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Recent data suggests growth in e-bikes’ popularity in North American markets, but questions still remain.
E-bikes have seen steady growth in popularity worldwide as an affordable, efficient, and sustainable mode of transportation. According to Navigant Research, global sales of e-bikes topped 32 million units in 2014 and are expected to hit 40 million by 2023.
With more e-bikes on the roads than cars, China still leads the pack by a mile in global e-bike usage. However, sales are taking off in other parts of the world as well. Europeans purchased 1.3 million e-bikes in 2013 and an upward trend is expected to continue, even as auto sales plummet and regular bicycle sales remain stable.
While e-bikes’ popularity has surged worldwide, North Americans have so far been slow to get in on the trend. Concerns about cost and safety, as well as a misperception of e-bikes as “not real bikes” has contributed to a relative lack of enthusiasm for the technology in North American markets. A few states, such as New York, regulate e-bikes the same way as motorcycles, further adding to the confusion about whether an e-bike constitutes a bicycle or not.
However, new data suggests that a North American e-bike boom may finally be on the horizon. The League of American Bicyclists recently published a study entitled,“Electric Bicycles: Public Perceptions & Policy.” The League analyzed responses from 718 bicycle riders across the US on their perceptions of e-bikes’ safety, usefulness and desirability.
They found that a full 80 percent of respondents agreed that e-bikes offer a myriad of benefits, including the ability to increase the number of people using bicycles for transportation and the ability to functionally replace cars for a variety of trips.
Although respondents were generally supportive of the usefulness of e-bikes, there was some disagreement as to how they should be treated from a regulatory perspective. While 82 percent agreed that a classic e-bike with pedal-assist should be treated as a bicycle, that figure dropped to only 14 percent for the 50 mph (80 km/h) capable throttle-engaged bikes.
In a press release announcing the study, Ken McLeod, Legal Specialist for the League of American Bicyclists, said, “Moving forward, it is important to us to continue engaging in these conversations about how electric bicycles will impact what it means to be a bicyclist and how we can realize the promise of electric bicycles for bicyclists.”
From March 10-12, 2015, this conversation will continue at the National Bike Summit and National Forum on Women & Bicycling in Washington, DC. Hosted by the League of American Bicyclists, the annual Summit is “the premier bicycle advocacy event of the year.”
This year’s theme, Bikes +, will engage advocates, policy-makers, and community members in discussions of how the bike advocacy movement can work in tandem with other movements, adding value to a broad range of social goals.
The agenda includes discussions and plenary sessions on topics ranging from fundraising to advocacy through a gender lens. Maya Rockeymoore, the president of Center for Global Policy Solutions, will be there to discuss transportation equity in the US and abroad. Dr. Ellen Dunhman-Jones, urban designer and architect, will deliver a session on the role of the bicycle in retrofitting suburbia.
Last year’s Summit resulted in the establishment of a federal goal to reduce bicycle traffic deaths. This year’s Summit is thinking even bigger, asking Americans to envision how bicycling can add value to their communities and to their daily lives.
Planet Bike creates innovative products that make it easier and safer for people to ride bicycles. Because Planet Bike believes that the bicycle can improve the health of individuals, communities and the planet, we donate 25% of profits to causes that promote bicycle use. Visit us at planetbike.com to check out our new high-powered USB rechargeable lights.