The 5 Mile Commute – Are Electric Bikes the Answer?
The commute to work ramps up the worry factor, it makes you angrier, fatter, sleep less, more likely to divorce and triples your risk of a heart attack.
But we still need to get to work. We still have to commute. Keen cyclists already pedal to their desks, but this solution isn’t right for everyone. Perhaps the answer to the short commute is the easier alternative. Enter the electric bike.
Why the Electric Bike?
Electric bikes have been around for a while. Initially their reputation was damaged by the flood of cheap Chinese imports, but over the last few years innovative sleek models have entered the market place at various price points. Giant and Raleigh have recently launched their £1,000 models, then there are the Shadow bikes, Koga and Hercules which are nearer the £2,000 mark.
They are growing in popularity. According to Frank Jamerson’s Electric Bikes Worldwide Report, annual production of e-bikes in China reached 27m in 2010 up from just 58,000 in 1998. And in 2011 around 60 million cars were sold worldwide and during the same period, 31 million electric bikes were also purchased.
Of course an electric bike isn’t as green as a push bike because the battery requires electricity which on average equates to 2.6 grams of CO2 per mile compared to 150 grams for most electric cars, and 136 grams for scooters. But, like all electric vehicles, their carbon emissions whilst running are zero.
In July this year, UK electric bike company, Just E-Bikes presented their research to Norman Baker, the UK Transport Minister in the hope of outlining the benefits of using e-bikes as an alternative to cars. They surveyed 43,000 public and private sector workers and found that 22% lived within 5 miles of their workplace and yet still commute by car each day. If 22% of the UK’s working population commuted on an electric bike instead of a car it would save £11 billion and 3.8 MtCO2e per annum. This is the equivalent to the amount of carbon the UK’s woods and forests take from the atmosphere each year.
What comes first? Bike lanes or the bike?
If the electric bike booms and global sales (albeit it slow in the UK and U.S.) continue to rise along their predicted trajectory, where are the cyclists meant to go? Electric bike companies claim that electric bikes are safer than regular bikes because of their consistent speed, reduced wobble, and reliable acceleration at junctions and roundabouts. But if 22% of the UK commuting population did switch from bike to car, where are the cyclists meant to go? Is the current infrastructure safe enough?
Indeed, Transport for London (TfL) estimates that the amount of cycle journeys will reach 1.5million by 2020 . If this is the case, other services may also need to be considered. For example the provision of free cycle pumps like the ones already springing up in London, the first one was installed near London’s Imperial War Museum by Cyclehoop. (www.cyclehoop.com). There would be a need for extra cycle security and storage, and perhaps even the extension of practical schemes such as the Suffolk based incentive where local pubs stock puncture repair kits for passing cyclists.
There are already cities which safely incorporate cyclists in their hub, London being one of them. But if the average 5 mile commute by car was to become an e-bike journey, then many urban landscapes would need re-thinking with cycling safety and ease in mind. Perhaps only then would attitudes shift and e-bikes could become the preferred mode of transport for future commuters, helping us to live longer and happier lives.
Kate Marillat is a UK freelance writer specialising in the environment and clean energy.