A few years ago a report came out that electric bicycles, or e-bikes, were ready to make a massive impact on the global economy. As it turns out, this study was right, especially in Europe where e-bike sales are bucking local trends and selling in greater numbers, despite a higher base price reports the New York Times.
In Germany, for example, overall bicycle sales fell 5.5% last year but e-bike sales rose 8%. It’s the same story in the bike-crazed Netherlands, where e-bike sales grew 9% despite a slight dip in bicycle sales as a whole. Even in the mountainous neutral nation of Switzerland, there are more than a quarter-million e-bike riders. In France, commuters are paid to bike to work, and even IKEA has hopped on the e-bike train with its owns take on the electric bicycle trend.
With an average transaction price more than twice the cost of a standard bicycle (about $2,700), e-bikes have helped buoy independent bike shops during an economic crunch across much of the Old World. The appeal seems to stem from the fact that e-bikes make commuting by pedal power a lot easier, even for someone not in the best-of-shape. A single steep hill can wipe out can make a morning commute unbearable and gross, but e-bikes offer just enough assistance to make the ride comfortable and convenient.
But while sales of e-bikes in Europe are on the rise, here in America it remains a small niche market, as the cost of many e-bikes is enough to buy a reliable old beater Honda or Toyota. Many cities just aren’t designed for mass bike traffic, and while that’s slowly changing in places like New York City, some places (including NYC) still treat e-bikes like motorcycles, requiring classes and licenses and preventing mass adoption. Meanwhile, the German national postal service employs some 6,200 e-bikes to help deliver mail and packages across many ancient cities and villages, saving untold amounts of money and emissions while promoting a much healthier lifestyle for their workers.
Indeed, cargo bikes are a big reason for the surge in popularity of e-bikes. Pedaling heavy packages from one end of the city to another all day can wear out even the fittest athlete. The electric motor of an e-bike makes cargo bikes a lot more versatile in terms of what they can or can’t carry, and just how far that delivery service extends.
Meanwhile, millions of Chinese consumers have opted for cheap-and-often-dangerous e-bikes rather than scooters, and are being blamed for a rise in accident-related injuries and death. But every e-bike generally replaces a car, and with China boasting epic levels of traffic congestion, the government has been slow to regulate e-bikes.
Will e-bikes make a splash here in America too, or is this another one of those trends most people would rather overlook?