As with all bikes during the pandemic, electric bikes or those with battery-powered motors for propulsion boomed. The market research company NPD Group announced that sales of e-bikes in 2020 increased by 145 percent compared to 2019, exceeding sales of all motorcycles by 65 percent.
“Bike categories aimed at families, recreational, and newer riders grew better than more performance-oriented bikes,” said Dirk Sorenson, sports industry analyst at NPD, adding that e-bikes “handle challenges like big hills or longer trips than a typical bike. “
But it’s not just consumer sales that have made e-bikes mainstream. Municipal bike sharing systems have increasingly adopted the technology. Some cities, including Charlotte, NC, deployed an all-electric fleet during the pandemic.
Social distancing requirements, the pursuit of safer and more accessible public transportation, and sustainable travel practices have resulted in growing adoption of e-bikes by both travelers and local residents.
“Covid has propelled electric bikes years forward,” said Josh Squire, the founder and CEO of Hopr, a bike-sharing service.
Cities, bike-sharing companies and even a peer-to-peer bike sharing platform (where bike owners rent their bikes directly to users) are jumping into the e-bike ecosystem. The sharing of bicycles – sometimes referred to as “micromobility” to include other small vehicles such as scooters – has changed during the break in tourism.
Covid didn’t kill bike sharing
In the early days of the pandemic, bicycle parts use came to a standstill when those who worked from home stopped commuting. For key workers who had to travel, sharing bicycles became an alternative to buses or trains, which could potentially expose them to the virus from other passengers. Lyft, which manages bike-sharing fleets in nine cities – including the largest systems in New York City and Chicago – gave free annual passes to around 30,000 key workers.
“Covid was able to highlight micromobility as an essential transportation service, filling where the transit service left off or where there were gaps, and assisting key workers in their work,” said Samantha Herr, executive director of the North American Bikeshare Association.
When people started leaving their homes in the summer, cycling recovered. In Honolulu, almost 80 percent of the members of the Biki bike-sharing system said that driving was the safest form of public transport during the pandemic. In Chicago, August had the busiest month on the Divvy Bike Share system ever.
In New York City, where Citi Bike added 3,700 new motorcycles in 2020, rider numbers in the final four months of 2020 exceeded 2019 levels, according to a monthly report filed with the New York Department of Transportation. The company said 27 percent of trips in 2020 were classified as “casual” or recreational trips, up from 17 percent in 2019, with the most popular stations in hospitals and parks reflecting the mix of essential and occasional uses.
Cycling was clearly a cure for cabin fever, and bike sharing is an affordable cure.
In Miami, where hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed at Citi Bike Miami stations, casual users made about 40 percent of trips in 2021 as tourism increased.
Colby Reese, co-founder of DecoBike, which operates Citi Bike Miami, estimates that around half a million visitors annually used the bike-share system before the pandemic. It is planned to expand the existing fleet of 2,000 bicycles by around 200 e-bikes this summer. “Because of Covid, outdoor things are more popular than before,” he said.
E-bikes for people
The electrification of bicycle sharing systems, which is now accelerating, has been going on for several years. In 2018, the Bikeshare Planning Guide from the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative, a global sustainable transport initiative, named them “ideal for bikeshare because of their otherwise high up-front cost to users, and they can improve user comfort by reducing common barriers to cycling such as Fatigue, sweating and long journeys or hilly journeys. “
According to the North American Bikeshare Association, in 2019, the last year for which statistics are available, 28 percent of bike-sharing systems had e-bikes. It found that e-bikes were being used more intensively than traditional bikes at a rate 1.7 times higher.
In 2019, when the Madison BCycle fleet was electrically powered in Madison, Wisconsin, consumption more than doubled. Novelty was a driver, along with affordability.
“Being able to try an e-bike for a very low price on a day pass attracts people to try it out initially,” said Helen Bradley, general manager of Madison BCycle, where a day pass is $ 15 . “Then they get addicted,” she added of the range of the motorcycles, which can travel 30 to 35 miles on a full charge on a maximum charge of about 17 mph.
Chicago plans to have 10,000 e-bikes in its Divvy system by 2022 – 3,500 e-bikes were added in 2020 – to make 100 percent of the city accessible.
March 2, 2021, 6:08 p.m. ET
The introduction of e-bikes has not gone without increasing pain. In New York City, Citi Bike introduced e-bikes in 2018 but removed them in 2019 following reports of brake malfunctions that resulted in rider injuries (similar issues, Lyft, which manages Citi Bike, temporarily forced e-bikes out of its Washington systems retire, DC and San Francisco). Last winter, New York reintroduced the Citi Bike e-bikes, which reach top speeds of 29 km / h and are below the limit of 32 km / h later set by the city for pedal-assisted e-bikes. There are now around 3,700 e-bikes in the 19,000 bike system. The average e-bike makes more than nine trips a day, while the average for pedal bikes is 3.5.
“Put a little motor on it, and it’ll make cycling more attractive to a wider and aging audience,” said Aaron Ritz, who oversees the Indego bike sharing system for the city of Philadelphia. Over the next five years, the Indego system will more than double, making half the fleet electric and focusing on historically underserved neighborhoods, most of which are black or Latin American.
“The more we switch from vehicles with single occupancy, the better it is for reasons of air quality, traffic safety, environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Ritz.
Gregory F. Maassen, 53, resident of Washington, DC, describes the district’s Capital Bikeshare E-Bikes as “built like tanks to withstand abuse.”
E-bike lovers like Mr Maassen, who started a social group called E-Bike Lovers, prefer high-end bikes, but sharing bikes as a gateway to introduce them to a wider audience.
“The interest in bike-share systems has a major impact on the acceptance of e-bikes,” he said. “It gives people a low-cost entry into this new technology.” E-bikes can be bought for a few hundred dollars, although most fans say quality bikes start around $ 1,500 and go a lot higher.
Finding a fully charged bike is crucial, however, said Richard Strell, 68, a rider with Bay Wheels in San Francisco.
“I started using e-bikes because of Covid and I don’t own a car in San Francisco,” he said, noting that with only seven or eight miles on the battery, e-bikes were too weak to go uphill bring. “I was excited, but it turned out to be disappointing.”
Further, faster and mainstream
Common bicycle systems have always aimed to walk the “last mile” or to close the gap between public transport hubs and your destination. E-bikes make them more serious competitors than transportation options by going farther with less effort.
“Getting further, or getting somewhere faster, is important when you decide which mode of transportation to use,” said Bill Dossett, executive director of Nice Ride Minnesota, the nonprofit that founded the Lyft-operated shared mobility system in Minneapolis. which plans to add around 2,000 e-bikes this spring.
Lyft, the country’s largest bike-sharing service, has added transit information to its ridesharing app in 17 cities to better coordinate with public transport. Available drivers, bikes and scooters are also displayed. In Denver, users can purchase transit passes through the app.
“We’re giving people an easy-to-use way to tailor trips and allow them to explore a city that would historically have been much more difficult,” said Caroline Samponaro, Lyft’s director of micromobility.
The success of electric bicycles and scooters has encouraged Bolt Mobility in around 21 cities and universities to develop electric scooters, three-wheeled bicycles and minicars, and electric vehicles that offer greater stability and protection.
“These devices are not just for 20 year old children, they are for everyone,” said Ignacio Tzoumas, CEO of Bolt Mobility.
Bolt, co-founded by Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, plans to bring its e-bikes and scooters to Tokyo in time for the Summer Olympics.
Private bike share systems predicted
While most bike share systems are connected to cities, entrepreneurs see a future in private bike shares for hotel guests, apartment complex tenants or company employees.
The peer-to-peer bike-sharing platform Spinlister is developing a private model that will, for example, station Rokit Ebikes in a hotel and provide access as a convenience and leave the management and maintenance to Spinlister.
Prior to the pandemic, Hopr had plans to take its services, which include e-bikes, to hotels and create private bike sharing systems, which was disrupted by the lack of travel.
“We came from sharing and have the technology to unlock and rent a bike through an app so the hotel won’t have a hassle,” said Hopr’s Squire.
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