Advances in Li-ion battery technology have not only propelled the electric car industry but also new markets such as e-bikes. Although the first patent for an electric bike can be traced to 1895, it's only recently that this niche industry boomed. They're particularly popular in the UK where sales during the first year of the pandemic surged. According to an annual market review by the Bicycle Association in the UK, e-bike sales far outstripped those of electric cars.
The review notes that 160,000 electric bikes were sold in 2020, or almost one e-bike every three minutes, whereas electric cars garnered 108,000 sales.
The comparison may sound unfair considering the much higher cost of an electric car. However, it's worth noting that e-bikes are not eligible for hefty subsidies, unlike electric car buyers who receive discounts worth thousands of pounds from the government.
In any event, the fact that both segments are growing rapidly is good news as the UK struggles to transition to more environmentally friendly transportation. By 2035, the sale of all fossil fuel cars will be banned under the country's green recovery plan.
The Bicycle Association claims that the e-bike market was worth £2.3 billion in 2020, up 45% year-on-year. Around 64,000 jobs are directly attributed to the segment in the UK. This trend is expected to grow rapidly over the coming years.
Deloitte projected a bull market for e-bikes in late 2019, predicting "that tens of billions of additional bicycle trips per year will take place in 2022 over 2019 levels. This increase in bicycling will double the number of regular bicycle users in many major cities around the world where cycling to work is still uncommon."
Between 2020 and 2023, 130 million e-bikes will likely be sold, Deloitte found. These predictions were made before the pandemic which has greatly accelerated interest and sales in e-bikes. More and more people are now recognizing the need for recreation, fitness, and commuting as an alternative to car-based trips and crowded public transit.
E-bikes appeal to a wide swath of people because they combine the best of both worlds thanks to an electric motor that assists pedaling. You can ride an e-bike in three distinct modes: purely under human power, purely under electric power, or a combination of motor-assisted pedaling for easier work and higher speeds (50% higher speed on average).
They're eco-friendly, compact, and help you stay in shape. When you run out of breath, you can also switch to electric mode and let the battery do all the hard work. They're also great for making off road trips together with people who otherwise couldn't have kept up with a bike climb up mountain passes or across lengthy and rough terrain.
For commuters, e-bikes can sometimes be faster than either cars or the subway depending on the urban environment. The motor-assisted mode allows commuters to go to the office without fear that sweat might stain their clothes. And unlike electric cars that require special charging stations, the lightweight e-bike can be charged virtually anywhere you can find a plug.
The e-bike has come a long way since the trusty 'moped' that first successfully combined a bicycle with a motor scooter ages ago. Now, e-bikes are poised to go mainstream so don't act surprised if they take over.