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Do e-bikes offer a viable alternative mode of transport for the future?

The Hague, Scheveningen Pier, Netherlands - August 7, 2014: Here in the photo the beach promenade of Scheveningen. There are charging point for electric bicycles.  The picture shows an E-Bike which is connected for charging via cable to the station. Here e-bikes are available for rent.

We recently saw an article in ITS International about how some Dutch provinces were starting to investigate the feasibility of developing infrastructure to support 'rapid' cycling using e-bikes to encourage their use by commuters.

In particular, they are looking at adapting a 30-kilometre route between Assen and Groningen to encourage motorists to switch to bicycles.

Then as we read further around the subject, we were surprised to learn that even some traditional motorised vehicle manufacturers are getting in on the act, and see e-bikes as having an important role in the megacities of the future.

It reminded us of the e-bike shops we came across when in Amsterdam for Intertraffic last year.

Priced at anything from 700 upwards, with a range of between 20-60 miles of power assisted cycling between charges and usually just requiring plug in to a normal power socket, conceivably these e-bikes could be viable for many people – especially those whose commute is in the apparently normal '8-20 miles' bracket.

EU legislation currently dictates that the motor on these vehicles has to cut out (i.e. not exceed 15.5mph), yet riders can of course pedal faster than this if they so wish.

It is also stipulated that a rider must be over 14 years old to ride an electric bike, but they are not required to pay Vehicle Excise Duty, register the bike, have insurance, or wear a helmet.

E-bikes are able to use the same cycle facilities as a normal bike – such as off-road cycle paths, Advanced Stop Lines at traffic lights, designated cycle crossings, and of course, they can use the roads unless bikes are prohibited (such as is the case on motorways).

So might they have a place? We think so.

Clearly, they have a huge benefit to enabling the less agile to still retain independence, as well as those who have quite a difficult hilly terrain as part of their commute.

For those who commute is beyond the 8-20 mile bracket, then there may be more viable options, including electric motorbikes, public transport, or hybrid/electric vehicles.

It could be counter-productive to be pushing e-bikes as the default option.

We are only just starting to make a real breakthrough with development of cycling infrastructure, and seeing a corresponding change in the culture towards more people choosing active travel options where it is viable.

And e-bikes could be seen as a bit of a backwards step, perhaps a lazy option: just when the message about the way active travel can impact an individual's long-term health is beginning to challenge the largely sedentary lifestyle that our busy working lives has led us to.

What do you think? Could you see yourself on an e-bike? Do you think they could be a good way to perhaps gently encourage the most inactive or resistant of us?

They're certainly a cleaner technology example that smart cities should be looking to adopt in the future.

Author: |Date Published: April 2015

Links: Cycle Safety

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