When Two Wheels Are Better Than Four
We’ve seen self-propelled bikes longer than we’ve seen self-propelled cars. Maybe this time around, the bikes will come out on top.
This past year has been good for bikes, especially ebikes (electric + bike = ebike). U.S. bike sales rose 65 percent. Electric bike sales rose 145 percent. One or two have even been seen around here. Some call it the “micro-mobility” craze.
The big appeal is twofold: hills are much easier and you can travel farther faster. Nine of ten ebikes are “pedal assist,” which means you get a little or a lot of help pedaling, depending on what you select. The help comes from a battery-powered electric motor. A full charge will take you about 50 miles. The battery is removable for charging: you only need a typical 110-volt outlet.
You can buy a battery-powered bike for as little as $350 or $400, but good ones start at $1,500. Then there are pure scooters, such Vespa’s two Elettrica models, which have bigger batteries than ebikes. They provide higher speeds (45 mph) and longer range (60 miles) for the top Vespa; it costs about $7,500. Much less expensive versions are available.
Where there is a concentration of riders such as a town center, you’ll find (or soon will) bike sharing or bike renting. There’s even a North American Bikeshare Association. Ebikes are now on the menu. After a couple of false starts in New York and elsewhere, the biking-sharing companies like Citi Bike (run by Lyft) in New York and elsewhere and Divvy in Chicago activated lots of e-bikes in 2020 and are adding more. So far ebikes are selected two to three times as often as human-powered bikes.
For a good overview of pedal-assist ebikes, this blog entry is helpful.