Bikes Go on the Juice: The Electric Bicycle Boom

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.

writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by

16 responses

    1. I believe Giant and Schwinn both carry a bike, and there are dealers for them all over. Actually, I think Trek does too now.

      Most dealers won't carry anything in stock, but they may be willing to work out a special order for you.

      These bikes, as I remember, run from $1,500 to $3,500. You're paying about $1,000 to $1,500 for the electric part, depending on the size of the batteries.

      I believe Trek does theres by fitting a BionX equipped rear wheel on their lifestyle bikes. They click the battery inside a custom rack I think (actually a pretty nice setup).

      Biggest trouble with e-bikes, aside from cost, is probably that they're quite a bit heavier. A 45lb bike (a light e-bike) feels and handles differently from a 25lb bike. So, buying them site unseen is probably not going to happen much.

    2. It is fun to see a person riding an electric bicycle.
      But they are slow.
      I have never, ever been passes by somebody riding one.
      I cruise at 35 km/ h when I am training.

  1. Expect to pay $800 to $2000 for a qualtiy ebike. You will be putting a lot of miles on it so want at least mid-range components on it. Your best bet is to buy them from a retailer in your area (google electric bikes and your town) so you can test ride and compare. We at at have a retail partner in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Seashore Bikes and Fitness , come check us out if you are in the neighborhood. Thanks!

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  3. The problem with some e-bikes is that they don't really work very well if you actually try to pedal them. Fortunately, you can just get a real bike for maximum efficiency, then retrofit it with an electric hub. These things are capable of going faster than you want to.

    1. The problem with backfitting electrics on a regular bike is the build and design quality. These conversion kits are subject to all kinds of expensive failures, leaving the owner with an expensive paperweight and a Chinese supplier who cannot be bothered. Same goes for Electric car conversions using Lithium batteries.

      I bought an Ultramotor A2B Metro and love it. It had all kinds problems initially, and the local dealer made it right.

  4. As a manufacturer of nearly 1000 electric bikes (, I can attest that the buyers of these bikes are not using them for commuting or exercise. They are baby boomers who are buying them to have fun. Do they eventually use them for trips to the sore, bank, etc.? Yes, because it is more fun to go to the store that way. Do they get exercise on them? Absolutely since people tend to pedal most of the time while riding. Are they being eco friendly? Better than driving a car to the market. These people remember how much fun it was riding a bike as a kid but today there is just a hill or headwind that they do not want to fight. So, because they are not willing or capable to struggle up some hill, they should not be allowed to ride at all? Electric bikes allow them to get back on a bike and be a kid again. We have dealers all over the country so check out our website. Go for it!

  5. I started out a year ago on an electric bike by simply pulling a 12 year old Mongoose out of the shed and outfitting it with a $700 electric bike kit: 2000 miles later it rides just like the day I put the kit on it and I have had zero problems. I do need to pack the bearings on the crank, however, as all the miles (I always peddle for exercise) tend to make it a little squeaky.

  6. Hi everybody here, our factory is an electric bicycle manufacturer in China. If you want to know some more information. Please kindly to pay a visit to our website:
    Looking for distributors all over the world.
    Looking forward to cooperate with you soon.
    Best regards,

  7. Hi everybody here, our factory is an electric bicycle manufacturer in China. If you want to know some more information. Please kindly to pay a visit to our website:
    Looking for distributors all over the world.
    Looking forward to cooperate with you soon.
    Best regards,

  8. The showroom at Va. Bch. Electric Bike Center has dozens of electric bicycles to compare and test    ride along with a knowledgeable staff. Come by and see why ebikes work so well for so many.
    Ebiker for life,

    1. Welcome  the E-bike world, good luck at your new store. We have been selling electric bikes for a couple of years now in Virginia Beach Virginia.

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