Why E-bikes are at the forefront of future urban mobility5 minutes
In U.S. metro hubs from NYC to Portland to San Fran, more people are commuting on two-wheels than ever before, catching up with the way two-thirds of the world gets to work. Driving this culture change are the cities themselves – many are investing in bike share programs, bike lanes and more pedestrian-friendly streets as part of major initiatives to increase transportation options, enhance road safety and improve the environment.
At the forefront of this two-wheeled revolution is the e-bike.
Just like a bicycle, but equipped with a motor, batteries and a control system, this emerging mobility alternative is predicted to radically transform the way smart city-goers get around.
A growing need for urban commute-friendly vehicles
Americans are living longer, urban areas are getting denser, and traffic in major U.S cities is among the worst in the world. Many city planners have taken note and are making it easier to bike. Interest group Peopleforbikes.com says in the past two decades infrastructural and cultural changes have made biking much, much better in parts of some U.S. cities. It ranks Portland, Ore., Washington, DC and San Diego as the “best bike cities.”
Already the vast majority of Americans live in urban areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which forecasts that the number will continue to rise. As municipalities plan for future growth, the one-car-per-person model won’t be sustainable. This is creating a vast market for commute-friendly vehicles that don’t require fossil fuel, sweat power or quads of steel. E-bikes fit the bill.
In Europe and China, e-bikes have already exploded in popularity, and global sales are forecast to reach approximately 40 million units, according to Statista.com. In 2017, the U.S. market grew by 25% from the previous year.
The Economist reports that in the Netherlands, the most bike-friendly region in the world, nearly one in three new bike purchases last year were electric, with 40% of e-bike riders choosing this mode of transport to replace car rides.
Smart transport for smart cities
Indeed, Copenhagen serves as a model for cities around the world – working for decades with a range of stakeholders to ensure its bicycle infrastructure is one that is safe and enjoyable to navigate, contributing to a culture in which 41% of all rides to work or school take place on a bike. The city’s future-forward approach integrates road operators, intelligent transportation, governance and data, viewing cycling as an effective means towards attaining a sustainable, human-centered, CO2-neutral capital.
In U.S. smart cities like Colorado Springs, public officials are collaborating with private partners like Panasonic, a leader in smart city initiatives, to determine which technology developments can best improve city services and citizens’ quality of life. They are looking at e-bikes as a smart way to achieve environmental and mobility goals.
Recently, San Francisco’s municipal transportation agency added 250 e-bikes to its bike share program, touting this tech as “the next step in San Francisco’s mobility future.” In Pittsburgh, electrically-assisted tricycles are used by UPS to deliver packages, providing the smart city with a solution to reduce traffic and improve air and noise quality.
During peak hours in congested cities, e-bikes can provide a faster, cheaper way from A to B versus sitting in a cab or car in traffic. As urban areas grow ever denser, space will be at a premium – e-bikes take up less space, on the road, and to park. And the climate benefits of a cycling culture are undeniable. Research conducted by the Municipality of Copenhagen found that cyclists reduce CO2 emissions by 20,000 tons a year, on average.
Smart city planners are investing in tech that promotes the health and well-being of their citizens. Urban mobility is one area they are focused on. While all two-wheeled vehicles offers a healthier commute than riding in cars or on rails, e-bikes provide low impact exercise, making them a viable option for those of all ages and fitness levels, even individuals with injuries.
Urban biking often appeals to the fit and fearless, but the addition of an electric motor opens up this mode of transport to a broader population not necessarily in it for the carb burn. An e-bike can be operated strictly on battery power or by pedal power, but optimal energy efficiency is achieved by doing both at the same time. This enables riders to cover a lot more ground in less time, carry heavier loads, and “flatten hills” for considerably greater ease on challenging terrain.
Since e-biking is not as sweat-inducing, it’s a more viable option for those who wear a suit or dress to work. Employers are taking notice, enticing their staff with special incentives for riding electric bikes to work. Attesting to the physical health advantages of commuting this way, the city of Copenhagen reports that residents who cycle request 1.1 million fewer sick days.
E-bike enthusiasts also cite the mental benefits of this thrill ride, likening it to the feeling of freedom first felt as a child taking to two wheels. Commuters arrive at work or home relaxed, with no need to decompress, a vast difference from their mental state after sitting in a car in city traffic.