The past few years have seen a marked increase in the number of electric bicycles (or “e-bikes”) in the U.S.
This primer deals specifically with low-speed electric bicycles as defined by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. E-bikes are most frequently “pedal-assist” or “muscle-assist,” meaning the rider must be pedaling for the electric motor to engage. E-bikes may also come equipped with a throttle that allows the bike to be propelled without pedaling.
The bicycle’s low-speed electric motor provides a boost of power to climb hills, extend the range of trips where a bicycle can be used, allow current bicycle users to bike more often and farther, provide a new recreation option for people who want to bike and in general, extend the range of any ride.
Low-speed e-bikes are as safe and sturdy as traditional bicycles and move at speeds similar to conventional bikes. E-bikes are emissions-free, low impact and operate silently. E-bikes vary widely in terms of shape and size, but the different types closely align with those of regular bicycles. E-bikes resemble traditional bicycles in both appearance and operation and do not function similarly to mopeds, scooters and other motorized vehicles.
According to a 2018 bicycle industry analysis, e-bikes sales increased 83 percent between May of 2017 and May of 2018, and e-bikes made up 10 percent of overall bikes sales in the U.S. for that time period. While the Asian and European e-bike markets are more robust, industry advocates hope to continue to expand U.S. e-bike sales.. Most major U.S. bicycle brands sell e-bikes, and bicycle manufacturers have moved or are positioning themselves to move to the U.S. to capitalize on the growing market.
Electric bicycles cost on average $2,000 – $3,000, versus a $1,000 average investment for a mid-range traditional commuter bicycle. An investment in an electric bicycle is appealing to those who are looking to replace short trips typically made by car, therefore the investment can be justified if the buyer factors in the reduced cost of car maintenance and fuel.
Reasons for purchasing an e-bike vary, with some looking for a cheap commuting mode and others looking for a less physically demanding bicycle option or help bicycling through hilly areas. E-bikes may also provide a more attractive and feasible choice to take short trips. According to U.S. Department of Transportation survey data, half of all trips in the U.S. are three miles or less in length, a distance widely regarded as bikeable for most adults and even more feasible for electric bicycle riders. Seventy-two percent of those trips are currently made by cars and fewer than 2 percent by bicycle. E-bikes also provide a new transportation and recreation option for people with disabilities and those with physical limitations.
E-bikes have even been embraced by the nation’s rapidly expanding bike-share systems. In 2011, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville launched the country’s first electric bicycle sharing system, with two bike-share stations on their campus. In 2015, Birmingham, Ala., unveiled a citywide bike-share