Tuesday, February 2, 2010

120 Million People Can't Be Wrong

Our tag line here at WalkBikeCT proudly states that the revolution will not be motorized. Should we be sure about that? After all, a number of blogs and newspapers (see Sunday's NY Times) have picked up on the growing popularity of electric bikes. (I admit, it's old news, but I was still shocked to read that there are 120 million "e-bikes" zipping along China's crowded roads.)

Although electric bikes have been around for many years, it appears that improvements in battery technology are making the prospect of an affordable electrically-assisted bike feasible. Who's got two grand to go 22 mph on this?

I am sure most many of this blog's readers (and contributors), those pesky non-motorized purists, will throw their mouses or iPhones in disgust, but e-bikes could do a lot to encourage a critical mass of people to give up their cars for commuting and shopping purposes.

Would making biking easier lead to greater ridership?

Most of us would agree that, thanks to lightweight construction and plentiful gears, biking already is pretty easy.

But maybe it's just not easy enough for Joe the Commuter, who wants to arrive at work without needing to change his clothes or recover from biking up and down the hills in his leafy suburban town on the way to the city. Joe the Commuter thinks exercise is for the gym, after all, not his trip to work.

I am not convinced, however, that my strawman everyman would bother with an e-bike.

First, if he wanted the thrill of the open road without the workout, why wouldn't he just get a moped or motorcycle? (Perhaps the answer, for now, would lie in the lack of regulation; I don't think that riding an e-bike requires registration and a special license.)

Second, according to trend spotters, e-bikes ain't cool. As the NY Times wrote:

In China, riding an electric bike conveys professional achievement, even a certain degree of wealth. People in the United States, said Ed Benjamin, an independent consultant in the bike business, don’t quite know whether these bikes are fashionable. The e-bike is “an ambiguous statement,” Mr. Benjamin said.
What's "ambiguous" about e-bikes? I guess the rider is trying to toe the line between different circles, and not succeeding in any. His car driving co-workers will think he's weird. Ordinary bicyclists will think he's fat and lazy. And his wife will worry about the onset of his mid-life crisis.

Maybe e-bikes are going revolutionize transportation, or maybe they're just another goofy fad. Anyone out there still have a moped?


  1. Still better than being a driver and choosing to support your car habit to the tune of $5-10K per year -- instead of, say, using your money to help end the killings, starvations, rapes, deaths and 25,000 children dying every day around the world in places like the Congo and Haiti.

    I think that's the message, but most people have their heads too buried in their a&&es (or TV entertainment) to see it.

  2. As a manufacturer of nearly 1000 electric bikes, I can attest that the buyers of these bikes are not using them for commuting or exercise. They are baby boomers who are buying them to have fun. Do they eventually use them for trips to the sore, bank, etc.? Yes, because it is more fun to go to the store that way. Do they get exercise on them? Absolutely since people tend to pedal most of the time while riding. Are they being eco friendly? Better than driving a car to the market. These people remember how much fun it was riding a bike as a kid but today there is just a hill or headwind that they do not want to fight. So, because they are not willing or capable to struggle up some hill, they should not be allowed to ride at all? Electric bikes allow them to get back on a bike and be a kid again. Go for it!