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November 17, 2019

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A Tesla too pricey? E-bikes offer entry-level electric transportation

Interbike Convention

Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

Mario Boltri from Danish bike builder Biomega points out features on one of their electric bikes during the annual Interbike International Bicycle Exposition, the largest industry show in North America, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.

Electric cars remain something of a novelty, commanding premium prices and presenting charging challenges, but another kind of electric vehicle has been gaining momentum: the e-bike.

Globally, electric cars — battery and plug-in hybrids — account for only about 1 percent of all vehicle sales, with about 1.15 million expected to be sold worldwide this year, according to EV-volumes.com. Compare that with the 35 million e-bikes expected to be purchased this year, according to Navigant, with countries like Germany and the Netherlands experiencing double-digit percentage sales growth over the previous year.

“We see e-bikes as the entry point into electric mobility,” said Claudia Wasko, director of e-bikes for Bosch America. Bosch makes one of the more popular electric motor systems for bicycles but is better known as an auto parts supplier and designer of advanced automotive technologies.

E-bikes have taken off in Europe, Wasko said, because they are viewed not just as recreational vehicles but as a practical transportation option. In fact, electric-assist bicycles offer significant advantages over electric cars.

“If you run out of power in an electric car, you have a problem,” she said. “With a bike, you can still pedal.”

And then there are the advantages in cost and convenience: E-bikes can be had for less than $1,000, and their batteries can be easily removed, plugged into a regular outlet and charged in about three hours.

With designs that have to accommodate a motor and battery, e-bikes are heavier — weighing about 50 to 60 pounds — than traditional bicycles. Most models in the United States are pedal-assist e-bikes — they provide an electric boost only when the rider is pedaling, unlike throttle e-bikes, which can provide assistance even when the rider isn’t pedaling. Typically, pedal-assist models have a handlebar-mounted digital display where riders can select various levels of electronic aid, from zero on level paths to full power when climbing hills or dealing with challenging terrain.

Pedal-assist bikes are available in every bike category to appeal to every type of rider. There are step-through cruisers like the Raleigh Sprite iE Step Thru for casual cyclists. There are serious daily commuters like Riese & Müller’s Charger GX, and there are even folding models like the Oyama CX E8D.

“We think of these as an alternative to cars, not as an alternative to bicycles,” said Sandra Wolf of Riese & Müller. The company also makes a line of Packster cargo models, which can haul a week’s worth of groceries or two small children.

Indeed, the e-bike market is so broad today that every major brand, even those traditionally associated with dedicated cycling enthusiasts, has jumped onto the e-bike saddle.

“E-mountain bikes these days are super popular,” said Dominik Geyer of Specialized, whose company did some soul searching before developing its own e-bikes. But now even advocacy groups like the International Mountain Bicycling Association have abandoned their anti-e-bike stance and support the use of pedal-assist bikes on some trails.

E-bikes can enhance the cycling experience for all kinds of riders, from novices to committed commuters who want to extend their routes without arriving at the office soaked in perspiration, said Murray Washburn, the director of global marketing for Cannondale. The technology also encourages owners to ride more often, safe in the knowledge that they can get a boost should they encounter steep hills or become