If a pedal-powered bike isn’t enough to take cars off the road, electronic bikes may have what it takes to convert the naysayers. We spoke with Morgan Lommele, the E-Bikes Campaigns Manager of US-based PeopleForBikes about why people in the United States are starting to choose electric bikes and the common questions they ask. PeopleForBikes is an organization advocating for all cyclists in the US, where e-bike sales are still lagging behind sales in Europe and China. With the number of laws and misconceptions that American e-bikers face, it's no surprise they’ve hovered under the radar until recently.
In this one-on-one, Lommele breaks down all you need to know about e-bikes – who rides them, how much they cost, and where they’re headed in the future.
What are the advantages of e-biking? Why ride an e-bike over a regular bike?
- Health benefits: Despite being motorized, you can still do enough work to burn as many calories as you would riding a regular bike, depending on the amount of electrical assistance you choose to use.
- More practical for everyday use and longer rides: You can get around much faster without breaking a sweat. It makes climbing hills significantly easier, and you can ride long distances in a more reasonable amount of time. Headwinds become much less intimidating, too.
- Value: You'll get more out of your electric bike purchase because you are almost guaranteed to ride it more. As verified by the Transport Research Laboratory in the U.K., electric bikes are used at least twice as often as regular bikes.
Photo via IZIP Electric Bikes, E3 ProTour Model
How do e-bikes work?
Electric bikes work the same way regular bikes do. An electric motor drive, lithium ion battery pack, and usually a stronger frame is all that sets them apart. The motors pedals for you as needed. Some electric bikes can do all of the pedaling for you—making climbing hills or riding for long distances less taxing and daunting than the same ride on a standard bicycle.
Photo via IZIP Electric Bikes
What is the average person's biggest misconception about e-bikes?
"Riding an electric bicycle is not cheating, but putting one more bicycle on the road instead of a car."― Morgan Lommele
That it's "cheating." It's not cheating, since we're not racing! E-bikes are a great way to get around town instead of a car. They're not necessarily bike replacements, but car replacements, and riding an electric bicycle is not cheating, but putting one more bicycle on the road instead of a car.
Who is a typical e-bike rider?
According to a small, informal market study, 60 percent of e-bike owners are between 50 and 70 years old, and mostly are educated, white males in good health. About one-third of respondents to the 2014 survey mentioned they had a physical condition that makes riding a standard bike difficult. Respondents listed knee problems, arthritis, asthma, and back pain as common ailments.
What do you expect the impact of e-bikes will be in 10 years?
"I'm hopeful that e-bike ridership will grow, leading to more demand for bicycle infrastructure, and a growing culture of cycling"― Morgan Lommele
More than 200,000 e-bikes were sold in the US in 2015, and this number is expected to increase by 10 percent annually. So I'm hopeful that e-bike ridership will grow, leading to more demand for bicycle infrastructure, and a growing culture of cycling in existing and new cycling meccas.
What is one regulation about e-bikes that would surprise people?
That it is legal to sell e-bikes in all 50 states + D.C., but technically illegal to ride them in 29 states because the operation of an e-bike is governed by state law. So in other words, a shop can sell an e-bike totally legally, but in many states, people can't legally ride it out of the store. PeopleForBikes and the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association are working to streamline e-bike laws in all 50 states.
What does it cost to get into e-biking?
E-bikes cost anywhere from $1,500 to $8,000 (1,360 € to 7,270 €). A regular commuter e-bike I'd say is about $3,000 to $4,500 (2,730 € to 4090 €). It's easy to tick off a few thousand miles every year on the e-bike if it replaces car trips, so it's a deal if you consider the cost of car maintenance, gas, parking, etc.