It’s the dawn of a new age in transportation. With concern growing over the environmental effects of fossil fuels, more and more people in urban dwellings are looking to alternative options. And while public transportation is a viable and available option to many commuters throughout the United States, we’re seeing some interesting trends in major cities like New York and Chicago, where bikes have become the alternate transportation option of choice. New York’s Citi Bikes have become have become as nearly ubiquitous on the streets as the famous yellow cabs and Chicago’s Divvy bikes have been such a massive success they’re expanding into the suburbs. However, many people see the effort behind biking several miles to and from work as a major drawback — and that’s where electrical bikes (or e-bikes) come in.
When you think “electrical bike,” you might immediately imagine scooters or small motorcycles but the electrical bike of today is much sleeker and streamlined than its bulkier counterparts. What also separates it from its counterparts and puts it in its own category is that it does require some peddling; but thanks to a small motor, the user gets more power per peddle than a traditional bike (for those who are still unclear on it, check out this great video describing the whole process). An added benefit of e-bike models that do use batteries, however, is that those who live in deregulated energy markets who are already saving on greener electricity with companies like Dominion Gas or Greenbacker can put this savings into their transportation use as well, further reducing their use of fossil fuels.
It used to be that e-bikes were difficult to find and costly, but that is no longer the case thanks to a growing interest in them by both startups like Salem-based Superpedestrian and even German car manufacturer Audi has created their own sleek and stylish e-bike. The industry is new with few companies involved in the U.S. at the moment, but e-bike usage has been rapidly growing abroad in places like Israel and the chronically congested Mexico City due to their affordability compared to a car or motorcycle and also their ease of use. At this point most models can only go between 20 and 30 miles at a time, but at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Flykly showed their smart wheel which can travel an amazing 60 miles without having to recharge.
There are a few hurdles to e-bikes in America at the moment, however. There are, of course, laws and regulations which vary by state. What the bike is classified as might depend on which state you’re in which means you might have to get a special license or permit to drive it. For example if you have an e-bike in Alabama it’s considered a motorcycle, which means that you’re legally required to wear a helmet while wearing it, and you must obtain an M class drivers license to drive it. In Indiana, however, it doesn’t have that classification, and it has no unique laws dictating any aspects of its use. Obviously then, there’s greater demand for e-bikes in Indiana than in Alabama.
The other hurdle for those who are interested is the price point. Hobbyists and handymen (or handywomen) can convert an existing bike into an e-bike using guides or tutorials easily found online. For those of us who don’t know a lug nut from a wrench, however, the costs can be a big burden. There are cheaper options like buying electrical wheels to place on a bike you already own which are generally priced between $200-$300, or you can go all-in a purchase a fully electric bike, which can easily cost over $1,000.
Many e-bike owners do, however, make back the money they spent through time and gas saved, making them a worthy investment. The bottom line in e-bikes now seems to be that they are best suited for urban commuters. Given their price, distance abilities, and compactness they’re ideal for those who either can’t afford, or simply have no place to put a car, aren’t interested in a motorcycle, yet want some freedom of transportation for relatively short distances. With the growing innovations in the field, I wouldn’t be surprised to see e-bikes becoming more ubiquitous on your morning commute and expanding their popularity beyond the concrete jungles.