But why electrify the bicycle? A bike doesn’t pollute, doesn’t make noise and riding one is good for your health. If anything, powering a bike with electricity would seem to constitute what the Germans call a Schlimmverbesserung, an improvement for the worse, since it deprives the rider of the benefits of a good pedalling workout.
However, not everyone sees it that way and the sales of e-bikes have been steadily growing around the world, especially in China. There are about 200 million e-bikes currently in use in China and they account for more than a quarter of all the bikes in the country. In addition, the Electric Bike Worldwide Report predicts that there will be 2 billion e-bikes in use globally by 2050 and that eventually 84 million e-bikes could be sold each year. So, they must be good for something. But what?
According to e-bike manufacturer evelo, “There is a clear answer: e-bikes take some of the disadvantages of a regular bike and throw them out the window. These disadvantages include hills, crosswinds and headwinds, the rider’s age, fitness level or health and the inconvenience of arriving at work, a restaurant or a party in sweat from pedalling. An e-bike flattens hills, stifles the wind and reduces the time of travel. If you have a longer distance to cover and not much time to cover it, an e-bike will enable you to travel at 20 km/h without breaking a sweat.
In addition, if you’re elderly and have issues with your hips, knees, leg muscles, heart or lungs, riding an e-bike will enable you to pedal at whatever power you can comfortably muster. (This also applies to younger cyclists slowed by an injury.) You just turn on the electric motor when you run out of gas.”
But isn’t that cheating yourself of the benefits of a great workout? Well, evelo argues the contrary, declaring that “electric bikes make exercising accessible, whether you are fit or not. In fact, most e-bike riders get more exercise as they ride more often and for longer distances.”
And, by providing motor propulsion, e-bikes may even make it easier to get out of the habit of taking the car to travel long distances or on a route over hilly terrain. In other words, e-bikes are good for the environment since they can reduce the number of internal combustion vehicles on the road because, by eliminating the barriers that stop so many people from riding, such as their health, hills or distance, more people will ride.
This was confirmed by a 2012 study carried out by the University of Brighton. In the study, forty Bupa International employees were loaned e-bikes for six- to eight-week periods to find out how they could change people’s commuting habits.
Initial results showed that 63 % of people cycled more during the trial and 70 % of people said that they would cycle more if they had an e-bike. According to a member of the research team, “The proportion of participants who said they would cycle to work at least one day a week rose from 30 % to 75 % if they had an e-bike available.”
But there’s more. According to Cyclist magazine, e-bikes are safer than regular bikes. Most bicycle accidents take place at crossroads or roundabouts, where different traffic streams come together. The reason is that it will usually take a halted cyclist a few seconds to build up speed to get out of a danger zone or precarious situation. Having a small motor on the bike helps accelerate more quickly and may, the magazine suggests, keep you from jumping a red light because you have built up good momentum.
In addition, the motor will help riders keep up with the traffic flow more easily, which means fewer vehicles will be forced to overtake you, thereby preventing potentially hazardous situations.
Finally, having a motor on your bike will allow you to carry more accessories – such as camping equipment stored on a rack – over longer distances. Which may encourage you to leave the car behind the next time you take a trip to the country with your family.