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Are ebikes good for climate change?

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The Light Electric Vehicle Association says that 880,000 e-bikes were brought into the United States in 2021 alone.
In the U.S., the technology is mostly supported by people who like transportation and people who study climate change.
But fast growth is causing problems on roads and trails that weren’t made for electric bikes in the first place.
America has seen its share of big fights in the transportation world.

Freight trains replaced the canals. Big rigs replaced freight trains. Cars replaced horses.

Now cars will be replaced by… an e-bike?

People who swear “Yes” are in one corner. People will tell you that a bicycle with an electric motor can get thousands of miles per gallon compared to a typical car that runs on gas. E-bikes can also get a rider from A to B quickly and with no carbon emissions, just like an electric car but for a lot less money. Proponents say they are the way of the future. Just see what happens.

Mike Radenbaugh, founder and CEO of Rad Power Bikes, the largest e-bike company in the U.S., said, “I’ve been saying for years that the e-bike will be as common as the smartphone.” “Everything we do is to make a real car replacement… to help fuel this consumer revolution that’s already going on but hasn’t reached its tipping point yet.”

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On the other side, there are a lot of people who disagree. Some say safety, but studies show that people who ride e-bikes are more likely to get hurt seriously. Others say that making and throwing away batteries is bad for the environment. People who say that e-bikes don’t belong on American roads are probably the most common. They say that their average top speed of about 20 mph can annoy both slower pedal-powered cyclists and faster car drivers.

An article in The Atlantic called the e-bike a “monstrosity.” This was the latest point of contention in the fight over the e-bike.

So, is it a segue to the future or just another Segway that will fail?

E-bike sales are soaring
The Segway, a two-wheeled, electric, self-balancing vehicle, came out in 2001. At the time, inventor Dean Kamen famously told Time magazine that the vehicle would be to cars what cars were to horse-drawn carriages.

That never happened. Fast Company said that only 140,000 Segways were sold before the company stopped making them two years ago.

The e-bike has already blown those numbers out of the water. Light Electric Vehicle Association (LEVA), a trade group that promotes “micromobility” devices, says that 880,000 e-bikes were brought into the United States in 2021 alone. This was due to COVID-19 lockdowns and high gas prices. In 2022, the number of imported vehicles is expected to go down a little, to 750,000. This means that there will still be millions of these vehicles on U.S. roads and trails.

Ed Benjamin, who started LEVA and is now its chairman, thinks that the ceiling could be much higher. Since the 1990s, he has worked as a professional in the field of e-bikes, which has taken him all over the world. He has seen how they have taken over East Asian and European cities. He thinks that more than 350 million are in use around the world.

“People ask me, ‘Will (a change) ever happen?’ and I kind of laugh,” Benjamin said. “It’s been happening, but we’re not used to it in the U.S.”

Benjamin thinks that the fact that people around the world, including in the U.S., are moving toward cities means that electric bikes, scooters, skateboards, and other similar devices are here to stay. Even though some experiments with sharing e-scooters in U.S. cities have failed in recent years, overall sales are expected to keep going up.

“Micromobility is a thing that happens, and it’s happening more and more. The need is shown by the fact that billions of people are moving into cities that are getting bigger and bigger. “That’s the real truth,” he said.

In the U.S., the technology is mostly supported by people who like transportation and people who study climate change. Ari Matusiak, CEO of Rewiring America, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that works to electrify the energy and transportation sectors, thinks that e-bikes and other similar technologies are essential to reducing carbon dioxide emissions and slowing climate change.

The transportation sector, which is still mostly made up of gas-powered cars, is the biggest source of greenhouse gases in the country. Switching to electric cars and trucks will help cut down on pollution, but they are still pretty expensive and consumers have a lot of questions about where and how to charge them.

Studies show that most car trips in the U.S. are short, which makes the e-bike a good option. Matusiak’s favorite number is that about 60% of people who commute to work every day go less than 6 miles.

E-bikes for beginners now cost about $1,000 and can be charged with a regular wall plug. On the road, they can go up to 20 mph on their own power without a license or breaking the law in most places.

That’s a good mix of things for people who want to avoid traffic jams and have a smooth ride instead. The potential is clear when you consider that most Americans already know how to ride a bike.

Matusiak said, “I think of it less as a replacement for a bicycle and more as an alternative to a car.”

mistakes and holes
Even though there are a lot of benefits on paper, recent Facebook posts by REI, a multibillion-dollar outdoor goods store with progressive business practices, show that e-bikes can divide even open-minded audiences.

REI’s head of government affairs, Taldi Harrison, says the company backs a federal E-BIKE Act that would cut the price of an e-bike by 30% for American consumers. REI and other supporters of the measure wanted it to be included in the Inflation Reduction Act that was passed this year, but it was cut out. Taldi told USA TODAY that REI’s Cooperative Action Network has sent more than 36,000 messages of support for a campaign to pass it independently. This is the most support for any campaign to date.

But REI’s campaign to promote e-bikes on social media has also gotten a lot of bad feedback. On one post, commenters called e-bike riders lazy, pointed out that the bikes are often charged on electric grids that are still powered by fossil fuels, and worried about e-bike riders taking over bike lanes and trails.

Concerns like these, as well as cost and safety, make up a pool of criticisms, some of which are more difficult to answer than others.

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E-bike supporters say that the fact that they are powered by electricity makes them much more accessible to the general public. A 2020 study in the Journal of Transport & Health found that they are used more often than regular bikes. People with disabilities know this all too well.

Climate hawks also point out that the batteries in e-bikes are a fraction of the size of those in electric cars, and that their carbon footprints are much smaller than those of both EVs and gas-powered cars. As sales of batteries have gone up, so have worries about how to get rid of them. Manufacturers say they have responded by joining an industry-wide recycling program that started this year.

Whether or not e-bikes and other similar devices can be safely added to the nation’s transportation system is probably the most important question. The data on e-bike safety isn’t complete yet, but so far it looks like e-bikes are more dangerous than their fully pedal-powered predecessors.

This year, a Dutch study found that people who ride e-bikes are 1.6 times more likely to end up in the emergency room than people who ride regular bicycles. This is true even in a country like the Netherlands, which has a lot of bike infrastructure. Another report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission came out last month. It said that from 2017 to 2021, injuries caused by e-bikes, scooters, and other similar devices “jumped by 127% to 77,200,” while deaths went from 5 to 48.

There are also times when lithium-ion batteries, which are used in many e-bikes, can catch fire.

“Because of the rise in injuries, the CPSC wants to remind people to be careful and safe when using these products,” the commission said.

Even some people who like the idea of micromobility say that the fast growth of e-bikes and scooters is causing problems on roads and trails that weren’t made for them.

“E-bikes don’t belong anywhere in particular on American infrastructure,” Aaron Gordon, a VICE journalist and New York City cyclist, wrote in September. “This makes them more frustrating, more dangerous, and more annoying than they could be otherwise.”

Louie Castoria, a professional liability lawyer in San Francisco, says that the problem is made worse by questions about classification and insurance.

“States and cities don’t all agree on how we should treat e-bikes in the same way. For example, you don’t have to have liability insurance,” Castoria said. He also advised e-bike owners to talk to their home and auto insurers to find out what would be covered in case of an accident or theft.

Culture is the biggest problem?
Culture and infrastructure are related to the question of safety. Compared to cities in Europe and Asia, biking in many places in the U.S. is already dangerous because there aren’t enough bike-friendly ways to get around, like bike lanes protected by curbs or parked cars. After working for decades to get even a small amount of these protections in U.S. cities, many traditional cyclists find it hard to imagine quickly finding enough space for both traditional and electric bikes.

“Until then, the lack of proper infrastructure to support what should be a game-changing mode of transportation will not only make it harder for people to use it, but may also keep them from enjoying the simple bicycle,” Gordon said in his conclusion.

Many people who like e-bikes say that these problems can be solved or are just growing pains that are outweighed by the dangers of cars and the benefits of e-bikes. Radenbaugh says that 36 states have used model e-bike laws, which makes the laws more uniform.

Even though he acknowledges safety concerns and says he wants American cities to have better infrastructure, Radenbaugh points out that more than 40,000 people die on U.S. roads every year, which is a much higher rate per person than in countries like Germany and the Netherlands, which are big fans of e-bikes.

“Cars that weigh 5,000 pounds and have 500 or 600 horsepower or more and can go as fast as they want with no limit,” Radenbaugh said. “If there’s one thing that needs more rules, it’s the auto industry.”

It’s one thing to make arguments based on numbers like these.

But William Telegadis, who started Electrified Rides, a store in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, that sells e-bikes, says that the devices themselves may be the most interesting thing about them. And it’s the same one that made the car king in the first place:

Freedom to move around.

When Telegadis started his e-bike consulting business in Pennsylvania in 2016, many of his customers were looking for a way to relax or get back in shape. But he has always thought that e-bikes could change the way people get to work, and he says that most of his customers now agree with him. A common first question is, “Which model has enough battery power to get you to and from work?”

He says that the test drive takes care of the rest most of the time.

“They find us. “They’re miserable in the car because they’re stuck in traffic and can’t park where they want to go,” Telegadis said. “They get on a bike and ride it, and that’s when they realize something.”

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