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The appeal of e-bikes: 5 facts from a new study

Posted by on November 7th, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Jeff Bernards new e-bike-2

Conversions, like this bike with a unit from E-BikeKit,
are more common than e-bikes off the showroom floor.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

After years of being theoretically exciting, electrically assisted bikes are finally becoming common in the United States — enough for people to start studying their many benefits.

A new study by John MacArthur of OTREC at Portland State University offers some early results about the people e-bikes serve, the ways they get used and their possible role in reducing auto dependence in U.S. cities.

Here are a few useful facts from MacArthur’s presentation (PDF) at a PSU Friday transportation seminar last month:

1) Converting a bike to an e-bike is slightly more common than buying an e-bike from scratch. 48 percent of e-bike users purchased an e-bike, whereas 52 percent converted a standard bike (most commonly a mountain bike, but 13 percent of them a cargo bike or Xtracycle) by adding a battery and motor.

2) E-Bike conversions are usually cheaper than purchases, but not always. 70 percent of e-bike conversions and 46 percent of e-bike purchases were done for $1500 or less.

3) E-bike trips seem especially good at replacing car trips. The most common reason to go electric was to replace some car trips, though health, ability and comfort were also common reasons people took up e-bikes.

4) E-bikes turn people into daily riders. 55 percent of e-bikers rode their standard bike weekly or daily before the purchase. After the purchase, weekly or daily biking rose to 93 percent. Even the few (6%) who had never ridden bikes as an adult were now riding weekly or daily.

5) The biggest complaint with e-bikes is their weight. About 26 percent of respondents called it the main downside. (Another 8 percent, meanwhile, said there was no downside to riding an e-bike.) Fewer than 5 percent cited fear of theft or battery charging time.

Keep in mind that the 553 e-bike owners in this survey were reached via email, retailers, blogs, web forums, social media, meaning this is a disproportionately engaged and passionate audience. Still, many of the findings are worth thinking about, both for consumers considering e-bike purchases and for policymakers thinking about the benefits of promoting e-bikes.

Finally, here’s my favorite slide from MacArthur’s presentation, summarizing the potential for e-bikes to change the demographics of bicycle lovers:

I’m looking forward to the first time Ms. Strong and Fearless blows past me while I’m climbing Southeast Ankeny.

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Christopher Sanderson
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Someone just shared this with me today. http://www.stickybottle.com/latest-news/this-ground-breaking-invention-just-may-be-about-to-revolutionise-commuter-cycling-forever/

Looks pretty cool, and looks lighter! I think that’s my thing with e-bikes is their weight, and then I feel like I am dependent on the motor and battery to move all that weight around.

q`Tzal
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q`Tzal

Fearless 4% granny rocks the auto lanes as she owns the Hawthorne Bridge. Maybe she’s fearless or maybe she’s more afraid of dying in a “home”, either way she’s bad ass.

Rob
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Rob

I’ve definitely noticed an increase of commuters on e-bikes recently. A couple of observations: 1) Why do they often seem to be clunky, upright bikes (I don’t think I’ve ever seen one on the road that looks like a sleek, efficient machine). 2) A few of the people that I’ve seen riding them are obvously not used to riding fast – kinda like sticking a beginning cyclist on a fast descent…

BlueSurly
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BlueSurly

If anyone has questions about ebikes I’d be happy to answer. I commute 16 mi round-trip every day on an electric Surly 29er I converted. I love it, and everyone who’s given my bike a try seems to truly enjoy it.

@Christopher and @Anne, sorry but I would bet money against the FlyKly succeeding (even though I wish it would). Several reasons, but the short one is: how often is your bike close to an outlet? The batteries are internal. Another likely issue is the heat/ventilation.

@Rob: 1. Anything sleek would likely be factory-made, and most brands seem to favor utility over style. Neo and Stromer have some decent-looking ones. There’s also the comfort factor.
The conversions are always going to look a little Frankenstein-ish. There are just too many wires and parts to hide. I would gladly take something more subtle.

2. Scary to hear. It’s definitely a different skillset and requires much more defensive riding if you’re riding a powerful one.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

I haven’t seen very many e-bikes (not that I’ve noticed), but I have seen a few bikes in the last year or two that were powered by small gas motors. And of course going well above the 20mph maximum allowed for electric propulsion.

Craig Harlow
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Craig Harlow

20 MPH isn’t the max for electric propulsion, but in Oregon it is the maximum capable speed for the vehicle to still be allowed to operate under bicycle-specific laws, i.e. using the bike lane and sidewalks, etc. (“capable”, regardless of actual operating speed)

Craig Harlow
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Craig Harlow

Oregon E-bike definition http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/801.258

Craig Harlow
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Craig Harlow

Electric assisted bicycle means a vehicle that … Has a power output of not more than 1000 watts, and … is incapable of propelling the vehicle at a speed of greater than 20 miles per hour on level ground.

Craig Harlow
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Craig Harlow

Sorry about the multiple posts above. Was having trouble getting the site to accept normally okay characters like parenthesis and semicolons in the comment.

bendite
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bendite

Am I being a jag-off if I call them low powered mopeds?

joel
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joel

ebikes are super common in tokyo, especially with parents. regular new bikes run 300-500, while ebikes 800 and up. often you see baby seats on the front. the ones i tried did not go too fast, and i still was changing gears, which i didnt expect i would do on one of these. definitely i could see having one of these with a young child for sure.

Chris Anderson
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I love my e-assist Bullitt. The motor was what put us over the edge to be able to go carfree.

BlueSurly
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BlueSurly

@Chris Anderson those Bullitts look very cool, I’d like to go from 80% bike to 99 or 100%. Did you go through Splendid Cycles or DIY? How’s the ride when empty, or on rough roads?
Also I’m gonna have to read up on Couchbase, sounds interesting.

Evan Manvel
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Evan Manvel

I’m thrilled John did this study; E-bikes are definitely an interest in taking on the challenge of Seattle hills (as well as wayfinding, training on gear-shifting, social rides, bike escalators, etc.)

A clarification: these numbers are based on a self-driven survey, hence the respondents are neither random nor necessarily representative of the overall E-bike market.

For example, I expect that people who take the time to convert a bike to an E-bike are overrepresented, as they’re likely more enthusiastic and hence more likely to want to share their story, be on Facebook groups, etc. More casual users/buyers of pre-built E-bikes may be underrepresented.

El Biciclero
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El Biciclero

“I’m looking forward to the first time Ms. Strong and Fearless blows past me while I’m climbing Southeast Ankeny.”

This already happened to me going up SW Montgomery. As I was nearing the last little bend before the intersection with SW Patton, here comes a lady scooting right past me, gray hair fluffed out from under her helmet, as if the hill were nothing. I suffered a momentary loss of machismo, but then I saw her battery…

matthew vilhauer
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matthew vilhauer

when j.b. set the bike in the pic up I did a bit of maintenance & and tuning and was happy to help. it has a top speed of around 28mph and a 40 mile range on a single charge. yes lithium batteries have a lifespan and they can be recycled. just figure out the operating costs per mile and you’ll see this is a real winner. adding a e-assist to a bike you already have is much more effective than buying an E-bike, which is basically a moped with an electric motor. better handling, performance and if you do one like the bike in the pic it flies under the radar for a lot of thieves that look for the prettiest bike in the rack. it’s actually an early specialized lugged steel stumpjumper with shimano xt components.

Barbara Stedman
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Barbara Stedman

I see more and more ebikes passing me on SW Terwilliger. I always thought that eBikes are the answer for the hills in SW Portland. After all our 20-minute heighborhood radius is much smaller than in flatter areas of town. So an ebike can get you further and could entice people who can’t or don’t want to deal with the hills.

JP
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JP

Well, OK, I’ll be the bad guy here. Personally, I find this e-fad very discouraging. An e-car, yes, as a trade-off it’s monumentally better than a gasoline vehicle, if a person has to drive at all. An e-bike though is a huge step backward compared to a bicycle, the most energy efficient transportation ever invented. You can pick it up with one hand and it can take you anywhere in town for the cost of breakfast, which you had to eat anyway. E-bikes come with significant environmental manufacturing consequences, an ongoing thing, as mentioned above. If a person is physically challenged in some way, through age or infirmity, then absolutely, the e-boost is beneficial. But for an otherwise healthy person, which is nearly everybody buying one I think, and presumably already environmentally aware, why is an e-bike not an embarrassment? We are a nation of increasingly lazy-ass fat buggers, this e-trend seems to me to be further encouragement of that.

RW
Guest
RW

Lots of people who’ve asked me about e-bikes present valid excuses for wanting all the help they can get. I’m too fat, I have a bad knee, hills are too hard to pedal, I get too sweaty pedaling, daily commuting over a few miles saps my energy, short commutes are actually dangerous “junk miles” and on and on. Through these inquiries I’ve come to realize that not everyone is designed and built to be a proficient bicycle user. Amsterdam took a couple generations to become what it is, not an overnight intro of a simple wheel swap and futzfone bait and switch.

ward
Guest
ward

I have a road bike with an EcoSpeed retro fit on it. It allows me to bike commute the 25 miles one way that I couldn’t normally. And lest you think I’m “cheating” , I don’t turn on the battery to get to work. The EcoSpeed system powers all of the gears and I can still very the throttle and pedal input at will. Saves me $10 a day in gas and car upkeep.

Rich
Guest
Rich

There is a very passionate group of ebikers throughout the world, who absolutely love their machines. I’m one of them (converted my own). Check out endless-sphere and electricbike (.com). Retail ebikes are making good progress with weight reduction and functionality, except they are still too expensive IMO.

jeff bernards
Guest
jeff bernards

I love to ride my bike, I’m currently on an extended bike tour across the mediteranean. But for transportation, the e-bike is king. I go 3 times as far and alot faster! I rarely used my car, my transportatin of choice is the e-bike. On this tour I met a Swiss guy, may 75-78 years old touring with an e-bike, what are your grandparents/parents doing? The e-bike will replace the car before a bicycle will. For the planets sake, support the e-bike movement, it’s going to happen.
p.s. that’s my bike in the photo, battery location has really helped keep the weight well balanced versus putting the battery on the back rack.

Lit on Lithium
Guest
Lit on Lithium

I’m with Rich, and have been an avid e-bike enthusiast for about 12 years now. I ride for sport and exercise on quiet country roads and have a modified Tidaforce SX bike with 24Ahs of lithium on the rear rack. Since 2006 I’ve had about 15,000 miles of accident-free fun on it and seek out hilly rides I can no longer handle on my road bike. The bike is powerful and silent, and I regularly sneak up on wildlife on it. Even had a black her sighting a couple years ago in Sharon, CT. For those of us pushing 60 or better and about that many pounds over our ideal weight, an e-bike can still get us out there for fresh air and some moderate (read non-cardiac) exercise on the uphills. Long live e-assist!

Jason Kraft
Guest

Not that you guys are seniors but those 55+ are driving the e-bike market in the US in my opinion. Here’s a recent blog I wrote about it… http://www.ebikekit.com/blog/senior-market/