The media announces a ‘boom’ for the electric bicycle. Headlines highlight the increase in sales, extol its benefits and predict a promising future with a leading role in urban mobility. On the other hand, studies try to specify its effectiveness compared to other modes, estimate its global cost and market acceptance.
Maintaining the upward trend will depend on our understanding of the role that this type of vehicle can and should play in urban mobility and street use as a whole. So let’s ask ourselves some questions about the electric bicycle that allow us to discuss its advantages and disadvantages.
Is it novel? The electric bicycle was invented shortly after the conventional one. As early as 1890, patents were registered in the United States, which did not develop further until the 1940s, when the automobile industry was dedicated to the war and there was little supply of cars. Another boom was after the 1973 oil crisis. In the 80s the assisted pedaling system was invented, in the 90s the big brands had a commercial model and in 2005 the development of lithium batteries marked another boost to production.
Since then, sales have grown progressively, until recently there was an unprecedented increase. Now, the historical crisis that requires changing mobility is the result of environmental deterioration that generates climate change and pandemics. And bicycles are, once again, part of the solution. Is there a boom? The movement in workshops and the demand for spare parts after the confinement showed that many people dusted off old bikes, while others went shopping. According to the manufacturers, the demand increased 400% compared to before the pandemic.
Is it good because it requires little effort? Among the main reasons for not using the bicycle is arriving sweating to work. The electric motor would solve this problem, making it easier for more people to take the bike. However, seeing less effort as an advantage reinforces a concept of mobility anchored in the comfort inherited from motorization, discouraging healthy habits.
Resting on the electric motor obfuscates other possible and necessary solutions. First, a good cycling network must be provided; that, through proper layout and design, reduce the impact of excessive slopes and the effort involved in fighting for space on the road. Is it faster? Electric bicycles can reach up to 38 km/hr, something to consider in terms of road safety.
The risk of injury in the event of an accident increases, along with the danger to pedestrians if the bikes end up traveling on the sidewalk. However, the average speed in an urban context depends more on other factors, such as the reason and type of route, traffic and infrastructure conditions, physical capacity, and ability to ride the bicycle.
The pandemic has forced people to think again
The health emergency caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus has forced people to think about other possibilities of mobilization, considering that public transport is a suitable space for contagion, and the bicycle has become an attractive option.
Its benefit is not only that of transportation. In the current circumstances, with the pandemic threatening people’s lives, the bicycle is a means that helps to fulfill social distancing.
In addition, in the environmental aspect, as it is a vehicle that does not use fuel, it contributes to the reduction of pollution in the city and improves the physical condition of those who use it.
The global economic crisis and the fall in oil prices have prompted the emergence of alternative means of transport such as bicycles, but the needs have gone further and now electric bicycles, such as an e-bike cruiser, are promoted, which differ from traditional ones because they incorporate an electric motor that drives longer travels and does not emit toxic gases into the atmosphere.
It does not pollute? The electric bicycle has a very high efficiency compared to cars and motorcycles, however, it is not emission-free. The electricity you consume comes largely from burning fossil fuels.
It does not emit gases during travel, but you have to consider the energy and implicit emissions from extraction for manufacturing to waste management (battery included). Thus, the electric bicycle emits about 300 kg of CO2 in a useful life with 20,000 km on average. A footprint is much smaller than that of a car but greater than that of a mechanical bicycle.
It’s cheap? In a domestic economy, apart from the value of the electric bicycle (around 1700 dollars) or the conversion of a conventional one (500 dollars). The complexity of repair increases the dependence on technical services and while conventional mechanics do not expire, the electric motor lasts about 10 years and the batteries between one and two.
Motors for electric bicycles do not have brushes, that is, they do not have blades and do not require maintenance by the user. However, we recommend taking your bikes for basic maintenance every three months for 23 dollars and a yearly one including grease change for 45 dollars.
According to the capacity, the motors are 250, 350, and 500W. Battery life varies according to use. When the battery receives a charge of 700 to 1000 cycles every day, the life is 2-3 years. The autonomy (performance on a single charge), depending on the model, ranges between 30 and 70 kilometers. The battery charging time is between 4 and 6 hours. Several manufacturers have developed their products further, such as the Himiway step through ebike.
In summary, the electric bicycle can contribute to a less impact urban mobility model. To do this, your promotion should focus on your trips to replace the use of the car. In no case is it interesting that they compete with walking, mechanical bicycles, or collective transport. That is why it is important to adopt push and pool policies, which encourage healthy modes while restricting the indiscriminate use of the car.
It can facilitate the approach to cycling of groups that require pedaling assistance and extend the range of mobility by bicycle. If there is a boom, let’s take advantage of it. If we really want the electric bicycle to proliferate, along with all kinds of cycles, it is essential to pacify traffic and build quality cycling networks; a livable urban environment that allows it to develop its full potential and help us get out, pedaling, from the situation we have gotten into.