It's Time For Everyone to Stop Ignoring E-Bikes

A new report on electric vehicles barely acknowledges their existence.

Family riding e-bikes in Hamburg

Westend61 / Getty Images

Politicians and planners are missing the e-bike revolution with their preoccupation with e-cars. Even the climate activists at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 26) did it. Now BloombergNEF's Electric Vehicle Outlook for 2022 has been released and—surprise!—it ignores e-bikes.

It's big on 2- and 3-wheelers (the mopeds, scooters, and tuk-tuks you find in Asia) and notes the staggering difference between the size of the e-car fleet compared to 2- and 3-wheeled electric vehicles (EVs).

"The acceleration in EV adoption means that combustion vehicle sales peaked globally in 2017 and are now in permanent decline. By 2025 passenger ICE sales are 19% below their 2017 peak. Managing the decline while investing in the future is a major challenge for some legacy automakers."

But e-cars are still only 9% of sales and the e-car fleet is under 17 million worldwide, while the 2- and 3-wheelers are at 275 million, showing them at completely different scales on their illustrations.

size of fleet
What, no e-bikes?.


This description of "2- and 3-wheelers" seemed odd. Surely if you are looking at the state of electric vehicles, e-bikes should be mentioned, not excluded as the note at the bottom of the EV fleet sizes suggests. In the U.S. alone, e-bike sales were up 240% last year with 790,000 imported, compared to 652,000 electric cars, including plug-in hybrids. In Europe, e-bikes are projected to outsell cars by the middle of this decade, whether gas or electric powered. Deloitte recently predicted there could be 300 million e-bikes by 2023.

In a statement, Bloomberg NEF noted, "As EV uptake continues to grow, they are already displacing 1.5 million barrels of oil demand per day. Most of this is from electric two- and three-wheelers in Asia, but rising passenger EV sales push this to 2.5 million barrels per day by 2025. Overall, oil demand from road transport is now set to peak by 2027, according to BNEF’s findings, as electrification spreads to all other areas of road transport beyond passenger cars."

But again, no mention of e-bikes, even when they look at the need for alternatives to cars, whether electric or not:

"The report also suggests that reducing car dependence through public transport, walking, cycling and other measures should be pursued wherever possible. A 10% reduction in kilometers travelled by car by 2050 alone would lead to 200 million fewer cars on the road, reducing cumulative CO2 emissions by 2.25 gigatons and alleviating strain on the battery supply chain, all of which will benefit long-term decarbonization targets."

BloombergNEF is a consultancy, "a leading provider of strategic research on the pathways for the power, transport, industry, buildings and agriculture sectors to adapt to the energy transition." But surely they read other Bloomberg properties which pays David Zipper to write in Citylab: "Every time an e-bike or e-cargo bike is used lieu of a car, society receives a cascade of benefits. Greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically lower, even if the car being replaced is electric. A two-wheeler consumes little street space and poses a negligible safety risk to other road users."

We asked e-bike-focused climate advisor Andrea Learned for her thoughts about this and she was characteristically blunt, telling Treehugger:

"This is really lame. It's not an EV Outlook without serious emphasis on eBikes (and not e-motorbikes) for crying out loud. We talk about 'just transition' in energy, but when it comes to EVs, this “but everyone needs and can afford a car” narrative is all we get. Why not do a deeper dive on Class 1 eBikes and the huge potential those have for social justice AND climate action? The stories of new-to-eBike riders tell are incredible validation. They are an undersold solution. Better media coverage of EV-bikes as real transportation and climate action could do a huge service to this transition."

There is some better media coverage from Simon Kuper of the Financial Times. He gets the fact that change is in the air, writing about "the cheap green, low-tech solution for the world's megacities."

"The electric bicycle is a game-changer, much more significant than the overhyped, expensive and insufficiently green e-car: global sales of e-bikes are projected to reach 40 million next year, compared to 9 million for electric vehicles. Globally, most trips are less than 10 kilometres, which e-bikes can cover within half an hour."
trip distance

Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

It isn't just globally, but also in the U.S. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, 60% of trips are less than six miles, and three-quarters of all trips are less than 10 miles. We have noted before that this is the fastest ride to zero-carbon; almost anyone can ride an e-bike for six miles under almost any conditions. If there were safe places to ride and secure places to park, then millions of car trips could be avoided, and millions of cars taken off the road. If only e-bikes weren't totally ignored.

Back at the Financial Times, the commenters complain as they do in North America: "There’s always going to be issues of driving as a family, dropping kids at school, shopping for heavy items, rainy weather, etc. In the end it’s probably going to be a mix of electric bikes, electric scooters, electric cars, electric buses, lots of deliveries, more working from home, etc."

Surly Big Easy


All of these are handled on e-bikes all the time. Lots of families travel together by bike. This family is doing a school run in chilly Minneapolis. I was caught in a thunderstorm yesterday and pulled my rain gear out of my pannier. My son-in-law carries dirt and flowers from the garden center. And that mix of electric vehicles that the commenter describes? This is the future we want.

We have been saying literally for years that e-bikes will eat cars and e-cargo bikes will eat SUVs. During the pandemic, we found that e-bikes were eating transit. It is truly time that politicians, planners, and BloombergNEF noticed.