Electric bikes are the most environmentally sound means of motorized transport in the world today. They come in many shapes and forms and are accompanied by a small battery-powered motor that can make hills manageable, journeys swifter, and longer trips more viable. As they grow more effective and affordable, e-bikes are increasingly drawing people out of more polluting modes of transportation, such as driving solo.
E-bikes are all the rage in China, where millions of people use them to commute and e-bike owners outnumber car owners by a factor of two. The trend dates to the mid-1990s, when China’s booming cities put strict antipollution rules in place. These pedal-motor hybrids are on the rise in many parts of the world, as urban dwellers seek convenient, healthy, and affordable ways to move around congested cities.
An e-bike’s battery gets its charge from the nearest outlet, tapping into whatever electricity is on hand—from coal-based to solar-powered. E-bikes have higher emissions than a regular bicycle or simply walking, but they still outperform cars, including electric ones.
Chinese e-bike owners: Ji, S., et al. “Electric Vehicles in China: Emissions and Health Impacts.” Environmental Science & Technology, 46, no. 4 (2012): 2018–2024.
“largest adoption of alternative fuel vehicles”: Cherry, Christopher. Quoted in Daniel Cusick “Can E-Bikes Displace Cars?” Scientific American. February 22, 2012.
China…e-bike sales: Mason, Jacob, Lew Fulton, and Zane McDonald. A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario. New York and Davis, CA: Institute for Transportation & Development Policy and the University of California–Davis, 2015.
urban trips…easy distance: Mason et al, Scenario.
more effective and affordable…[more] people: Fishman, Elliot, and Christopher Cherry. “E-bikes in the Mainstream: Reviewing a Decade of Research.” Transport Reviews, 36, no. 1 (2016): 72-91.
e-bikes sold in 2012: MacArthur, J., J. Dill, and M. Person. “Electric Bikes in North America: Results from an Online Survey.” Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2468 (2014): 123–130.
e-bikes…outperform cars…[most] mass transit: Cherry, C. R., J. X. Weinert, and Y. Xinmiao. “Comparative Environmental Impacts of Electric Bikes in China.” Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 14, no. 5 (2009): 281–290; Fishman and Cherry, “Mainstream.”
[cost vs.] a classic bike: Gunther, Marc. “Will Electric Bicycles Get Americans to Start Pedaling?” Yale Environment 360. April 22, 2013.
lead acid batteries: Fishman and Cherry, “Mainstream.”
first…patent for an electric bicycle: Bolton, Ogden. U.S. Patent No. 552,271. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, 1895.
Others…working to motorize [bicycles]: Roberts, Ronald. “Electric Bike History, Patents from the 1800’s.” ElectricBike.com. November 9, 2013.
fastest-selling alternative-fuel vehicles: Navigant. Electric Bicycles. Boulder, CO: Navigant Research, 2016.