Pedal Power

Sales of electric bikes are climbing

Electric bikes for rent in Madrid, Spain

 By Joseph Staruski

His face lit up with curiosity as he watched us pull up, from his seat in the coffee shop. People swarmed us asking about them, wanting to know what sleak new invention we were riding on. It was like we were celebrities. All it took was a couple of e-bikes.

“I get this all the time” said Tim Isle, the sales lead at Trek Bicycles at 47 West Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore, who took me for a ride on an electric bicycle. I got to see the excitement first-hand as electric bicycles are on the rise throughout the world and in the United States.

The typical electric bicycle is has a battery attached to either the middle frame or above the back wheel. It has a small motor that provides extra power to the rider proportional to their effort. Essentially, if you work harder, the motor works harder too. “A lot of commuters think about it as flattening out the road,” said Isle.

The NPD Group, a company that studies trends in consumer products, said last October, “electric bicycle sales have nearly tripled over the last 37 months” in the United States. Also, Google web searches for the topic of electric bikes increased by 45 percent in the United States when comparing July 2015 with July 2017, according to Google. In comparison, the number of searches for the topic of “bicycle” compared at the same time periods did not change.

The trend is expected to continue with projections from statista, a market research company, showing that the market for electric bicycles worldwide will grow from $15.7 to $24.3 billion dollars from 2016 to 2025, an increase of 55 percent.

But despite all of the apparent interest, some people might still have some reservations. Alex Winoski, a manager at Cycles BiKyle at 1046 West Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, has been working at the specialty bike shop for 11 years, since he was 16. He said he had some reservations of his own about electric bicycles before trying one a few years ago at the Philadelphia Bike Expo. “It’s something you don’t think you want until you try one,” he said. His mind was changed. After the expo, he decided to start selling e-bikes at his shop.

Another difficulty for electric bicycles is their price point. At Trek in Ardmore, they can sell for as much as $5,000 and none less than $2,000. Isle said “they’re too expensive to really be a trend right now.”

So who would buy such an expensive bicycle? Anthony Hennessy at Trek in Ardmore said people buy them for all different reasons. He said there are people who use it to compensate for physical ability like older people and someone with advanced asthma. There are couples who want to ride together at the same speed, but have different ability levels.

Electric bikes are also useful for people who work on a bike, like police officers or the City Ave Patrol in Philadelphia which has people performing eight-hour shifts on a bicycle, according to their website.

Electric bicycles are not just replacing traditional bicycles, in some cases, they are even competing with cars. “If you do not want a car or you cannot afford a car, this is providing an opportunity” said Isle.

There are certainly some obstacles to overcome when thinking about commuting on a bicycle. There is snow, black ice, theft, cars on the road, and the sweat from your body. While electric bicycles reduce the sweat, they do not fix the other problems.

Nolan Bixler from Bikes BiKyle, says he has encountered many of these problems himself. He rides his bike to work almost every day and has done so for many years. “I’ve hit black ice a few too many times” he said, and “bike theft is just everywhere.” He had even been hit by a car before.

He did, however, explain that there are lots of ways to accommodate for these problems. A thick bike lock, for instance can prevent theft. He also showed me a suit they had for sale that would keep someone warm in the winter. “Budget is everything in biking,” said Bixler.

Finally, some people might claim that electric bicycles are more dangerous than traditional ones. New York even banned them outright because of fear of people using them recklessly. In October 2017, the Mayor’s office announced a “crack down” on electric bicycles, but on Tuesday, the office announced that they will be permitted to a reasonable extent. This is partly because they are so frequently used by delivery workers trying to get around the city.

Isle did not seem to think that they were any more dangerous than a regular bicycle. While they do increase the average speed of travel, they also make it less exhausting to stop and go at stoplights and intersections. “You will see more people following the laws” he said.