As concerns about climate change increase, many people are turning to electric vehicles — and that includes electric bikes. Enthusiasts praise e-bikes as an environmentally friendly form of transportation. They’re quiet, easy on roadways, and relatively energy efficient. No gasoline. No polluting exhaust.
With e-bikes, riders can pedal power their transportation as with a regular bike and get assistance from the electric motor when they want. This seems to be a winning feature based on the impressive sales of e-bikes in recent years, according to e-bike industry representatives.
E-bikes are now the most popular category within the bicycle industry in the United States and some other parts of the world, says Jay Townley, an industry analyst and founding partner of Human Powered Solutions. His work focuses on bikes, including providing reports for the National Bicycle Dealers Association.
Part of the demand is from people who were not previously avid bicyclists and who value the option to use the power feature, Townley says. Other factors are affordability — relative to a four-wheeled vehicle — and interest in sustainability.
The economic benefits of e-bikes are alluring, says Don DiConstanzo of Pedego Electric Bikes. They’re relatively inexpensive vehicles to purchase and operate. E-bike owners find them practical transportation for running nearby errands and other short excursions. Many use them for their daily commute, enjoying the savings in fuel costs. Recharging at home with solar power keeps costs low too, with the added benefit of minimizing the e-bike’s carbon footprint.
Before you purchase an e-bike, give it a test drive — perhaps rent one for a while — to ensure you pick the style that best suits you, recommends DiConstanzo.
Retailers, sustainability advocates, and other enthusiasts value the environmental benefits of e-bikes, especially compared to higher-emission vehicles.
“When car trips are replaced with electric bicycle trips, individuals can reduce GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, increase their mental and physical health, and decongest urban centers,’’ says JJ Trout of PeopleForBikes, an advocacy organization and trade association.
“A 2019 study from the Transportation Research and Education Center found that if electric bicycle usage increased by 15% across the U.S., we could reduce an estimated 11% of transportation-related CO2 emissions. The authors found that of every 100 utilitarian miles traveled by electric bicycle (trips made for purposes other than recreation or exercise), 72.4 of those miles would have been traveled by car. In other words, electric bicycles replaced 72.4% of car miles that would have been taken for strictly practical purposes,” Trout said
Bosch, which produces parts for e-bikes, discusses sustainability on its website. “The e-bike is one of the most environmentally friendly means of transportation,” the site says. “Our mobility causes more than one-fifth of all CO2 emissions worldwide. Riding an e-bike helps to lower this value.”
Disposing of and Recycling Batteries
Responsible handling of batteries is an important environmental factor related to e-bikes.
Rechargeable batteries provide energy when the rider activates pedal assist and throttles. Like electric cars, e-bikes often get their power from lithium-ion batteries, which are potential fire hazards and dangerous to people, property, and the environment if used and disposed of improperly.
“Lithium-ion batteries and devices containing these batteries should not go in household garbage or recycling bins,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These batteries contain valuable components that recyclers can reclaim and use in new products.
PeopleForBikes and Call2Recycle work with businesses to promote and facilitate responsible recycling. You can find battery recycling drop-off locations via the Call2Recycle locator and the Earth911 recycling database.
Other battery safety recommendations from Call2Recycle include:
- Never charge your e-bike battery overnight or unattended.
- Do not leave your e-bike battery in the charger when not charging.
- Only use the charger that came with your e-bike.
Are You Ready to Make the Transition to an E-Bike?
In regions where roadways and other infrastructure invite safe biking, many people value e-bikes as a second household vehicle. For some people, they become the primary vehicle.
“E-bikes are used for a wide variety of activities including recreationally, for commuting, and for family transportation,” JJ Trout said. “More and more people are transitioning away from car trips and into e-bike trips because electric bicycles are a great way to cover longer distances while also reducing the probability of showing up sweaty to a meeting. Personally, I use my electric cargo bicycle to take my kiddos to school and the park and it’s a great way to share time outdoors together.”
Start your e-bike shopping with an expert at a local bike shop. With technology changing fast, you’ll want to understand the latest options available and learn about what local riders experience in your area.
Feature image courtesy of Trek Bicycle Corporation