Bicycles are great for the environment, for one’s health and for efficient urban travel. Many cities are bicycle-friendly, some more than others. But if you live in one with major hills, such as San Francisco or Seattle, and you happen to be a little older, perhaps, or simply not quite in Tour de France shape, then an electric-bike is the way to go.
Business is booming for several reasons: They are way more affordable than EV cars and spiffy new and lighter designs are multiplying worldwide.
A recent New York Times article notes that David Chiu, president of the San Francisco board of supervisors uses one to get to meetings without having to change clothes upon arrival.
China and Europe are where the major electric- bike action reside. The Times reports that it all began in China: There are an estimated 120 million electric-bikes there today, up from only a few thousand in the 1990s. “They are replacing traditional bikes and motorcycles at a rapid clip and, in many cases, allowing people to put off the switch to cars,” the article says.
China’s booming electric-bike industry is accelerating global interest, and export sales to India, Europe and the U.S. are burgeoning. Ten years ago the global electric-bike industry was at virtually zero, but today it is an $11 billion market.
This is also a godsend for bike makers, according to Edward Benjamin, an industry consultant quoted in the Times report, because they cost more than the typical pedal-only model at about $1,500 to $3,000, and also because they have more components, such as batteries, that need regular replacement.
The news report says that in the Netherlands, a third of the money spent on bicycles last year went to electric-powered models. Industry experts are forecasting similar growth elsewhere in Europe, especially in Germany, France and Italy, as rising interest in cycling coincides with an aging population.
India had virtually no sales until two years ago, but its nascent market is fast expanding and could surpass Europe’s in the next year. “The growth has been tremendous in the last two years,” says Naveen Munjal, managing director of Hero Electric, a division of India’s largest bicycle and motorcycle maker. He expects sales at Hero to increase to 250,000 electric bikes in 2012, from 100,000 in 2009.
Interest in the U.S. is also increasing; an estimated 200,000 electric-bikes were sold last year. Last June, Best Buy began selling electric bicycles at 19 stores in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore.
So where are the world’s most bicycle friendly cities, electric or not? According to a recent list from Virgin Vacations, four of the top 10 are in the U.S.: Portland, Ore.; Boulder, Colo.; Davis, Calif.; and San Francisco. Portland is ranked up there at No. 2 behind Amsterdam.
Here are the top 11 bike cities as compiled by Virgin Vacations, with assistance from the League of American Bicyclists:
1. Amsterdam, Netherlands
2. Portland, Oregon, USA
3. Copenhagen, Denmark
4. Boulder, Colorado, USA
5. Davis, California, USA
6. Sandnes, Norway
7. Trondheim, Norway
8. San Francisco, California, USA
9. Berlin, Germany
10. Barcelona, Spain
11. Basel, Switzerland
Bicycle purists in your multi-colored gear beware; you may be sharing your friendly but narrow bicycle lanes with electric-bikes while watching grandma zip (or is whoosh?) right past you.