Next time you see a cyclist climbing a steep hill without panting, look at their bike. They might be riding an e-bike, which has a battery to take some of the sweat out of cycling. These bikes may help make cycling more mainstream. According to some, e-bikes could even be better than electric cars for reducing emissions and congestion.
The attraction of e-bikes
While middle aged men in lycra (MAMILs) may scoff at e-bikes, people who actually own one like them. Most e-bikes use the Pedelec standard, where electricity flows only when you peddle and cuts out at 25kmh. One battery charge provides about 80-100km riding range, more than enough for most people.
In fact, people with e-bikes ride 2-3 times more often than people with conventional bicycles. This is because they make it easy to get around in an ordinary, everyday sense. It is easier to cycle to the post office than to drive the car and park in a 15-minute zone.
They are also good for your health. E-bike owners tend to give up car trips, which increases their regular physical activity. The fact e-bike trips replace car trips is a strong reason why e-bikes may be better for the environment than electric cars.
Why e-bikes are better than electric cars
Trials of e-bikes in WA found strong evidence for improving the attraction and convenience of cycling and offering a real alternative to commuting by car. Studies show:
- 35-50% of e-bike trips replace car-trips
- In Europe, an e-bike reduces car travel by 4km a day
- In Australia and the US, e-bikes reduce car travel by 8km a day.
While e-bikers typically feel safer on them than on conventional bikes, that does not mean they are safer. In some cases, people who are not used to cycling lack the road awareness required. Obviously, the greater maximum speed of e-bikes contributes to the risk of injury compared to the average speed of conventional bikes.
Injuries on E-bikes
US research suggest e-bikers are more at risk of serious injury. It found injured e-bike riders were more likely to need go to hospital, 17% of injuries were serious internal injuries, and e-bike injuries were more likely to involve collisions with pedestrians.
However, when researchers control for other factors like age and gender, age is an important factor. Older cyclists were more likely to fall while getting on or off their bikes, were not used to handling bikes, had lower muscle strength and poorer vision. Even so, e-bikes do provide a healthy way for older people – or anyone – to get around. Good training could help.
What puts us off cycling anyway?
Many people are put off cycling because they think they don’t belong to the cycling set. This is typically lycra-clad athletes who spend thousands of dollars on fancy toys. But there is no reason why cycling cannot be a normal, daily activity, with no special clothing required and entry-level prices. Some question the need for helmets if the right cycling infrastructure were in place.
Australia does not promote cycling in any real way. Few places in Sydney have usable bike lanes. For the most part, motorists act as if they have right of way. Australia is essentially a driving, not a biking culture.
Perhaps it is time to normalise cycling and the best way to start is with e-bikes. E-biking is one way of taking the pain out of cycling and an opportunity to re-educate drivers and cyclists about sharing the roads.