The silent revolution: is the electric bike a black swan?

The media and the public are staring at the lacklustre growth in the sales of the electrical car, and meanwhile it seems they miss the revolution happening under their nose.

For mobility in the city or the suburbs, the ideal traffic jam-beating device is not the electric car with limited radius. The electric car just solves the exhaust problem, but not the traffic jam. The added value is slim compared to the cheaper gas-guzzlers.

The electric bike extends crucially the use of the bike as preferred option. In a hilly city, biking just becomes this bit easier. For mid-life crisis professionals, it lets you work out without breaking a sweat, while commuting to work. In a clogged city, bikes are as fast as a car. If you feel comfortable biking 6 miles, the electric bike takes you double this distance, to the suburbs, home. This is why some cities do subsidise the purchase of electric bikes. Taking into account the cost of traffic jams and pollution, this is probably a good investment.

The drivers for this change are not the young and chattering classes. It is the silent majority. The pensioners who want to keep getting somewhere while they keep in shape. It are the people who have a house and a family, and start worrying about their health and lifestyle, and the world their kids will live in.

This is the group that normally delivers the momentum for sustainable policy change. Cities on the East coast and the West Coast are getting bike friendly fast, meaning better and faster commutes for bikers . In Europe the infrastructure is changing so fast all over the place that cars drivers are sometimes feeling excluded.

Taking this movement further the electric bike could be a catalyst for livable cities and more concentrated living. Preparing the ground for a quantum leap in carbon economy. The ideal commuter car is a bike. transforming not only the commute in a breeze, but also the suburb and the city in a place with better air, space and green. It takes little space, makes little noise and produces no pollutants. It uses nearly no energy, compared to the competition.

The technology that is still not good enough for cars is very well adapted for bikes. A battery charge brings you easily 40-50 km away, and a recharge is less difficult than with a car. After 80 km of biking, you need a little snack, don’t you? Moreover, the research for cars is bringing fast relief for bikes: better, lighter batteries, faster engines.

The radius of electric bikes makes it the preferred mode of transport for slow tourists in hilly areas, like the Dales or even the Alps.

Already there are more electric bikes than cars driving in China. Up to 30 million bikes are cruising the cities. This creates a mass market, so electric bicycles can be jump-started cheap in the rest of the world. Globally, sales are expected to grow importantly over the next decade. In Europe in some countries up to 53 % of the commuters claim they would be interested in replacing their current commute by public transport or car, by the electric bike.

The most important factor in my assessment is the eagerness the elderly take up the electric bike. Reasonably fit pensioners are the backbone of the electorate in many countries, and the really love their bikes. They will demand their safe roads and bike stalls all over the place.

What do you think?

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