There’s been a lot of hoopla about electric bikes (or e-bikes) these days.
But instead of getting stuck in the regulation mire, let’s try a thought exercise: what would our built environment look like if we embraced e-bikes? And how could we make this possible?
First, let’s clear up some misconceptions.
There are two kinds of e-bikes: pedal-assist and throttle. E-bikes with a throttle don’t need the biker to pedal, but the motor on a pedal-assist bike can only be activated by pedaling. E-bikes tend to only go 2 to 3 miles-per-hour faster than regular bikes because of this – but in some instances, they’re slower because of their heavier weight.
But some say e-bikes are in an “awkward spot.” Aaron Gordon of the Outline writes, “They are too fast for bike lanes, too slow for roads, and highly inappropriate for sidewalks.”
But are e-bikes really so different from regular bikes?
“Go out and ride one,” says Morgan Lommele, the e-bike campaign manager at PeopleForBikes. According to Lommele, e-bikes are hardly different than regular bikes – e-bikes just give you some extra help.
E-bikes have many obvious advantages: they make hills easier to surmount and longer distances shorter. But they also lower the barrier of entry to biking. Lommele told me that e-bike riders tend to be older or disabled people, or people with commuting obstacles like hills or long distances. E-bikes also make it much easier to carry groceries or transport kids.
So what would an e-bike future look like? And how do we get there?
Cities around the world have been embracing bike infrastructure because bike infrastructure does increase bicycling rates. But this investment isn’t happening nearly as quickly as some bike advocates and riders would like. Lommele believes that we need political leaders and cities “who aren’t afraid of taking risks” to commit themselves to building bike infrastructure, like protected bike lanes and bike parking.
But e-bike riders need more than infrastructure. They also need to charge their bikes.
Greenspeed, a Norwegian e-bike company, is pioneering universal e-bike and electric car chargers. Some of their chargers are placed around a cycle trail in Salzburg, Austria, which is used mostly by tourists – but what if we placed e-bike chargers around Arlington and other places throughout the U.S.?
This might be easier to accomplish than we think. According to the Electric Vehicle Association of Greater Washington DC, there are more than 700 public charging stations in the D.C. region. Could these add a port for e-bikes?
We might be living in the cusp of the e-bike revolution.
For more of our coverage of e-bikes:
Photo by Xavier Trias/Flickr.