Last week, a team of two cyclists, Boris Mordkovich and Anna Mostovetsky, began a two and a half month, 4,000 mile ride across America on a pair of electric-assisted bicycles to promote awareness of electric bikes as an alternative form of transport, and to prove that their machines are a reliable and efficient way to get around.
The ride began in New York City on April 7th and will end at the end of June in San Francisco. Along the way, the pair plan to hold talks in 15 cities, and meet up with commuters, cycling enthusiasts and advocacy groups to find out what's preventing people from cycling for the many short trips that they routinely make.
So, how did the whole trip come about?
Boris was formerly the director of marketing for car-sharing start-up, RelayRides, and in that capacity, gained great insight into how people use vehicles. He realized that most journeys people make are local trips which could easily be done by bike. As he told me, he sees a lot of connections between the vehicle sharing model he worked with at Relay Rides, and the potential for users of such car sharing services to transition to e-bikes.
E-bikes are not a new thing of course. Europeans have already widely adopted them as a means of getting around, but they have been slow to take off in the USA; something Boris would like to help change during the course of the journey.
Slow adoption in America has a lot to do with the cultural differences around cycling compared with Europe. In the USA, cycling is much more of a fitness and sports oriented pursuit, whereas in Europe, riders mostly cycle to get from A to B; notably as a means to get to work.
Additionally, the distribution channels for e-bikes in Europe are more developed, and so people are already used to seeing them around and are thus comfortable with them as a transportation option. We are not there yet in the USA, and people have misconceptions as to what electric bikes are and what they do.
By embarking on a trans-America trip such as this, Boris and Anna hope to address these issues, and they will do so upon their EVELO Electric bikes (see picture). The choice of bike was simple. Boris co-founded EVELOs, a New-York based start up, and unlike many e-bikes that use a hub motor in either the front or back wheel, EVELOs use a mid-drive motor which Boris explains is more efficient.
The message they want to get across is that people can use electric bikes to replace their cars for short journeys. They also hope to highlight the need to improve cycling infrastructure, and to educate riders that range anxiety is not a problem. The latter point proven, no doubt, by the 4,000 mile journey itself.
Furthermore, they hope that cycling will become more popular in general as people adopt electric bikes, since in the USA, most people who will potentially take up riding an electric bike, probably are not cyclists already.
The ride is unsupported and therefore self sufficient, enhancing the notion that the electric bike is a serious and capable form of transportation. You can follow Boris and Anna's progress on their blog and find out where you can see them along the way via their website.
Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.