The Electric Bike Movement, The Environment, And Personal Health

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by Eric Burdon
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With car companies like Ford, Honda, Chevrolet, BMW, and others making the slow transition to electric vehicles, it’s a clear sign that the automotive industry in general is going electric. However, perhaps more surprising is the rise in purchase and ownership of electric bikes.

Accounting firm Deloitte has been keeping an eye on electric bikes over the years and reported that 185,000 were sold in the US in 2013, and 400,000 in 2018, and they predict that globally, 40 million e-bikes will be sold and 300 million - both electric and manual pedalling - will be on the roads by this year.

That is a staggering amount in such a short time span and these bicycles don’t need to have sleek designs in order to sell. Combined with cheaper materials to build both the bikes and the lithium-ion batteries, it’s easy to find more cost effective models at about USD400, with the high-end models in the high four-figures.

There is a further appeal in e-bikes based on the fact very little power is needed to run the electric motor compared to EVs. Add in the growing possibility of bypassing traffic as more towns are becoming more bike-friendly, and it’s easier to see why the surge in e-bikes makes sense.

But e-bikes are doing more than just moving us. Underneath this movement, there are many positive developments taking place.

Affecting Demand For EVs & The Environment

As more people are moving to urban areas - which in turn are becoming more developed - residents are quick to learn how critical it is to get around in the simplest, most effective manner. Most importantly, that doesn’t always mean a car.

Despite this, automakers are still betting big on a future with electric vehicles. VW announced that it will be spending $66 billion over the next half-decade to electrify its cars and look at new digital technology. 

Ford had a similar goal back in 2018. It invested $11 billion in electrification by 2022. GM similarly announced $2.3 billion in an Ohio battery factory.

While that is a positive development and a further push for more electric vehicles, other issues are influencing a growing acceptance and shift toward electric bikes, often over vehicles. For one, the process of making electric cars is obviously more resource-intensive than with bikes. Lithium is a metal that is notorious for damaging the surrounding environment when harvested

Even though both e-bikes and EVs are environmentally damaging in this regard, the fact that bikes require significantly less to be powered, in the case of short distance, localised travel, means lithium stocks could be used for much longer when making bikes over vehicles.

Urbanisation means a condensing of goods and services into smaller areas, so the need for a vehicle drops significantly. Not every person needs a car when everything is within biking - or walking - distance.

That is further compounded by the cost of living - notably housing. With landlords charging insane prices, Millennials and Gen-Z renters either live with their parents or may have to ditch their cars due to high maintenance costs, the price of gas, and repair costs.

Electric vehicles will mitigate some of those costs - notably gas - but it’s up in the air currently on whether maintenance and repair costs are going to be reasonable or expensive. The average bike, on the other hand, has few costs in terms of maintenance and repair.

E-Bikes Increase Physical Health

Another part of the movement is that e-bikes encourage physical health. While it’s easy to think that e-bikes are purely electric, the market has a diverse series of e-bikes in reality. There are some that are completely electric, while others have pedal assistance.

The ones with pedal assistance are most important as research shows those who use e-bike, perhaps surprisingly, are getting more exercise than those using pedal bikes. The reason is simple, e-bikers can ride for longer due to pedal assistance, helping them climb up steep slopes. Combine this fact with that research also finding e-bikers cycling for a longer time each week and it makes sense that e-bikes are a sustainable and healthy way to travel.

Towns Need To Prepare For More Bikes

The trend for electric bikes - and regular pedal bikes - will continue to increase across the globe the more it is marketed as a sustainable, budget-friendly, and preeminent option for urban residents who need quick, simple, and hyper-local transport. A rise in urban e-bike use will also, of course, result in a commensurate decrease in overall car and taxi journeys, freeing up more space for e-bike movement and infrastructure. In premise, we would see a healthy positive feedback loop that, based on an urban life designed around a smaller radius, would deliver compound benefits to e-bikers in health, purchase cost, and time saved for activities. 

However, that’s a premise that is also based on many factors colliding to provide that shift to an urban design with, as some may see it, ‘smaller horizons’. This is where the issue, or promise, of e-bikes feeds into the discussion around how well towns and cities can prepare themselves to accommodate changes in personal mobility, and that will need to consider improved public transportation linking riders to destinations beyond the urban environment. 

That, in turn, necessitates progressive policy from transport service and rental providers who can reshape themselves as ‘personal mobility’ companies, to better cater to the widening spectrum of choices in how we can all move ourselves.

See our recent interview with SIXT, a global personal mobility provider, and bookmark our Featured Articles for more views on ESG issues.

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