While making breakfast for the kids in the morning and preparing their lunches to take to school, I listen to the radio. More often than not, it’s set to NPR. You know: news, weather, little tidbits on what’s going on in the world while the oatmeal cooks and the eggs are boiling. Between slicing up a banana and buttering some toast, I heard the words “electric bicycles” come from the speakers. Ears perked, I moved a bit closer, but it was only a brief mention of the growing importance of electric bicycles in China, with a passing comment that while in China there are currently 120 million ebikes cruising the streets, we bought “only” 200,000 of them last year here in the States.
“Interesting,” I thought to myself and made a mental note to use it as a reason for a post here. Later, while skimming through the most popular articles area in the New York Times app on my iPhone during lunch, I saw that a piece on ebikes was in the top 10.
“An Electric Boost for Bicyclists – Born in China, Electric Bikes Gain a Toehold in the West” is the article featured in the Global Business section of the February 1 edition of the Times. Confirming the high popularity ranking, there are already 95 comments to the piece as of this writing.
The article by J. David Goodman is worth a read and features comments from some industry notables such as consultant Jay Townley and ebike expert Ed Benjamin who is quoted as saying that ebikes are a “gift from God” for bike makers. Sure seems like the industry is treating them like they are.
Proving that there’s always something left to learn, here are a few things I learned:
- Electric bicycles are not officially permitted on the streets of New York.
- While producing far fewer emissions, a typical Chinese ebike goes through five batteries in its lifetime – each containing 20 to 30 pounds of lead (!). Ouch.
- Two distinct types of bikes are emerging as their popularity grows: the very bicycle-like pedal-assist in the US and Europe and the more scooter-like variant in China.
- Government planners are seeking to address the challenges that the increase in ebikes on the streets are causing traditional cyclists: do they belong in bike lanes/paths?
And again I ask, considering that Best Buy is taking on the category, that specialty bicycle retail has a general lack of enthusiasm toward them (described here in a previous post), and that many traditional cyclists not exactly embracing the concept (according to the article), who will own the electric bike retail channel going forward?