It is no exaggeration to say that, should they appeal to the public, electric bikes (e-bikes) will revolutionise green commuting.
The Green Recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will have to leave petrol and diesel on history’s highways if we are to make any meaningful change to the environment. The lack of a feasible alternative for the ⅔ of working adults who pre-lockdown would commute by car has made driving the only common source of CO2 emissions not currently in decline.
- Pedals have the power
- Covid Cyclomania
- CO2 e-missions
- Middle lane smogger: air pollution from road traffic
- Motor-cycle healthiness
- Price hikes on bikes: up-front cost of e-bikes
- Miles o’ money: mileage savings
- Ride your time well
- Joining the lycra brigade
- Clubbing together
- What would the dodo do?
Pedals have the power
Critically, e-bikes are not just electric mopeds.
They are simply regular push bikes with a battery-powered motor attached. The motor applies the bare minimum of electrical power by ‘assisting’ the pedalling. The combination of human power and electrical power means that not a single joule of energy is wasted.
The motor is not just powered by a battery, however.
The faster the pedals turn, the more assistance the motor will be able to provide. The rider’s legs essentially act as an electrical power turbine. As per UK law, the motor will stop providing further assistance as the bike’s speed is increased beyond 15.5 mph.
These ingenious mechanisms mean that e-bikes draw only a very small amount of power to be capable of achieving their predicted range, usually around 50 miles. The result: unparalleled reduction in CO2 emissions and fuel bills.
Despite the UK government’s long-term plans to invest in roads across the Peak District and West Country, councils under Covid-19 lockdown have gone to great lengths to make cycling a far more welcome mode of transport, particularly in urban areas where pollution is worst.
Councils around Britain have transformed more than 270 streets to include ‘pop-up’ bike lanes. Cyclophillic cities are here to stay.
Most commuters in the UK drive a distance of roughly ten miles to work.
In the 233-day working year, the average commuter will have driven around 4660 miles. This amount of driving releases 1883 kg of carbon dioxide molecules into the atmosphere.
The same distance by bus would release 708 kg per passenger, whilst each train passenger is responsible for 65 kg.
E-bikes, however, emit far less indirect CO2 than each of these methods.
E-bikes on British roads must have a power rating of no greater than 250 W – that’s 8% of a standard kettle’s power rating – which means that for the daily 20 mile round trips 58 kWh of energy is used annually. This amounts to 20 kg of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere.
This, in fact, is a worst case scenario as the motor can be disengaged at any time. Doing so on flat/downhill parts of a route would save even more energy.
Alternatively, charging a bike through a renewable energy supply demands that precisely 0 kg of CO2 are emitted. Zero-carbon commuting is possible.
Middle lane smogger: air pollution from road traffic
The striking impact of a national transition from car to e-bike is not merely a reduction in global CO2 emissions. Commuting on e-bikes will dramatically improve cities’ air quality.
A 2017 Friends of the Earth study found that nine out of London’s ten most polluted areas are major roads like the North Circular. Nine of the UK’s ten most polluted areas in the UK outside of London were also major roads like the Neville Street tunnel in Leeds.
Surprisingly, the two outliers in the data are railway stations. Some railway lines, particularly in the north of England, are still waiting to be electrified and are harbouring toxic chemicals produced by thirty-year-old diesel locomotives.
Clearing the roads and railways of petrol and diesel where possible could have the effect of switching off pollution. In turn, this will lead to a reduction in long-term health problems and premature death.
E-bikes save lives.
E-bikes can also prolong the lives of their riders.
A World Health Organisation study reported that in 2018 a third of UK adults did not achieve the recommended amount of exercise: either 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every day, or 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every day.
A regular commute on an e-bike will almost certainly provide enough exercise to maintain a strong and healthy body.
Regular exercise also stimulates the release of serotonin, aka the ‘happiness hormone’, which improves mood and reduces stress. And the benefits of good mental health go beyond treating anxiety and low-mood: stress has been found to trigger a physiological response in the body’s cardiovascular system, which can mean increased blood pressure and risks of heart disease.
Yet whilst we have known about the positive impacts of exercise on both physical and mental wellbeing, people still don’t manage to get enough of it. The very thoughts of physical exertion and risk of injury are enough to put people off.
Happily, e-bikes can provide an accessible way into exercise.
The activity itself is low impact on joints and investment into cycle-friendly cities (see ‘Covid cylomania’) is making it safer amongst traffic. Initial fitness should not be a barrier as the motor allows less-experienced riders to cycle up hills without having to get off and push. And of course, the more you cycle, the fitter you will become.
Price hikes on bikes: up-front cost of e-bikes
E-bikes are exceedingly more expensive than regular push bikes. Built to trustworthy quality, it is unlikely to cost under £600.
When considering the build-quality of the bike, the battery and motor are most important; badly-made electronics are prone to breakdowns.
The majority of standard e-bikes (i.e.: 15.5 mph speed cap, range of 20-60 miles on full charge) cost between £1000 and £2000, with credit and finance schemes available from a selection of large retailers.
At the shallow end of this price bracket is the Decathlon B’TWIN Elops 900 E step over. For around £1000, this bike is predicted to travel 25 and 40 miles on full charge. At the opposite end of the mid-range price spectrum is the Carrera Crossfuse. This e-bike costs £1800 and it too has a predicted range of about 50 miles.
E-bikes can come with a whole host of 21st century gadgets built in. Coachmag’s 2020 pick, the Cowboy, for instance, comes with a built-in SIM card making it easily traceable in the event of it being stolen. This bike has a full charge range of 42 miles and costs £1790.
Most e-bike retailers also sell conversion kits for around £700, a feasible way of electrifying an existing push bike. A brilliant guide on how to do this well can be found here. Note that this is a European-produced video where different e-bike laws apply.
There are even now some folding e-bikes, such as the Volt Metro. This portable e-bike has a range of 50 miles, comes with a short-burst throttle (helpful for accelerating away from traffic lights) and has fully integrated lights. At £1399, this bike is incredibly good value for money.
E-bikes that cost greater than £2000 are generally for glamorous brands and top level componentry. Excess costs go into state of the art brakes, gears and other accessories. These lucrative extras should not make a noticeable difference to the average cycling commuter.
Miles o’ money: mileage savings
Despite the dear price tag, however, e-bikes that replace cars can pay for themselves in less than two years.
For example: an e-bike can feasibly replace a household’s second car if they only use it for commutes of around 10 miles. In doing so, a household can save approximately £1500 on fuel, road tax and MOT costs.
The operating costs of an e-bike, on the other hand, come to £420, owing to the vehicles’ awe-inspiring range of 1000 miles from £4-worth of electricity. This annual figure includes the cost of non-mandatory (but recommended) insurance and maintenance. The total savings come to more than £1100.
Within five years, replacement of the bike’s battery is a likely requirement which costs somewhere in the hefty price bracket of £500-£800. Nevertheless, the savings made after five years by switching from a second car to an e-bike are around £5300.
Even public transport can’t compete with the running costs of an e-bike.
Railway commuters can only dream of affordable train travel when the average cost of a season ticket is now north of three grand. This, of course, is the driving force behind increased traffic.
Local urban public transport, meanwhile, is far cheaper than rail and road, but still more costly than travelling by e-bike.
At a cost of £16.50 per week, the West Midlands bus and metro pass may sound reasonable but will accumulate to an annual cost of around £800. That’s just shy of twice the running cost of an e-bike.
Ride your time well
Of course, cars are capable of travelling faster than e-bikes. But commuters will be all too familiar with rush hour, the recurring nightmare that is motorway traffic jams.
Rush hour prevents the speed capabilities of cars from being exploited, and, as a result, the average commuter spends 26 minutes driving to work. For a ten mile commute that would mean a barely leisurely average a speed of 23 mph.
An e-bike travelling at 15.5 mph will make the standard ten mile commute in just under 39 minutes – slightly longer than in a car. However, cyclists spend the extra thirteen minutes exercising in the fresh air with the sound of the birds humming, rather than sitting in a stuffy metal shell listening to drive-time radio. And people interested in keeping fit could save the time and money of a gym membership.
Of course, for all the heart strength and doses of serotonin an e-bike will give riders, the early adopters of the tech will also find themselves more exposed to toxic exhaust fumes than when they were sitting behind their car’s closed doors.
Travelling by bus, however, is far slower than both driving and cycling.
The average speed of an urban bus is a sedate 12.7 mph, a figure continuously declining, presumably due to increasing traffic. That said, as more people swap cars and buses for bikes, the roads will be much clearer…
Joining the lycra brigade
Needless to say that e-bikes should not be used to replace travelling by foot or regular push bike. These trusty methods are just about as green, affordable and healthy as transport can be.
For those households that predominantly use a second car for short distance solo travel, however, e-bikes are a palpable money-saving and ecological mode of transport.
Additionally, e-bikes can make cycling in social groups more accessible to a range of abilities. Those with less cycling experience will be able to keep up with the keen racers at the front.
Many people reading this would be eager to jump straight to the future and buy an e-bike immediately if it wasn’t such a dear purchase. By joining a local or national carbon club via our free-to-use service, you can gain access to e-bikes at discounted prices.
Right now, you can find national club offers on the following e-bikes:
Decathlon Elops 900 E step over
This decathlon model is the perfect budget option for city cruisers. Those wanting to commute longer distances, however, may wish to look further.
- Cheapest ready-made e-bike
- Low-bar makes for easy mount and dismount
- Suitable size for most
- Motor can be charged separately from the bike
- Range of 25-40 miles is relatively low.
- Heavy and only designed to travel at fairly moderate paces.
This Carrera model is designed with swift cycling performance and long-range in mind. More expensive than the Decathlon option, it still holds up as a cost-effective solution for longer-distance commuters.
- Long range of 50-80 miles on full charge
- Very smooth ride thanks to its ‘torque sensor’
- More expensive
- Smooth ride is at the slight expense of extra oomph going up hills
- Fairly heavy
What would the dodo do?
The dodo, if it were alive today, would continue to drive ten miles to work in a prehistoric diesel car – every house on the street is black for they are so caked in soot – spending more time in traffic jams than actually in the office. Don’t do that.