E-bikes will eat cars

This could carry the groceries
CC BY 2.0 This could carry the groceries and whole lot more/ Lloyd Alter

Everybody is making them now, and they are getting really good.

Not long ago in TreeHugger I quoted Horace Dediu: “Bikes have a tremendous disruptive advantage over cars. Bikes will eat cars.” And while all the press and the big investors are gaga over electric and self-driving cars, I continue to believe that bikes will own the future. I am not alone; even a disinterested observer can see the future here.

A few weeks ago I visited the big Auto Show and there was an electric car section that you could shoot a cannon through, and not much innovation, not enough that I could even score a post for TreeHugger out of it. But oh, there was a lot of love for the big pickup trucks.

Visiting the bicycle show yesterday was a very different experience. Half of the show was taken up with e-bikes of all shapes, sizes and prices.

Tern GSDTern GSD/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

For those who say you can't go shopping, there are fancy bikes like this Tern GSD that can carry as much stuff as a small car, up to 400 pounds capacity including rider. This one happens to cost as much as a small used car, but is designed to stand up on its end in elevators so that you can take it up to your apartment. One reviewer described what he did with it:

I’ve taken the kids to school. I’ve carried a week’s worth of shopping, easily. I’ve carried a bunch of tools for DIY. I’ve carried six boxes of cider when I was briefly the local cider delivery boy. I’ve even carried another bike, with the wheels in one pannier and the frame in the other.

He also dealt with the issue of the high cost of an e-bike like this (C$ 6,000)

One of the things people often say is, “You could replace a car and save yourself money”. That’s certainly true, because even running a small car will cost you a couple of grand a year in tax, and fuel, and maintenance, and insurance, and parking, and magic trees and so on. Even an expensive e-bike is going to pay for itself in a couple of years if you can go down from two cars to one, or one to none.

And that is the magic niche in North America, replacing that second car for shopping, for getting the kids to school.

They put helmets on all the kids for North American consumption but, wow, the smile on that child's face when the wind blows through her hair in Amsterdam! More at Tern

Trek commuterTrek Commuter/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

For those with long commutes, TREK sells this lovely bike with a 500Wh battery and a 250 watt motor that will move you at 20 MPH. Like many of the e-bikes from the big manufacturers, it has the Bosch drive that is built into the frame, which keeps the center of gravity low and leaves the wheels, brakes and gears alone. The TREK rep told me that it is available with bigger motors but I remain a fan of the European standard, the idea where this is a bike with a boost, not a motorcycle that looks like a bike. That's why it has so many gears as well.

BionxBionx drives/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I was surprised to still see a few bikes with Bionx drives; this company was a pioneer in e-bikes, selling kits where the motor is in the rear hub and the battery either in the frame or in the rear carrier; the company is now in receivership. There is some discussion about a deal with General Motors that went south, but it is more likely that the trend toward integrated motors like those made by Bosch or Shimano are just better for original equipment manufacturers and there is so much competition now for aftermarket conversion kits. The Amego rep told me that the receiver is looking to sell the company, but their distributor doesn't really know what is going on.

“They’ve let all of their employees go. No one knows what’s going to happen. It’s in a holding pattern, so we are in a wait-and-see mode ourselves,” said Patrick McGinnis, vice president commercial at Hawley Lambert North America. “The goal is for them to have a package put together in 10 days where they put offers out there, and in 30 to 90 days, have a partner to sell the company to.”

Piaggio electric bikesPiaggio e-bikes/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Everybody is getting into e-bikes, even the Italians like Piaggio known for their scooters. Because e-bikes are lighter and cheaper than scooters, they can use bike infrastructure that scooters can't.

Benelli folding bikeBenelli Foldcity/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

They even make cute little folding bikes like this Benelli Foldcity.

Auto showCanadian Auto Show/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Back at the Auto Show a few weeks ago, perhaps a dozen people are in the entire section devoted to electric cars, the supposed future of transportation; nobody really cares. At the bike show, probably in not much more square footage than the electric cars here, there is more innovation and excitement than you can imagine. There are people who really believe that this is the future of urban transportation.

But as Brent says, to make it work you need investment in infrastructure. Fortunately, bike lanes are really cheap, much cheaper than highways. Cities just have to decide what their priorities are. And many are going to say that not everyone can do this, that there are people with physical challenges that can't bike or have to move too many kids around or too much stuff. That's fine; not everyone has to do it. Even if one got to half of what Copenhagen does, it would still take a quarter of the cars off the street. That would make a huge difference in pollution and congestion.

As I noted in my last post, "Perhaps instead of being so obsessed with making the world safe for autonomous cars, we should be concentrating on making them safe for bikes and e-bikes; they are going to carry a lot more people a lot sooner."

the future is electricThe Future is electric/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

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