Electric Bike Sales Are Booming, Thanks to High Gas Prices

Anecdotal evidence indicates that people are looking for alternatives to gasoline.

Gazelle showroom


Electric bike sales have been booming for a while, with a big boost from the pandemic; now we have a new e-bike spike because of high gas prices, as people switch to the more affordable electric vehicle. And why not? As David Zipper, visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Taubman Center and contributor to Citylab, notes in his newsletter:

"Each person who opts to ride an e-bike instead of driving will do society a great favor: In one fell swoop, she will reduce her emissions, improve street safety, and mitigate congestion—and probably have a hell of a good time in the process. As climate change and traffic safety become increasingly urgent challenges, e-bikes are an innovation that the United States desperately needs."

Zimmer also notes that Congress and others don't take them seriously, which is why electric cars get all the big bucks in subsidies, even though bikes can replace many car trips. Fortunately, even without government assistance, e-bikes are flying out the door.

riding cargo bike
Delivering Christmas cookies and soup to neighbors on the RadWagon e-bike.

K Martinko

Treehugger's Katherine Martinko rides a Rad Power Bike, and they are doing well. CEO Mike Radenbaugh tells Bloomberg that fuel costs are helping. “Just as the desire for safe and socially distanced transportation created another category of consumers for e-bikes, higher fuel prices do the same thing,” says Radenbaugh. “It layers growth on top of already fast growth.”

In Ottawa, Canada, bike shop owner Carlos Ascencio tells the CBC that fuel prices are driving sales. "They come and they say, 'Listen, gas prices will go higher than what they already are, so I want an e-bike.'"

Nothing Rides like a Gazelle

Gazelle E-Bikes

Interestingly, even though e-bikes are selling themselves these days, Dutch bike maker Gazelle is investing in its first North American Experience Center in Santa Cruz, California. Gazelle doesn't even sell direct to consumers like Rad Power Bikes, but through bike shops, so people can see their bikes in real life. "The Gazelle Experience Center will not sell bikes, but rather the staff will educate, support, and direct guests to Gazelle’s network of retail partners."

Education is probably needed because Gazelle e-bikes are built to European standards and have Bosch 250 watt mid-drive motors when so much of the competition in North America has hub drives with up to 750 watts. You really do have to try one out and get a feel for its power and torque to learn that it is more than enough.

“The goal with the Gazelle Experience Center is to offer prospective electric bike customers an introduction to Dutch cycling culture and positively demonstrate to them the ease of use and power that electric bikes offer for daily life,” said Ewoud van Leeuwen, general manager of Gazelle North America. “Gazelle’s retail partners are a fundamental element of our success, and we’re excited to help educate, inform, support, and ultimately convert sales for our network of retailers.”

Lloyd alter and Laura talking transportation

Amy McConnell

I ride a Gazelle e-bike and here I am discussing the comparative merits with an owner of a Tesla after talking about my book, "Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle." That's a lifestyle where one is responsible for emissions of less than 2.5 metric tons per year, the average lifestyle emissions that everyone has to stay under if we are not going to blow the budget for keeping under 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius).

The Model 3 isn't that bad compared to other electric vehicles and has estimated upfront carbon emissions of 12.75 tons. Even when running on low carbon electricity like this one is in Ontario, Canada, that still works out to 2.2 tons of carbon per year over the expected life of the car, which doesn't leave you a whole lot of headroom below 2.5.

This is why it is so important to not just support the switch to electric cars, but also for alternatives to cars. Like Zimmer, I have complained that if governments are going to be throwing money around to subsidize transportation, they can get more bang for the buck. Instead of gas subsidies and tax credits for electric cars, try to get as many people as possible out of cars. As noted previously, whether fighting climate change, high gas prices, or Vladimir Putin,

"People will continue to say 'not everybody can ride an e-bike.' It's true—and not everybody can drive a car. The conclusion remains that from any basis of comparison, be it speed of rollout, cost, equity, safety, the space taken for driving or parking, embodied carbon or operating energy, e-bikes beat e-cars for much of the population."