The electric bike, which uses battery power to help put a little power behind the pedal, has become a major hit in Asia and is growing in Europe. Associations see major potential in the U.S., as long as regulations don’t slow things down too much.
It’s a little early to say for sure, but we might see electric bikes, or e-bikes, go mainstream before electric cars do the same.
The reason for that might come down to support from the association space, which appears to be helping to smooth the path around bikes with a little extra juice in them. According to research from Statista, nearly 35 million electric bikes were sold globally last year, with most of them sold in Asia alone. And according to The New York Times, the bikes are also gaining ground in European countries.
In the U.S., however, electric bikes have faced more of an uphill battle, in part because of the electrical assistance, which works a bit differently from a traditional motor—helping give a little oomph to the rider’s pedaling, rather than simply pushing the rider along like a moped or scooter. Last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s police force would crack down on the bikes, which face something of a regulation gap in the city. That, of course, is a problem, because the city is a huge hub for bikers.
But groups like PeopleForBikes are working to improve the regulations for e-bikes nationally. The group does a state-by-state breakdown of legal infrastructures for bikes. Six states have enacted model legislation, created by the group along with the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association, to thoughtfully regulate the bikes; another 21 states have regulations deemed acceptable to the groups.
And even groups that were at one time skeptical of the technology appear to be coming around. Earlier this month, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) announced that it would now support some e-mountain bikes on trails, a change from its prior stance, which opposed them. The group said its shift came as a result of changes in the industry.
“Since the eMTB landscape has changed significantly since 2015, IMBA’s board of directors and staff determined that an updated statement was warranted,” the group told Bicycling.
Beyond the regulatory issues, groups representing the industry, like the Electric Bike Association (EBA), have taken steps to get the vehicles in front of the public, such as showing them off in expo settings. The price is generally right—you can often get a good electric bike for less than $1,000—but the public may still be unfamiliar with the technology. That’s where EBA is stepping in, taking the devices through the expo circuit.
“This is kind of an experiential tour to introduce electric bikes primarily to people who have never ridden and might have just heard about them,” the group’s executive director, Ray Verhelst, told the Chicago Tribune of EBA’s efforts to show off such bikes.
Steps like that, small as they are, might be just what the industry needs to pull ahead of electric cars.