The craze over e-bikes has taken off like a rocket, and it shows no signs of stopping. That’s a good development in terms of cutting carbon emissions related to car travel. The problem for an e-bike maker is how to set itself apart from the competition, which is growing hotter practically by the day. The micro-mobility company Bird is betting that its experience in the e-scooter sharing area could make a key difference.
The area of electric scooter and bike sharing is fraught with challenges. Nevertheless, California-based Bird and several other companies have persisted. Now Bird is determined to show that lessons learned in the e-scooter sharing sphere can translate into the sales of e-bikes.
Bird has more than 300 cities worldwide on its e-scooter sharing list, and it has already itself apart by focusing on safety, civic service and equity as well as cutting carbon emissions.
Earlier this month, for example, Bird joined with the micro-mobility firms Lime and Vero to launch the first e-scooter sharing service in New York City as a pilot project in the borough of the Bronx.
Bird prepared for the launch as early as three years ago, working with local alternative transportation groups in the Bronx and elsewhere to identify needs and service gaps. As a result, Bird is focusing on affordable access for local residents. A partnership with the company Scootaround will also enable Bird to improve access for riders with disabilities.
Bird also anticipates that a partnership with The Fortune Society will help achieve local hiring goals, including programs aimed at job seekers impacted by the criminal justice system.
As for safety, Bird has developed a suite of app-based programs aimed at reducing accidental and substance-related mishaps, as well as deterring misuse of the scooters. The company also sent outreach teams into the Bronx in the months running up to the launch to conduct demonstrations and safety clinics.
Bird launched in 2017 and it has spent years building up its knowledge base and reputation for first class engineering on the e-scooter sharing model. It was little surprising when Bird decided to capitalize on its reputation by offering its “Bird Air” e-scooter for sale last year. Now the company is turning its attention to e-bikes, and it is moving more quickly. Earlier this summer Bird launched its first electric bike sharing program, and it is already moving into e-bike sales.
“Shared scooters helped lay a critical foundation for a transportation future that’s both electric and multimodal,” explained Bird CEO and founder Travis VanderZanden, while also indicating that scooters are not necessarily practical for longer distances. That is especially true for riders who are not in the kind of physical shape needed to balance on a small motorized platform in traffic for long periods of time.
For the e-bikes sharing service, Bird has focused on a somewhat modest three- to five-mile commute. That may not seem like a particularly long distance, but the idea is not to compete against buses, trains, or other mobility services in a particular city. Instead, Bird plans to focus on collaborating with other mobility services to help its e-bike riders plan their routes.
The three- to five- mile target for the Bird e-bike sharing service also brings up the opportunity to expand ridesharing into suburban communities and smaller cities.
However, in these areas, longer distances and lower population densities can work against the sharing model. Retrieval costs, for example, can escalate. That’s where the bike selling model comes in.
Last week, Bird introduced the new Bird Bike as the first e-bike for purchase that is offered by a sharing service.
The company is not shy about leveraging the popularity of its e-scooter to make the sales pitch.
“Bird's consumer e-bike is custom designed by Bird's in-house team of award-winning engineers and industrial designers who brought to market the Bird Three, the industry's most eco-conscious shared e-scooter,” Bird explains.
"With our new e-bike, we are creating increased opportunities for people to embrace micro electric vehicles beyond the 300 cities we partner with to provide our shared services today. Our e-bike is safe, durable and provides a stylish aesthetic and advanced technology that delivers a fun alternative to congestion inducing, gas-powered cars. The Bird Bike lets you enjoy the ride like never before,” added VanderZanden.
Left unmentioned in Bird’s pitch are obstacles that e-bike riders and other cyclists can encounter in many areas, including the absence of bike lanes, and the presence of highway overpasses, bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure where bike travel is limited if not outright prohibited.
In addition, commutes from the suburbs and exurbs are obviously longer, and opportunities to connect with other travel modes tend to be scarcer.
Nevertheless, Bird is onto something. Despite the obstacles, a vast, untapped reservoir of potential e-bike commuters does exist outside of major cities.
Any number of those car commuters may have considered riding a bicycle to work, only to be discouraged by hills, distance, or both. With the assist of electric power, those sorts of obstacles melt into the background.
As for all the other obstacles, urban riders in hundreds of cities have already demonstrated that commuting on two wheels is fun, affordable and popular. That’s something suburban cycling advocates can take to the next meeting of their local planning board.
Image credit: Bird
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.