I love to bike, I always have. Feeling the wind under my jacket and smelling the fresh air is truly a wonderful thing. And it’s something that’s good for body and mind – not to mention the environment.
Now, my 14-year-old brother is getting into bicycling, too, with a tool that wasn’t available when I was his age just a few years ago: an e-bike.
This past year has been tough for many young people, my little brother included. He was in his last year of middle school, which made the rocky transition to online learning, and ended up trapped in his room with his computer as the only means of communication with his friends. Video games quickly and effortlessly overtook physical social activity. Friends of his who didn’t have computers lost even that opportunity to connect.
The gift of an e-bike led to my brother all of the sudden going out and meeting his friends in person. After more than a year of isolation sitting behind a desk, having access to a bike that gave him that feeling of fresh air and clear skies was huge.
Biking provides a valuable alternative to fossil fuel-emitting modes of transportation. However, for many people, getting on a conventional bike is – or seems – difficult. Personally, since I am capable of dealing with a little bit of post-workout calf and thigh burn, biking has never been a challenge for me. But for a great many people, that’s not the case. People with disabilities, older people, those who aren’t very active or those who live in places with poor bicycle infrastructure may shy away from cycling or find it impossible. E-bikes can help would-be riders to overcome those barriers to a certain extent. And for young people like my brother, who at 14 is not yet legally able to obtain his driving license or permit for going long distances, an e-bike can be a ticket to freedom.
Recently, e-bikes have had a massive surge in popularity. Sales of e-bikes have spiked as new technology allows more readily available e-bikes and people figure out just how cool and convenient this technology can be. Not only does this reflect the changing interests of people as a result of the pandemic, but it also represents the worldwide shift towards greater bike usage.
E-bikes represent an innovation that allows for bikes to become a more functional means of transportation for people for whom biking wouldn’t otherwise be an option.
But there are still hurdles to making e-bikes available to everyone.
The price tag of e-bikes sometimes runs well into the thousands of dollars. And, while many states have recognized the importance of EV adoption and implemented financial incentives to help people with the initial costs, widespread assistance is not yet available for e-bikes.
Providing financial incentives for e-bikes can help to bring them within financial reach of more Americans, but there are other creative tools we can use. One is to extend the principle of bikesharing – rapidly becoming a part of the urban landscape in cities across America – to e-bikes. In cities across the country such as Houston, Texas, and Madison, Wisconsin, conventional bike sharing programs have come to include or replace conventional bicycles with e-bikes. Integrating e-bikes into bikeshare systems has resulted in a huge jump in ridership, with e-bikes rentals outpacing conventional bikes when both are available. Another option is to create e-bike “libraries” with e-bikes for public use. Such policies have been discussed, for example in Santa Barbara, California and Park City, Utah. In parts of Vermont, both e-bike libraries – which allow free, temporary access to e-bikes –or bike shares have been available.
E-bikes represent a means of freedom from dirty forms of transportation – and, for people like my brother, a means of freedom. Every American should get the chance to feel the wind blow on their face as they go from place to place – without polluting the air we breathe.