While the electric bike dates back to 1895 when Ogden Bolton Jr. was granted the very first U.S. patent for an electric bicycle, their latest reincarnation is a far cry from the bulky and cumbersome model Bolton had envisioned. In fact, todays version can be as streamlined and light as any other bike out there.
They’re part of a new movement towards greener and more commuter friendly options for urban populations. Given the nature of most major cities traffic and commutes are only getting longer and more congested, which is only serving to exacerbate existing issues like smog and other forms of air pollution. That doesn’t take into account both the upfront and long term costs that come with owning a car in a city. So, more and more cities like New York and Chicago are introducing bike sharing programs and creating more bike lanes that make it easy and efficient to bike to work or just down the street for some groceries. The programs have been massively successful for both cities. E bikes have taken off overseas in places like Israel where they’re just catching on to China where overpopulation and heavily dense urban areas mean that biking is a way of life. In fact, the Chinese are probably the biggest fans of the electric bike with well over a million on the roads. Hoping to build off this trend are companies, both big and small, producing the next generation of electric bikes, or e bikes as they’re widely known.
E bikes are essentially bikes that, with the assistance of a small motor, give the user more power per push of the pedal. They’re a much greener option than motorcycles or mopeds in that they are powered by electricity. Granted, electricity isn’t all that green, but if you live in a deregulated state and get your power from companies that utilize solar like Greenbacker or natural gas like Columbia Gas you can make your carbon footprint even smaller. If the concept is still confusing to you, here’s a great video that shows you both how to charge your bike and how to use it.
As for buying an e bike, that’s a whole other ball game. Thanks to their growing popularity there are dozens of companies who have gotten into the game. It really depends on the level of electrical integration you want and how much money you’re willing to spend. If you already have a great bike you love but could use a little extra boost from the Copenhagen Wheel is a fantastic option you can just attach to your bike wheel. However if you’re looking for something more top of the line, the Haibike Xduro Electric Mountain Bike will take you from the city streets to the rugged mountain tops with easy, just get ready to shell out a pretty penny for it. Of course, there are options out there for the do-it-yourselfers as guides to create an electric bike of your own are widely available online.
There are some hurdles for the industry to tackle before you’ll see e bikes flooding streets across the nation. One of them are the laws and regulations both on federal and state level that do little to encourage adoption of this greener form of transportation. On the federal level there was a 2002 law that President Bush signed declaring e bikes with speeds under 20 mph and use less than 750 watts of power exempt from motor vehicle laws. However, many states created laws that go as far as requiring you to get a motorcycle license to operate an e bike. In fact, as of now 47 states have bypassed the federal law to create their own laws and regulations for e bikes, making getting them on the roads (legally) even more of a hastle.
Of course, for those who are truly committed to getting and using an e bike, these laws are just part of the routine and relatively small hurdles compared to what you’ll save in both time and money once you have one on the road. E bike companies are looking beyond just urban riders too, namly Flykly who has just revealed their e bike that travels up to 60 miles on a single charge (current models only go about 20-30 miles). So, perhaps sooner than you think, you’ll be seeing e bikes on the streets of your town, big or small.