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The rapid development of electric bicycles in the USA

Views: 127     Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2023-08-23      Origin: Site


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300 million e-bikes are expected to be used in the world in 2023. That's about one e-bike for every 26 people globally. The level of ridership is almost doubled or more every year since 2015. And we see no, no, no slowing of that in the years forward as we look at fuel prices increasing and other challenges to transportation only getting worse. But despite the recent surge in popularity, they've actually been around since the late 1800s. 

The development of electric bicycle

The first E-bike patent in the US was for a product very similar to what you'd see today a standard bicycle with a motor and a battery in the triangular frame. While it has been a fairly popular mode of transportation in Europe, the pandemic popularized it in the US. Being able to get around easily in cities without strangers breathing down your neck on public transportation suddenly became an attractive proposition. 

But one study found that more than 9 million people have sought out medical attention from an e-bike injury since 2000. Those injuries were also more likely to be more severe than a traditional bicycle and more likely to require hospitalization. There were 53 deaths from e-bikes in the U.S. between 2017 and 2021, including pedestrians getting hit by e-bikes as well as rider accidents. Some think that that's because e-bikes are regulated as bikes instead of motorcycles. Under our jurisdiction, we regulate electric bikes that can achieve an unassisted speed of no more than 20 miles per hour with a motor that has no more than one horsepower. The keyword there is unassisted. Some of these e-bikes can get up to 28 miles per hour if the cyclist is pedaling with a throttle. On e-bikes were significantly related with more serious injuries compared to traditional pedal operated bicycles and even compared to e-scooters. While they are an efficient form of micromobility, are they safe to use in a country like the U.S. where infrastructure is largely in favor of cars? 

The benefit of electric bicycle

There are at least 200 ebike brands around the world, and a variety of models have entered the market over the last decade. Some are built with specific work in mind, like food delivery. Others were made for chauffeuring around your little kids or designed to fold up if you have limited space at home. While some e-bikes are pedal assisted, others can get going purely from the throttle. The plethora of options have helped them grow in popularity, and in the US they're actually being bought more than electric and hybrid cars combined. You can build 400 rad power bikes with the same amount of battery cells that goes into one large electric SUV. So in terms of a scalable solution, that's also incredibly energy efficient. E-bikes are the way to go. 

You can go about 40 miles per charge on the average e-bike, which is enough for a few days of commuting and getting around town in the average city. And a lot of our customers are also living rurally and in suburban areas. For example Radpower is about one third rural, one third urban and one third suburban. And that might surprise some people that think electric bikes are just for people in the city. And that's not the case. And there's an abundance of environmental benefits. A study found that an e-bike emits only five grams of carbon for every mile traveled, compared to about 100 grams per bus rider and 240 grams per person traveling by car. Electric bicycles are expensive, but they're still a heck of a lot cheaper than than buying a car. And what we found with having two kids that we basically did almost every trip we needed to do. And there's actually a lot of people like Jason replacing their cars with e-bikes. In more than 70% of RAD customers, their primary reason for adopting an electric bike into their life is to replace car Miles.

electric bicycle

Safety of electric bicycles

E-bikes are inherently going to be more dangerous than regular bikes. Put simply, the faster you're going, the more crashing will hurt. E-bikes are three times more likely to result in a hospitalization if an injury occurs compared to traditional bikes. In addition to the severity of personal injuries, they're also about three times more likely to be involved in a collision with a pedestrian than a traditional bike. Banning their use on sidewalks, age restrictions and required helmets have been suggested to combat these issues.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is, however, able to regulate speed, which is why Class one and Class two e-bikes are only allowed to go 20 miles per hour unassisted in the US. Beyond that, other national regulations are almost nonexistent for e-bikes, leaving it up to the localized jurisdictions. Some states, like Alaska and Massachusetts, have strict restrictions on e-bikes, essentially classifying them as motor vehicles and requiring an operator's license. Others, like New York, require e-bike riders to be at least 16 years old and 16 and 17 year old riders are required to wear helmets.

It's actually simple physics. If a car is traveling 45 or 40 miles an hour and hit somebody, it's almost a certain fatality. Whereas if that same car is traveling just ten miles an hour or less, you've got less than half that probability of a fatality. A lack of helmets and reckless driving could be factors in the increase in injuries, but excessive speed is frequently blamed for the problem. But in New York City, certainly the delivery sector is driving some of this injury. Literally, their incentive is to complete as many deliveries as quickly as they can, and that sometimes will sort of motivate them to perhaps drive in an unsafe manner.

On top of the obvious dangers, there's also been a significant amount of e-bike batteries exploding. In New York City alone. The fire department has investigated over 170 e-bike related fires, which includes six fatalities. Fires can result from aftermarket changes in the battery or if consumers use batteries or chargers that are not recommended for that specific bike. Because the new battery is often over $500, third party options are frequently utilized, which can more easily result in a fire or explosion. In the Netherlands, e-bikes are a lot more heavily regulated so that there's they're required to meet certain safety standards. So we don't have problems here with, you know, exploding batteries and stuff like that. 

Is the e-bike really that unsafe?

Cyclists and e-bike riders alike argue that the real issue with safety doesn't have to do with e-bikes at all. The cars are the greatest threat to other road users, whether that's pedestrians, regular cyclists or electric bikes. And that's shown in all the safety numbers from the National Highway Traffic Safety. This is a known problem for many years. It's being deliberately covered up by the automotive industry, which has polluted our earth and created all this road, frankly, risk and fear. And our streets should go back to the people.

In countries like China and the Netherlands, infrastructure is often created to favor cyclists. When bikers aren't competing with cars, it immediately becomes much safer. They didn't have to build any complicated, expensive infrastructure or anything like that. All they did was remove a lot or all of the car traffic doesn't even need to be all of it, just most of it. And people will come out And I mean, that's exactly what we saw in the Netherlands in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2021, the Netherlands saw 80 e-bike fatalities for its nearly 5 million e-bikes and 175 deaths for people in its 8.7 million cars. That's about 20% fewer fatal accidents per e-bike compared to cars. The Netherlands and European Union also have other regulations in place to ensure safety. E-bikes are capped at 25 kilometers per hour or about 15 miles per hour, which is roughly the same speed as regular bikes. So they aren't competing.

And then in terms of regulation on e-bikes. I think it is incredibly important We look at the dangers of automobiles that can go 100 miles per hour within a few seconds. That barely registers with us. But when somebody's riding around on an e-bike going 30 miles an hour, suddenly everyone freaks out. So I honestly think that a lot of that danger is overblown. E-bikes, going at a maximum of 25 kilometers an hour actually works out pretty well and they're compatible with one another.

As a society in the US, as a culture preference cars over other means of transportation. We've come up with this like this almost paradoxical situation where it's safer to go in a one tonne vehicle at 85 miles an hour in some parts of the country than it is to walk.

It's also no secret that the US has very limited biking infrastructure like bike lanes in place. New York City is a relatively bikeable city in the US, but per square mile it has about 50% of the amount of protected lanes as Amsterdam, meaning cyclists frequently have to contend with cars for space on the road. Because biking is so safe in the Netherlands and is prioritized as a means of transportation, e-bikes have become extremely popular. The big difference that you see here in the Netherlands compared to most other places with with very few exceptions, is that everybody cycles here. Everybody from from six year olds to 90 year olds.


Using an e-bike in the US isn't entirely unsafe, but it does come with a fair share of risk factors to mitigate these factors so that writing an e-bike here looks more like it does in the Netherlands. A concerted effort between bike manufacturers, local jurisdictions and the CPSC is needed. Bicycle infrastructure is not expensive, but we need to start thinking about this seriously in North America as a as a network, how do we build at least a minimum viable network to get people from point A to point B quickly and efficiently on bicycles and with with a focus on safety?

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