While eBikes have only been in the spotlight for a relatively short time, they are far from a new invention. Patents for the first eBike designs were granted in 1895, just 78 years after the first-ever bicycle was invented. The eBikes we’ve come to know started gaining popularity in China at the tail-end of the 20th century, but the American eBike boom didn’t begin until the 2010s.
eBike Popularity Growth in the US
The first big spike in eBike purchases in the U.S. came in 2013 when eBike sales jumped 80% from the year before. The sales were concentrated in cities where people were trying to find cheaper, greener transportation alternatives after the 2008 stock market crash. Since then, eBike sales have seen steady growth in North America.
The growth of eBikes has also coincided with the steady uptick in urban population growth. As younger Americans move into cities, eBikes start to make more sense for commuting than doing battle with urban automotive traffic or crowded public transit.
The Quarantine eBike Boom
Overall bike sales saw a bump during the COVID-19 pandemic as people sought family-friendly ways to exercise outdoors and keep their distance from others. According to the NPD Group, this past June saw a 63% year-over-year growth in sales, which they attributed primarily to specialty bikes, including eBikes.
Since pandemic conditions have led to a reduction in automobile traffic and a pent-up demand for socially-distanced exercise opportunities, many communities have instituted road closures for automobiles to allow space for walkers and cyclists to exercise (such as Albuquerque’s “Active Street”). Programs like this allow folks to try out eBiking in a bike-friendly environment and get a taste of what it might be like to shift to an eBike lifestyle post-Covid.
As eBikes have continued to evolve and gain popularity, they’ve become more of a threat to the motorcycle industry. While eBikes and motorcycles have some fundamental differences, folks who are on the fence about which car-alternative to buy for city-living are leaning towards eBikes for a few reasons, according to Medium. Compared to motorcycles, eBikes are:
Less expensive (on several levels) - Not only are eBikes less expensive as a whole, but buying protective riding equipment is also cheaper. eBike helmets are similar to regular cycling helmets whereas motorcycle helmets are much more expensive since they provide protection for faster riding.
Easier to ride - As the old adage says, it’s like riding a bike! And with eBiking it literally is; if you’ve ridden a traditional bicycle, you already know how to work a pedal-assist eBike. Motorcycle riders need lessons before getting out on the road.
Less regulated (read as: fewer hoops to jump through) - Motorcyclists need insurance for their bikes and a license to ride them, eBikers don’t need either of these things.
eBikes are evolving so rapidly that they are catching up with the functionality of lower-end motorcycles. That plus the price and ridability differences are forcing motorcycle companies to take serious notice of the eBike industry and what it means for the future of transportation.
eBike Popularity around the World
North Americans aren’t the only ones getting on eBikes. According to Forbes, a team of three Brussels-based cycling industry groups have projected that Europeans will buy an extra 10 million bikes per year by 2030 (including eBikes). If this prediction rings true, it will boost bike sales to more than twice the number of passenger cars currently registered per year in the EU.
Projected Growth -- Post Covid & Beyond
According to Deloitte, eBikes aren’t going anywhere. They predict that bicycle rides (both electric and traditional) will go up by the billions compared to 2019’s numbers. This is due to technological advances, population growth in cities and society’s focus on creating greener, healthier communities.