Electric bikes in 2021 allow riders to go further, faster, whatever the terrain and whatever their level of fitness or experience.
Electric bike benefits: the basics
Adding a motor and a battery to a bicycle is not a new idea, but e-bikes have improved so much in recent years that more and more people are enjoying the benefits. They make cycling easier for people who struggle on pedal cycles. People who are fit and able to cycle find they can go much further, much faster and explore terrain that would be impossible on a regular bike.
They also do well against other vehicles – they’re lighter, cheaper to run and you get a healthy dose of exercise and air every day. Just some of the reasons electric bikes are everywhere in 2021.
Electric bikes in 2020 make cycling make sense for more of us than ever before. So who is going to benefit most from using electric bikes this year?
Commuters love e-bikes
This is how my electric bike riding journey began. When I lived in London the only practical way to get to work was on the Underground. It was expensive, unreliable and the air quality was shocking. I started to look for alternatives, like cycling. Riding across a big city as a novice cycling made me nervous but one evening, I saw the solution. An electric bike.
A TV show featured a guy who was selling alternative vehicles and one of them was a cool folding electric bike, from Honda in Japan. This was great as I could fold the thing up and charge it up next to my desk. It was expensive though, so I bought a couple… and sold one for a good profit that paid for them both and more besides.
And I was right, riding an electric bike across London was fun and easy. The hill near my apartment would be tough on a regular bicycle, but my little Honda flattened it right out.
Since then my company has sold thousands of e-bikes to commuters in London and cities across the World. It’s a really smart way to travel across a busy city for many reasons
- You can ride faster than most cyclists and keep out of trouble in traffic
- You can ride up hills and into headwinds with much less effort
- Much less effort means much less sweat, so you can ride in your work clothes. No need for cycling kit.
- It’s so much cheaper than mass transit, cabs, etc after the initial outlay. Plus you can ride you e-bike at weekends and on vacation.
- You’re getting some exercise and air, but with less exposure to pollution than most other travellers. I’ll write about that in another post someday, there is strong evidence to back me up.
- You’re not polluting the air with your powered transport if that makes you feel better.
Electric bikes in 2020 are great for commuters, that’s obvious. But who else finds value in riding e-bikes?
E-bikes help people recovering from illness or injury
Electric bikes offer a big advantage for people who are not at their physical peak. They take the strain off your muscles and joints and supply extra power when the rider’s own stamina is flagging.
This helps two groups of riders: those who are recovering from illness or injury and those who may have ruled out cycling because they feel they’re too old.
Which means my business sees a lot of people in their seventies, eighties and even nineties taking the road on the two wheels for the first time in many years. And also much younger people who have suffered a health setback (think heart attack, cancer or arthritis) who are keen to regain their fitness with regular, non-strenuous exercise. Sometimes on their doctor’s recommendation.
Electric bikes are a great way to get your confidence back and regain your strength. Many people find an e-bike leaves them feeling years younger, and there’s no end to how good that feels.
Not allowed to drive? You can still ride an e-bike
Some electric bike riders used to drive everywhere but no longer have that option due to medical or legal restrictions.
Failing eyesight is the most common reason people stop driving and take up electric cycling, for a time at least. The rules regarding driver eyesight are much stricter than they are for cyclists and age is often a factor too. So electric bikes offer a way to stay mobile, enjoy your independence and stay both the right side of the law and safer.
There comes a point, of course, when cycling is not advisable if you cannot safely see where you’re going or react to hazards. But this point is later than that for drivers. The potential for harm, either to yourself or anyone else on the road, is comparatively less for electric bikes than cars or motorcycles.
There are also many, many people who have lost their licences because of driving offences. Electric bikes offer a means of getting around, in most places where they remain legal to ride, that beats any other means of transport for speed, convenience and cost. We just have to hope that these electric cyclists don’t repeat the mistakes that lost their licence…
Delivery riders know electric bikes make sense
This is an interesting one because in New York City delivery riders have earned a reputation for abusing rather than using electric bicycles. Consequently, there remains an outright ban on e-bikes in the city. This is a pity as New York is one place that could be transformed by universal e-bike use.
That might be about to change, however, now that city lawmakers have recognised that pedal-assist and throttle-assist e-bikes are two very different things. Whether or not delivery riders will use pedal assist bikes for their drops is uncertain, but other New Yorkers are set to benefit from this change.
Food delivery services like Deliveroo and Uber Eats are now hugely popular in many cities in the US and across Europe. A small but growing number of delivery riders have picked up on the potential of electric bikes.
They’re a smart way to fit more deliveries into a shift, to ride from restaurant to customer more quickly (and perhaps earn greater tips), reduce fatigue and carry heavier loads. All that without the overheads of maintaining and insuring a scooter. Electric bikes seem set to play a big role in delivery services, especially as the firms themselves invest millions in the technology.
Mountain bikers use e-bikes to go all out
Electric mountain bikes were genuinely awful for years, now they’re leading innovation and becoming very desirable to own. Haibike started the trend down the right track at the beginning of this decade and since then hundreds of thousands of mountain bikers have hit the trails on E-MTBs.
What’s the appeal? Well, a lot of the fun of mountain biking is racing downhill along technically-difficult trails. But to go downhill first you have to go uphill (physics!) and that’s the hard part. The first time it’s no problem but if you want to fill your day with riding, repeated uphill riding takes some of the pleasure out of it.
That’s where electric assistance comes in. Electric mountain bikes take the grind out of getting back up to the top of the trail. They also make longer rides more practical, even when you’re carrying extra food, water, camera equipment and body armor.
E-MTBs have become one of the strongest growth areas in the e-bike market. The demographics of electric bike ownership are usually skewed towards the older riders, people in their fifties and sixties or older. Electric mountain bike owners are as likely to be in their thirties or forties, even younger.
A lot of innovation is coming out of the mountain bike market and the popularity of e-bikes here is making their name known more generally. With big brands like Cube, Scott, Specialized and many more adding electric to their offering, your first e-bike could well be of the all-terrain variety.
Electric bikes are highly practical and adaptable. All that extra power means it’s easy to load up your e-bike with child seats, trailers and tagalong bikes and still ride a great distance with minimal effort.
If you have very young children it’s easy to take them on your rides with you, something that is really hard work on a pedal cycle, especially in hilly towns and cities. E-bikes are a very attractive option for short rides to school or kindergarten and thousands of parents are transporting their kids in comfort and safety every day. It’s also really fun for the kids, every day is a little adventure.
Electric bike manufacturers have realised this and specialist family e-bikes are hitting the market. Some, like cargo bikes from Urban Arrow, also work as car replacements, with plenty of space for shopping and work materials.
The only thing that’s stopping parents, in most places outside the Netherlands and Germany, is a good, safe cycling infrastructure that separates vulnerable two-wheeled traffic from motor vehicles.
Electric bikes in 2020 for Gadget Lovers
E-bikes have offered constant innovation for nearly two decades. They were among the first products of any type to offer Lithium-ion batteries. Connectivity has been a strong trend in recent years with many electric bikes connecting to and working with smartphones to provide route guidance, security, tracking and telemetry.
One manufacturer has even announced plans for an electric bike that mines cryptocurrencies while you ride.
Novel materials, like Carbon fiber and graphene, are appearing in e-bike specifications. Batteries are disappearing into the structure of e-bikes and power and capability are increasing year on year.
If you like new stuff, electric bikes are a rich hunting ground for thrilling new developments. That’s why there’s always been a hardcore of gadget-loving neophiles driving forward e-bike technology.
Kids can ride Electric Bikes in 2020 too!
A couple of e-bike manufacturers offer models for children. They’re usually less powerful than adult e-bikes, typically assisting up to about 12mph rather than the usual 15-20mph. They also lack the walkalong function that grown-up electric bikes offer.
The e-bike I bought for my own son has a sticker advising that only children 8 years and older should ride the bike and that seems sensible. Any younger than that and your child might find the bike too heavy and cumbersome to handle.
But with all of that out of the way, kids love e-bikes and parents love them too because it means their child can keep up on longer rides and have less trouble on hills or into headwinds. They also look cool on the road and in the school bike shed.
I bought one for my son because his school is on the other side of a very large hill. There are also some nice zero-traffic routes to his school gate, so it makes sense to ride with him to school rather than drive their every time.
Children’s electric bikes are a fairly new thing, I cannot recall seeing any before about 2016, and it’s still too early to tell if they’ll catch on in a big way. Price is the biggest obstacle, it’s going to cost at least 3 or 4 times what you’d expect to pay for a normal pedal cycle. But if your child is lucky enough to get one, you can look forward to some excellent adventures together.
Go on an adventure, be an e-bike explorer
There’s something about electric bikes that encourages riders to set off on adventures. Whether it’s a day ride up and over the hills in your area or a multi-year world tour by e-bike, the same spirit is at work.
Electric bikes give you the confidence to ride beyond the horizon. It’s partly because you can load up an electric bike with clothing, food and water, even extra batteries and spare parts. It’s also because you feel bionically enhanced riding an e-bike. And if it does all go wrong, something fails or your battery gives out, you still have a bike even if it’s no longer power assisted.
I have been caught out very often, maybe twice in 15 years, but on every occasion, I’ve been able to shrug it off and cycle home under my own power. Though there was that one time where the gears disintegrated and I had to walk it home. The electrics were fine, just the mechanics let me down. It took a little time and I was still able to freewheel downhill and partway up the next!
Try pushing a motorcycle or jeep all the way home. Yet another advantage of e-bikes – easy to recover, easy to maintain.
So if you want to escape for an afternoon, a couple of years or even the rest of your life, taking to the road on an e-bike is a low-cost, low-impact, highly enjoyable way to see the world.
Electric bikes in 2020 for Security & Law Enforcement
Police departments and security organizations were quick to understand the benefits of e-bikes. So now, in 2020, many cities across the globe have officers patrolling electrically.
The way I see it, this is a really positive move for these reasons.
- It saves money. E-bikes are relatively cheap compared to patrol cars and all the extra running costs.
- It increases law enforcement visibility – police and security officers are in the street, not just passing through with no effect
- E-bikes can go places patrols cars cannot. They cover ground faster than regular bicycles and make it easier to operate in hilly terrain
- They’re stealthy – when visibility isn’t what’s required and e-bike can approach a situation rapidly… but really quietly.
- E-bikes can be really fast. Most e-bikes assist the ride up to about 15-20mph (the speed limit varies from place to place) but there are e-bikes out there that assist 28mph – 45mph with the added advantage of being able to travel through traffic rather than in it.
- Officers on bicycles need to pretty fit to keep cycling all day long. E-bikes save the rider’s energy, leaving officers ready to respond without fatigue.
So we can expect to see many more police departments, patrols and event security staff using e-bikes to do their jobs more effectively, efficiently and with reduced environmental impact.
Photographers love electric bikes because they make it easy to carry equipment and they’re able to reach locations that other vehicles cannot reach.
One of my first customers was a Paparazzi photographer, one of the first to see the potential in riding around the nightclub district in London. He was able to move from one venue to another through back streets, alleyways, across squares, beating the competition to the best shot. Usually before anyone else had even realised what was going down.
It was a folding electric bike, imported from Japan, making it easy for him to catch a cab with his bike in one hand, camera in the other. We sold a lot of those little Honda folding electric bikes, they were about 10 years ahead of their time in 2003.
Couples get on with electric bikes in 2020
Here’s what happens: someone comes in to buy an electric bike and they’re worried because they have to get their significant other’s approval. A couple of weeks pass. We hear nothing. Then they turn up with their partner to buy a second electric bike for them.
Electric bikes are like that. You see one, you want to ride one. You ride one, you want to own one. They make cycling make sense for everyone.