the Norwegian study found most people willing to pay.
And then theres's the Storm/Sonders e-bike, which first took Kickstarter by storm advertising a $500 bike that turned out to be too good to be true, then spun over to Indiegogo where its campaign raised even more money and claims it will ship a $650, fat-tired e-bike by October of this year.
Perhaps we'll have to wait until then to see if e-bikes will suddenly be filling the streets of North American cities.