We are on the cusp of a micromobility revolution in the UK. Electric bicycles, or ‘e-bikes’ as they’re more commonly known, form one ‘tool’ in this revolutionary toolkit, alongside standard bicycles, electric scooters, skateboards and even self-balancing unicycles…!
E-bikes have quite a wide ranging definition and come in many forms, from ‘pedelecs’ which look like standard bicycles but provide an electric motor to assist the rider, to those vehicles that exhibit a form more similar to mopeds, which provide a more powerful electric motor that still requires pedalling up hills. For the sake of this article we’ll be focussing on the UK definition of e-bikes, which can be used in cycle lanes. This definition encompasses bicycles providing electric assistance up to a speed of 15.5mph. In the UK these types of e-bikes are not subject to licensing, helmet and other design requirements like more powerful electric bicycles ormopeds. To ride an e-bike like this you just need to be aged 14 or above! (Which, if you’re reading this article, I presume you are).
The availability of electric bicycles for private use has grown considerably in recent years. The key reasons for this include improvements to battery technologies (particularly weight and size) and motors (efficiency, alongside size and weight) as well as a reduction in price.
Furthermore, e-bike usage has followed the growth in standard bicycle usage, which has resulted in a modal shift from other forms of transport. UK planning policy, implemented and guided by transport consultancies, is continuing to enable cycling by making sure there is an adequate infrastructure which includes the number of cycle parking facilities at home, at workplaces and other destinations. This includes provision for parking heavier e-bikes and charging them too.
The demand for them has been immense but manufacturers, particularly in China, have managed to cater for demand whilst bringing down end costs for consumers. A win-win for those wanting to purchase an e-bike. Additionally, e-bikes have recently been included in the UK’s ‘cycle to work’ salary sacrifice scheme as the spending cap was increased, so you can save even more.
Why buy an e-bike?
They are somewhat more expensive than normal bicycles and you could argue that the electric assist partially removes the exercise element of cycling. The answer is that e-bikes enable cycling for ‘non-cyclists’. It’ll be rare that you would see an e-bike rider wearing lycra and cleats, but more common that your elderly neighbour, or somebody with a physical disability, might be using one or. Studies globally have shown that e-bikes are the key to enabling cycle usage for those who would not typically cycle and enable a shift from private car use as a result.
A missing link
The missing link for e-bike usage in the UK has been a lack of integration into cycle hire schemes, such as the Santander Cycle Scheme, which operates in various locations around the UK. A recent presentation by Smoove – a bike share service provider who implements bike sharing schemes – discussed how e-bike integration can really increase cycling levels. The data doesn’t lie. Smoove illustrated that, in Paris, which has one of the Europe’s longest-running bike hire schemes, operating since July 2007:
• E-bikes are used for 50% of rides, whilst only encompassing 35% of the total fleet
• Each e-bike is used for 15 rides per day (compared to 7 for standard bikes)
• Two thirds of users choose e-bikes over standard cycles when given the choice/availability
This data has shown that for both casual and regular bike share users, e-bikes are the preferred option, even though their cost is much greater. I, for one, would love to see just how beneficial it would be and the increase in cycling we would see, if e-bikes were to be integrated to a greater extent into shared cycle schemes across the UK. Perhaps then there would be no competition for the title ‘leader of the pack’!