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4 key reasons why e-bikes are the future of urban mobility

by Harry Maxwell, on April 12, 2021

5 MIN READ

In a time of booming demand for truly sustainable and accessible mobility, there’s one mode that leads the peloton. Here’s why e-bikes are the way forward for more efficient urban travel - today, and long into the future.

Transport is the fastest growing source of fossil-fuel-produced carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), the largest contributor to climate change. Cars are also responsible for 75% of all air pollution -  which causes half a million premature deaths a year in the EU.

There is hope for us. A recent study using data from 25 cities in the European Union has estimated that life expectancy could be increased by up to 22 months in the most polluted cities if we can reduce long-term particle levels to meet the World Health Organization's recommendations.

Our best chance of doing this is the wide-spread adoption of e-bikes. Here are 4 key reasons why e-bikes are the future of urban mobility.

1. Europe bets on bikes

According to the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), cities spent €1bn on Covid-related cycling measures in 2020, creating at least 600 miles (1,000km) of cycle lanes, traffic-calming measures and car-free streets.

Due to the continued demand for cycling post-pandemic, Paris will create 200 miles of new routes; Lisbon will double the length of theirs.

Governments’ firm backing of cycling has undoubtedly rubbed off on the population. More electric bikes were sold in Germany in 2020 than electric cars were sold in all of Europe.

The adoption of cycling across Europe has increased because of the pandemic, but we shouldn't expect everything to go back to the way it was. 2 in 3 respondents from a survey across 21 European cities said that they don’t want to return to pre-pandemic pollution levels. To ensure this, 21% said that they were planning on cycling to work more often.

Electric bikes are here to stay.

If 1 in 10 car commuters switch to biking, we can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25.4 million tonnes a year. (Panasonic)

2. E-bikes replace cars

The use of electric scooters has been a trend that has swept the world in the last 5 years. It is said that 1 in 3 scooter trips replace the use of a car, which is about the same for bike-sharing (Zoov data).

Scooters are primarily used for shorter trips (>5km), so many people use scooters as opposed to walking to their destination. In this case, it’s not impossible that the use of e-scooters likely increase overall transportation emissions by drawing people away from walking, biking or taking public transit.

This is where bikes can help solve the problem. Bikes, and e-bikes in particular, are more suitable for longer journeys where walking is not a viable option. The average trip lengths for bikes and e-bikes are 7.1km and 11.4 km respectively, which suggests that e-bikes are going to be taken more often in lieu of a car.

In fact, one survey found that 28% of e-bike buyers bought the e-bike as a substitute for a car.  

In cities in the US where there are bike-sharing schemes, commuting by cycling increased by an average of 20% whilst car use decreased. There is little doubt that bike sharing is helping to make our cities less congested and less polluted.

Copenhagen found that cyclists reduce CO2 emissions by 20,000 tons a year, on average.


Electric bikes replace cars.

3. E-bikes are the fastest way to get around

In Copenhagen, 62% of residents bike to work, school, or university. When asked why, just under half of respondents said because it was faster. More people said this than those who cited health or environmental benefits.

On an e-bike, a cyclist can reach average speeds of about 22 kilometers per hour - 50% faster than the average 15 kilometers per hour for a standard bike. This increased speed could cut journey times by two-thirds.

The research below shows a breakdown of the distance and time it takes people in Europe to get to work.

Graph: The time it takes for people to commute to and from work over different distances.
Source: Sdworx


Using the average speeds of the electric bikes given above, it could be said that 30% of people - at the very least - that commute 0-4 km would be faster on a bike. For those with journeys of 5-9km, a staggering 50% of them would be faster if they went via bike.

Perhaps we should ask, what’s stopping them?

Electric bikes are faster.

4. A mode of transport for the masses

There is also an increased demand for more ‘active’ forms of mobility.

Scooters contribute to a sedentary lifestyle whereas bikes get people moving.  

In the past, one of the biggest downsides of taking a bike to work has been arriving at the office in need of a shower. This has changed with electric bikes as people can now commute to the office via bike without working up a sweat. Crucially, however, they are still keeping the ‘active’ aspect of their travel since the bikes - whilst very easy to pedal - are not effortless per se.

An e-bike ride is more akin to a stroll than a sprint.

Deloitte

In this case, it’s not a leap to imagine that people that would usually be worried about their fitness levels would be more keen to hop on a saddle if the bike was electric.

Deloitte also insists that bikes are getting safer. High-tech electric bikes have powerful LED lights and reflective materials on tyres to help riders be seen. The best electric bikes for ride-sharing also have self-diagnosis technology, which means that the e-bike can mark itself as ‘unusable’ to prevent any risk of a rider taking a bike that needs maintenance.

Another little-mentioned perk of bikes is that you can store luggage safely in the basket. It can be a challenge, and potentially unsafe, to carry luggage whilst operating a scooter. Some bikes, on the other hand, have baskets that don’t move with the handlebars which ensures the centre of gravity of the bike stays central and you don’t lose control when turning.

Electric bikes are for everyone.

Why are electric bikes the future

  1. European cities are relying on cycling to cut carbon emissions, and citizens are responding overwhelmingly positively.
  2. To create greener cities, we need to decrease the use of cars, which means changing our habits when it comes to mid to long-distance travel. Electric bikes are our best shot.
  3. Electric bikes can save you hours of sitting in traffic, as well as getting you to your destination faster.
  4. Electric bikes are the safest and most accessible form of mobility on the market for people of all ages. Better still, it’s a mode of travel that keeps the health benefits of active mobility without the perspiration.

If everyone goes back to cars, it will be a nightmare. Our secret dream is that the temporary becomes permanent.

Jean-Louis Missika, Deputy Mayor of Paris

Smoove and Zoov are committed to making bike-sharing accessible, exciting and successful in cities across the globe. Our technology is being used in this capacity already in Paris (where we also operate the largest bike-sharing scheme in the world): read how Pony launched a scheme to alleviate metro demand and congestion in the French capital.