If plug-in electric cars and trucks receive purchase incentives from national and state governments, what about electric bicycles?

That's just what a recent report from the European Cyclists Federation suggests.

It recommends directing purchase incentives and infrastructure subsidies towards electrically assisted bicycles, known as e-bikes.

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The Electromobility For All Report focuses on the German market for so-called e-mobility: it says fewer than 26,000 electric cars are on the road today, despite having collectively received nearly 1.5 billion euros in incentives.

This compares starkly to e-bikes where there have been essentially zero incentives and yet more than 25 million have been sold globally. Global sales of four-wheeled plug-in vehicles, in contrast, are less than 2 million.

Faradion prototype electric bicycle powered by sodium-ion battery pack

Faradion prototype electric bicycle powered by sodium-ion battery pack

E-bikes are a cost-effective method reduce carbon emissions, the group suggests, costing just a fraction of the price of an electric car.

The great unknown, of course, is whether electric bicycles substitute for cars or for other modes of transport like walking or mass transit whose carbon impact is lower yet.

E-bikes can break down the mental and physical challenges that prevent current European commuters from utilizing their cycles for their daily trip.

They can provide the necessary assist to go the extra distance, make it up challenging hilly sections, and even show up to work without a sweat.

The report proposes that regulations be limited to two classes of e-bikes, distinguished by battery size and a maximum speed of roughly 10 mph.

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The larger class would allow power up to 4000 watts and speeds slightly over 20 mph, but those electric bikes would be viewed as motorized vehicles.

The federation proposes purchase incentives for regions where sales of e-bikes are low.

The recommendations treat more populated e-bike areas differently, suggesting subsidies for e-bike specific infrastructure projects and corporate program incentives to encourage employee use of e-bikes.

Smart eBike electric bicycle

Smart eBike electric bicycle

Electric two-wheelers (e-bikes, scooters, motorcycles) far exceed battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in world-wide sales. More than 500,000 were sold in Germany alone in 2015.

Still, it's unclear how much support a proposal like this would garner in North America.

The unfamiliarity of the electric-bike concept might be its biggest struggle towards making an impact on carbon reduction and improving congestion.

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Urban areas would likely see the greatest impact as the idea of the "last-mile" transportation mode is a significant concern for commuters.

With the necessary infrastructure and awareness programs, perhaps electric bikes could represent that last-mile transportation mode for those commuters who can't simply park outside their workplace.

— Matt Pilgrim


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