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E-Bikes Are Overtaking Cities: Is It an Urban Transportation Revolution?

By Frantiska Blazkova

They’re agile, fairly inexpensive, and might improve your overall health and mobility. We’re talking about electrified bicycles, which are becoming a widespread trend lately. The conscious consumer and urbanite might already know that our dependence on cars isn’t exactly sustainable regarding the future. The increasingly congested infrastructures of larger cities are calling for micro-mobility solutions – as the electrified scooters and e-bikes have been dubbed.

E-bikes might help out where your great-aunt or uncle might lack the confidence in tackling one particular steep street on a regular bike. Just boost your step and up you go without a single drop of sweat, as Grandma Joan fearlessly demonstrates by beating Peter Sagan.

Especially European and Asian countries are seeing a boom in the usage of both personal and shareable docked or dockless e-bikes. After some clumsy first steps, the implementation of e-bikes into the everyday commuting routine is starting to show positive results.

Let’s see what we know about the usage of electrified bicycles as of now. Maarten Kroesen of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands was interested in which modes of transportation are being replaced by e-bikes she did a study on the subject in 2017. The results showed that while e-bikes reduce car and transit use, they have the biggest impact on the regular bicycle use. Simply put, people are more willing to grab and e-bike to do the trip than its boost-less counterpart. Also, where you live heavily influences your use of the e-bicycle. In Chinese cities with high-quality transit, e-bikes tend to replace bus trips, while in Chinese cities with poor transit systems, they replace regular bike trips. Meanwhile, in car-centric Australian, Canadian, and US cities, e-bikes mainly replace vehicle trips, while in European cities with high bike use, they replace regular bike and car trips.

Cycleway in Auckland, New Zealand. Source: Dan Freeman/Unsplash

Multiple studies also show that senior citizens. e.g. in Australia, and women are more likely to own an e-bike. Kirsty Wild of Auckland University in New Zealand did a similar study in the city of Auckland, New Zealand, and found that while only 20 per cent of regular cyclists were women, 41 per cent of them were e-bike users. Her survey cited various reasons why women preferred a little extra power – they could take longer trips, carry more things with them, and make multiple stops during a single journey to drop off their kids, go to the shop, and not show up to work sweaty afterwards. Both studies suggest that the go-to mode for nearly all trip lengths, the car, could be partially replaced by more sustainable means because more people are willing to cycle longer distances with just a little help. Most importantly, a shift away from cars to e-bikes would help to bring emissions down. The transportation sector is the top emitter in the USA and if we are to cut emissions by 45 per cent before 2030 to avoid disastrous consequences, we need to act fast.

Naturally, e-bikes aren’t a magical cure to reducing carbon footprint and increasing the inhabitants’ health and wellbeing and they’ve been met with opposing voices. First, there’s the infrastructure struggle as implementing cycle paths might be close to impossible in some cities, especially in North America, where pedestrians already fight for space on narrow sidewalks and an e-bike or scooter swooshing past is another nuisance. And second, the trips taken on them might be longer on average, but the physical activity isn’t the same as on a regular bike thanks to the added motor. But the studies showed, that the average person might put out less energy riding an e-bike but is willing to take longer and more frequent trips, which still allow them to reach “the medium-intensity standard” of physical activity — the same as with regular cycling.

It’s too soon to assume in which direction will the personal urban transportation trend take off but e-bikes are already proving to be a more digestible introduction into daily commuting for a large demographic. Where do you see the future of micro-mobility?