Specialized E-Bikes Are Climate Action

Their new bikes are easy to use and maintain, and will last a long time.

Specialized Como SL

Specialized Como SL

The most interesting thing about the new Como Super Light e-bike from Specialized is the marketing. It's not about riding on trails or recreation; it is all about daily life. As the company states: "Carry it down stairs, zip across town, pack it full of groceries, it’s ready to take flight."

It has a Euro-sized 240 watt motor that makes it a bike with a boost, "2 times you." It's designed for low maintenance and use in all weather. It even has a handle so that it is easy to lift. Basically, it's transportation.

Jenisse Curry, global communications leader for Specialized, tells Treehugger it's designed for the everyday ride: "What is going to make someone want to get on that bike again, and want to continue to ride?"

This normalization of e-bikes as part of everyday life is important because, as we have noted before, bikes and e-bikes are climate action. Specialized gets this, and writes:

"We believe the future of local transportation looks more like a bike than a car. Where transportation is the fastest-growing cause of greenhouse gas emissions, the bike is a powerful tool in the fight against climate change. To us, the bike is that and more. It’s a tool for freedom, community building, and mental and physical health."
Most trips are short

Micromobility Industries via Specialized

In a recent Zoom meeting, Curry described research commissioned from Micromobility Industries indicating that two-thirds of car trips are less than 10 miles. (Micromobility Industries is home of Horace Dediu, who a few years ago said: “Bikes have a tremendous disruptive advantage over cars. Bikes will eat cars.” I have paraphrased him, writing e-bikes will eat cars.)

Short trips are where the emissions are

Micromobility Industries

Short trips are where the emissions are because that's where the bulk of the cars are—where there are the most stops and starts and warm-ups. They are also the trips most easily replaced by e-bikes.

Como with Flowers

Specialized Como SL

The majority of Americans live in suburbs so that's where the real e-bike opportunity is since that's where the distances are a bit far to go shopping for flowers or groceries on a regular bike, but easy on an e-bike.

Emissions by transport mode

Specialized

Beyond the obvious point that e-bikes have a sixth of the carbon footprint of electric cars is that the majority of its emissions are upfront from manufacturing. In any lifecycle analysis, upfront carbon is divided by the estimated lifetime use. So if your vehicle lasts twice as long, its impact per kilometer is half as much.

Zoom Meeting
From top left: Troy Jones, Jenisse Curry, Lloyd Alter, Jon Goulet, Leah Ponichtera.

That's one reason why how bikes are built matters. Jon Goulet, leader of product operations for Specialized, tells Treehugger that just talking about bikes as climate action isn't enough.

"Electrified transport is great, but what about how they are made, what about the batteries, where do they go. These are physical products, they have an impact," says Goulet. "We ask how did it come to be? How long do they last? How long can they be serviced? We are trying to think of the end-to-end life and is it thoughtfully realized."

Troy Jones, social and environmental responsibility manager of Specialized, notes longevity and repairability are critical to sustainability and they write into their deals with suppliers that parts must be kept available for 10 years.

The issue that started this all was the question of batteries and Specialized's arrangement with Redwood Materials to recycle them at the end of their life. I didn't think this was a big deal, given how small they are and how long they last. But Goulet explains they are consumables lasting four to six years, there are going to be millions of them, and " this is something we are committed to managing."

An issue that we have discussed on Treehugger before is "design for disassembly" in everything from buildings to sneakers. Jones notes they are working with Redwood on the design of the batteries to make them easier to take apart, to separate good battery cells from bad ones, and to have more modularity and reusability of the parts.

Specialized has other sustainability initiatives, including reducing the use of toxic materials, reducing carbon emissions in the supply chain, working with other companies on the impact of common components, and reclaiming materials.

como in the rain

Specialized Como in the Rain

But as always, I keep coming back to design, with this new Como SL as an example about how to think about e-bikes and their role in transportation.

It's as easy as riding a bike: "Start pedaling and the assist kicks in naturally, without knocking you back. It’s still you doing the pedaling, only now you can conquer every steep hill that comes your way."

It's easy to maintain: "The internal gear hub (IGH) keeps the gears housed and sealed inside the rear wheel, protecting them even at the most packed bike rack, and the optional Gates belt drive doesn't need lubrication like a chain does. Ultra-bright lights are built-in and powered by the internal battery, so you’re always lit."

It has fenders and baskets and panniers and good lights, all the things you need to use a bike in the city or the suburbs. And as Jones and Goulet note, it is built to last.

Specialized writes that "interest in e-bikes had already been growing when Covid kicked it into Turbo mode." Curry says they are not cannibalizing regular bike sales, they are expanding the market. The data say that they are the most carbon-efficient form of motorized transport, which is why e-bikes are climate action.

This is why e-bikes will eat cars.

Meanwhile, about that handle....

In the charming video, fashion designer and author Diana Rikasari demonstrates how to pick up the Como by the handle, which I suspect is really a structural brace because it is not on the other Como model which has a different frame geometry.

Mikael Colville-Andersen picks up bike by handle
Mikael Colville-Andersen by the Copenhagen bike counter.

Lloyd Alter

However, urban bike expert Mikael Colville-Andersen, standing here by the famous Copenhagen bike counter, demonstrated how these handles are very useful and make bikes much easier to carry upstairs, as many people in Copenhagen do.

Handle on Bike

Lloyd Alter

Colville-Andersen thinks handles should be on every bike. I don't know whether Specialized did it on purpose or is just making a virtue out of a necessity, but it is a very good idea.