E-bikes have grown in popularity over the past few years and are now the top-selling electric vehicle in the US. Along with their increased presence on California streets has come a backlash. While some of the ire has come from people driving cars who don’t want to share “their” streets with any kind of bike rider, some of the hostility toward e-bikes has come from other bike riders. Some dedicated bicyclists think an electric boost is cheating. Others complain about e-bikes going too fast on shared-use paths or in bike lanes.
What all these complaints (from people in cars or on bikes) have in common is a fear of something new. If you’re old enough to remember everyone being up in arms over the proliferation of shared e-scooters just a few years ago, the pattern will be familiar to you. Now, scooters are a popular and well-used form of shared micromobility with few complaints.
There are good reasons to support the e-bike boom, even if you never want to ride one. Here are just a few.
The e-bike boom contributes to safety in numbers
Studies have shown that the more people ride bikes, the safer it is to ride a bike. So, if adding e-bikes to California streets means an increase in the number of people on bikes, we are all safer. Safety in numbers is one way the e-bike boom contributes to overall bicycle safety.
More bike riders = more demand for safe bikeways
The “windshield perspective” of people who mainly get around by car often dominates public meetings about changes in local streets. The more people who ride bikes — and therefore understand the importance of including connected, protected bikeways — the more voices in the room advocating for bike facilities.
Perhaps, someday, so many people will get around by bike that communities will install wider bikeways with fast and slow lanes for people biking at different speeds. (We can dream!)
E-bikes are a gateway drug to the joy of bike riding
Some people who ride standard bikes feel like adding an electric boost (or, heaven forbid, a throttle!) is cheating. The bicycle is a beautiful machine, efficient and elegant. It’s terrific exercise — so why ruin it with a motor?
Classic bikes are fabulous for transportation and exercise. So are e-bikes. Studies show that people who ride e-bikes get as much exercise as those on conventional bikes because, although e-bikes require less energy per mile, their riders tend to make longer bike trips.
For people who don’t feel they can ride a conventional bike because of physical limitations, challenging topography, or the need to transport goods or passengers, the electric motor provides a 100% boost in their time on a bike. E-bikes give people who may feel unsure of their physical fitness the confidence to go for a ride, providing an introduction, or re-introduction, to the joy of bike riding.
Electric bikes make active transportation accessible to a broader range of riders
Not everyone can ride a conventional bike. People with health conditions or those just getting older may need a boost to get up a hill or to get home. Electric bikes offer a helping hand to parents who need to transport kids to school and after-school activities or folks hauling groceries.
Someone with a long commute might not have time to get there on a classic bike, but the extra speed of an e-bike and the boost can help them arrive on time. E-bikes are crucial to biking in a warming climate because they make it viable to ride on hotter days. An e-bike might enable someone to get to a job that’s hard to reach by public transit, saving them hundreds of dollars a month in driving expenses.
Yes, e-bikes are fun (as are standard bikes). But they’re also eminently practical, making bike riding a viable transportation choice for more Californians. E-bikes make biking more equitable and open to more people, and that’s something we should all be able to get behind.
E-bikes have the potential to make biking a mainstream mode of transportation in the US
Creating the conditions that allow biking to be a mainstream, common, and comfortable way to get around California communities is central to CalBike’s mission. Since most car trips are less than 3 miles, many more people should be able to use bikes (classic or electric) for everyday transportation.
Infrastructure is critical to getting more people on bikes, but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. E-bikes make this joyous, healthy, low-carbon form of transportation accessible to a broader range of ages and abilities, and we hope all bike advocates will join us in welcoming e-bike riders on our shared streets.
E-bikes can help push California past the tipping point to reimagine our neighborhoods for a post-carbon future. We dream of a world with ample room to safely walk and bike to get around our communities, with reliable public transportation for longer distances and passenger vehicles to supplement these modes. To get to that world, bicycling can’t be exclusive or only for those brave and fit enough to tangle with fast-moving traffic on roadways designed for speed over safety. We must welcome everyone who wants to pedal to our movement — the slow rollers and fast movers, the young and old, and everyone in between.
This is the final of a series of articles on e-bike safety. You can find links to the rest of this series on our e-bike resource page.