A man transports ducks on his electric bike through a flooded street in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. (Sean Yong/Reuters)
Lawmakers, manufacturers and transportation experts have focused much of their attention on electric cars, with still-disappointing results, but consumers in many parts of the world are embracing electric bikes, which in addition to the usual pedals have small battery-powered motors to speed things along.
The number of electric-powered bicycles in China just passed the 200 million mark, manufactures are reporting 200 percent annual sales growth in Brazil, sales are strong in Europe and the Philippines is ordering 100,000 electricity-powered three wheelers, just one of several Asian nations investing in e-bikes.
E-bikes normally travel at speeds of 20 to 30 miles per hour, they charge from a regular electric socket and starting at about $1,000 per bike they're rather affordable, at least compared to electric cars. You can even build one yourself for much less. They also can eliminate a notorious bike commuter fear—the sweaty arrival to the office in a suit that's going to smell funky all day—and allow older and less physically fit riders more mobility than a traditional bicycle.
Strangely, most U.S. politicians are doing little to encourage their use, and some are actively discouraging it. Although President George W. Bush signed a 2002 federal law that exempts electric bikes with speeds under 20 mph and less than 750 watts of power from state motor vehicle licensing requirements, individual states have introduced at least 47 different was of clamping down on their use. The confusion has spawned websites to address questions like "Is my e-bike legal?, and helped to keep sales low. Of the 29.3 million e-bikes sold in 2012, just 53,000 were sold in the U.S., according to Navigant Research.
With traditional bicycle use growing in many U.S. cities, there is also a brewing culture clash between traditional bike purists and e-bikes over whether the motorized versions should be used in bike lanes or relegated to the regular roads, and whether using an e-bike is "cheating."
Some U.S. cities, citing safety concerns, have banned them altogether: New York outlawed e-bikes in 2012 as part of a war against reckless delivery people, a move critics said was akin to making cars illegal because of drunk drivers. In April, Manhattan's City Council voted to fine businesses as much as $250 just for having an e-bike on the premises.
In Europe, on the other hand, even as car sales stalled in the years since the 2008 global recession, sales of e-bikes have skyrocketed in recent years, up 47 percent since 2010, Bike Europe reported. "Even in times of crisis, as well as rainy summers and harsh winters, e-bike sales are on the rise," the bicycle enthusiast website noted. Here's their compilation of all the European countries that broke out e-bike sales by unit:
Source: ZIV, RAI Vereniging, Velosuisse, CNPC, ANCMA, Arge Zweirad
数据来源：ZIV, RAI Vereniging, Velosuisse, CNPC, ANCMA, Arge Zweirad
China dominates e-bike sales and manufacturing—an estimated 90 percent of the world's e-bikes are sold in China and the majority of them are made there.
Western carmakers are slowly starting to show some interest. Last year, German carmaker Audi rolled out a sleek prototype e-bike capable of going 50 miles an hour, with a carbon frame and a small, light, easy to change battery pack so riders could carry extras with them.
E-bike enthusiasts like to say that the bikes exact an even smaller environmental toll than traditional, non-motorized bicycles, because the electricity they rely on is actually a much more efficient converter of fuel to power than the human body, which needs more fuel in the form of food when you're riding a normal bike.
The bikes take the "hills out of riding," one septuagenarian rider in Manhattan told The New York Times in 2010, dubbing them "marvelous." If he's still riding the bike around the city, he's probably being ticketed right about now.
Yahweh • 3 days ago
"manufactures are reporting"
Brandon W. • 3 days ago
I live in a college town. I've seen a couple of these around, but I see quite a few mopeds. Most areas of town have 30-35 mph speed limits, and a 50cc moped will go close to 30. In my state, they must be registered but are exempt from licensing and auto-insurance laws. I suspect most Americans don't care about the pedals. Sell electric mopeds that hit that 30 mph mark.
ZA_SF • 3 days ago
In a country accustomed to "burning a gallon of gas to buy a gallon of milk," an e-bike that can replace that car trip to the grocery store is a winning proposition. Rather than fixating on the commuting worker or moped student, think about the utility of safely moving driver, cargo, and perhaps a child.
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Sam W • 2 days ago
$1,000? Not in China at least - you can get used or lower-end models (which is what many locals in Beijing use) for 1/6 that price, and a standard mid-line domestic Chinese brand (what I take to and from work every day) will run $500 USD at the most. I'm sure they'd cost at least $1k if they were produced to western standards though. Safety concerns are no joke, e-bike drivers are a menace on the road here even though everyone is accustomed to them.
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sv • 2 days ago
so these are like, electric mopeds? not electric scooters or electric motorcycles. i thought electric bicycles are just basic bicycles with a small added engine that can augment or take over from your pedaling. those are usually treated like regular bicycles legally in the US, i think.
Solo500 • a day ago
The problem as a city cyclist is that e-bikes are a real hazard to regular bikes. On the Manhattan Bridge bike lane for example they are a constant danger. OTOH, they really don't belong in the regular car lanes either. We are just getting to the starting line for multi-modal transport in the US so anything that hampers human-powered vehicles is problematic.
Better than cars & motorcycles though!
RandolphOfRoanoke Solo500 • 13 hours ago
Why shouldn't they be in the regular car lanes? A decent powered bike with a decent driver doesn't perform that much differently from a more heavily motorized bike or a car in city traffic, so in terms of traffic flow they go together reasonably well.
Bicyclists, electric or not, are at particular risk from bad car driving given their lack of protection, but that's also true of traditional motorcyclists. At the same time, a substantial fraction of bicyclists also have a kamikaze attitude to traffic rules, so they don't appear all that scared by that lack of protection.
I'm not sure how to bring that cultural change about, but the best way to integrate bikes moving at the speed of cars into the traffic flow would be for car drivers to respect bikes as if they were cars and for bicyclists participating in traffic (as opposed to recreational paths) to behave as if they were cars, maybe with some special rules like allowing Michigan stops provided that the bicyclist makes sure there is no cross traffic.
RandolphOfRoanoke • 13 hours ago −
I'm not a fan of regulation, but the roads are one part where some rules are plainly necessary because they're a shared resource. At the same time, we shouldn't discourage innovation, especially when it's clearly beneficial in terms of fuel use, space use, road wear, and such.
A reasonable solution for electric bikes might be something like Germany's licensing for mopeds--there's no state registration required, but they need to carry something that looks like a license plate, but is issued by insurance companies. Liability insurance for these things tends to be very cheap, given that bad driving usually causes only property damage or smaller injuries to third parties (although in Germany it's also much cheaper than in America because pain and suffering awards there are kept to a purely symbolic level).