I am a cyclist, but I do not own, nor have I ever ridden, an e-bike. I find the e-bike concept and technology to be interesting, but e-bikes do not align with my cycling goals. Perhaps when I am older, it will make sense for me.
An ad from REI popped up on FB, suggesting that I contact my Congresspersons to support the “E-BIKE Act”, which would create a tax credit toward the purchase of new e-bikes. My first reaction was that of course REI would want that, since they sell e-bikes. It would basically be money that ends up in retailers’ pockets. But then I clicked the link.
It was not “everyone should own an e-bike,” as I was expecting. Rather, the rationale has to do with carbon emissions, on the basis that many would choose to commute or run errands on an e-bike rather than an automobile.
“If 15% of today’s carbon-emitting car trips were made by electric bicycles (e-bikes), America’s carbon emissions would shrink by more than 11 percent.
“That’s because in addition to providing safe and convenient ways to get from place to place, battery-powered e-bikes displace carbon emissions from vehicles and lower pollution levels. E-bikes are increasingly popular for people looking to commute to work, run errands, or enjoy the outdoors without needing a car. But we need to make sure more people – of all income levels – can access and enjoy this form of low-carbon transport.”
Even if you believe electric energy ultimately produces as much carbon emission as fossil fuel energy (because much of our electricity is still produced from fossil fuel), a bicycle of any kind is much more energy efficient than an automobile, simply because of its much smaller mass.
The big question for me then is whether people would really use e-bikes in this way.
I don’t. It’s rare for me to ride my bicycle somewhere rather than to drive my car. This is because cycling infrastructure is entirely non-existent where I live. I mainly ride for recreation and exercise. In fact, having a bicycle increases my carbon impact because I drive places to ride my bike.
However, not everyone lives where I live. I live in a suburb that is more rural than urban. Bicycle infrastructure is more common in urban communities. How common? It depends, of course. Nearby St. Louis has a fair number of bike lanes, but mostly where it was easy. And what percentage of the population lives in communities like that? And what percentage of the weather will allow it?
Definitely not enough that 15% of vehicle commutes could become e-bike commutes. Not today.
A tax credit to acquire e-bikes might be a good starting point, but by itself that won’t solve the problem. If cycling is to significantly offset carbon emissions, then this nation will need to invest heavily in bicycle infrastructure.
Update: Just reading an article, The 5 Most Bike-Friendly Cities in the U.S. in 2021, about 5% of the population in the most bikable city in the United States (Minneapolis) bikes to work. Would widespread adoption of e-bikes triple that?