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Myths and Legends of Electric Bikes

Myths and Legends of Electric Bikes

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Published by David Graves
An examination of the e-bike’s status in 2010 as a global innovation in sustainable transport; debunking misunderstandings about the electric bike’s safety and green credentials
An examination of the e-bike’s status in 2010 as a global innovation in sustainable transport; debunking misunderstandings about the electric bike’s safety and green credentials

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Published by: David Graves on Jun 29, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Myths and legends of electric bicycles; Green Innovation gaining traction inworld export markets
The ‘Electric Bikes World Wide Report’ (published in 2009) recently estimated that
the European
population of Light Electric Vehicles (LEV’s) has now exceeded 100
million units, and indicated that Europe represents the second largest growth marketafter China. In response to a number of concerns voiced about in regard to safetyand the merits of claims made in relation to the sust
ainability of LEV’s, the EU has
 published two documents: the first establishing the legal definitions of whatconstitutes an electric cycle and the second outlining their policies for the promotionof such modes of transport.
While the European Union’s ‘Intelligent Energy’committee may be fully behind the promotion of LEV’s,
some sceptical voices havebegun to raise questions about
the ‘safe and green’ credentials of 
the electricbicycle, citing recent e-bike bans in China. How justified are these criticisms towardsthe e-bike, and are there any grounds for concern?The Chinese market for electric bicycles has grown exponentially- in 2009, morethan 22m units were sold along with many more millions of kits for home assembly.The automotive industry in China has, alongside their economy, changed rapidly inthe last decade, with tens of millions of rural dwellers moving to cities and accessingmotorised transport for the first time. This rapid growth in auto ownership has filledurban road capacity in cities like
Zhuhai and Guangzhou,
compounding civic planningadjustment issues that authorities in Europe- where patterns of migration are clearlydifferent- would be able to mitigate at a more comfortable pace.However, in China it would appear that the main concerns of local governmentscome not from environmental issues but from the safety hazards of crowded andcongested streets, to which electric bikes can be a perilous addition. Importantly,many of the bikes in China are actually electric scooters , pedal-free with a throttle
and therefore not ‘
e-bikes. Some Chinese officials in particularly congestedareas have not only taken the regulation route favoured in Europe, but have bannedthe use of electric bicycles altogether. Beijing, however, has also recognised that theelectric bike is the primary transport method by which Chinese cities can realisticallycombat pollution and congestion while remaining accessible and economicallyactive. With that in mind, Chinese authorities are partnering with businesses andpioneering methods of making e-bikes greener.
E-bikes, the Environment, and Safety
The main environmental issue to be addressed for e-bikes is the battery ; lead-powered acid
batteries cause harm not from ‘tailpipe’ emissions but
rather from theproduction, recycling and the disposal processes of batteries, spread over the lifecycle of the vehicle. In the Chinese market, the relatively cheaper lead acid batteryhas proven popular; but manufacturers are now being compelled by the Chinesegovernment to use greener lithium batteries. In a volt to volt comparison, lead acidbatteries are four times cheaper than the higher energy density Lithium-ion (Li-ion)favoured by European and UK distributors such as http://www.theelectricbikeco.com.  However, they last for a fraction of the time, so in terms of life cycle costs are lessener
gy efficient and more expensive. China’s e
-bike manufacturers, such as Xinri,are now partnering with universities in a bid to improve their technology.
What about the 6-8 hour charge time for e-bike batteries? Detractors claim that it is awaste of electricity, and could affect the efficiency of power grids. This claim,however, does not stand up to scrutiny. Electric bikes are recharged by plugging intostandard wall outlets- most users indicate that they usually charge their bikes atnight, which can improve the efficiency of the power grid; excess electricityproduction capacity can be used to power batteries which are actually used duringthe day, when demand for electricity is at its peak, meaning it is very unlikely thatpeak or daytime demand would be increased even in the event of a mass increase ofLEV usage in Europe. Secondly, a direct KWh/100 km comparison between a Car,and an electric bicycle shows a ratio of 47/3.8- a well organised car share, in atypical four door sedan style passenger car would still be less energy efficient thaneach individual passenger cycling to work on an electric bike!One final electric bike myth relates to the safety of bicycle use. This issue relatesmore to the perception of risk, rather than any actual evidence of increased e-bikeusage increasing dangerous behaviour, or the number of recorded accidents. In fact,
the EU paper ‘Give Cycling a Push’ published in February 2010 states that the
converse is true: in 2002, cycling traffic in the city of Odense (DK) increased by 20%,while accidents involving cyclists decreased by 20%. Similar results have been seenin the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. And what about those Chinese safetyconcerns? The bans, of course, emanate from regional and federal authorities.China is keen to be a 
,and the government is promoting the use ofcars to help achieve this goal; this can involve preferential treatment for the industry.Such treatment occurs to the detriment of other forms of transport like the e-bike-both in government publicity, and in the Chinese marketplace regulations.
populace, however, is apparently keen to continue using the eco-friendly, quieter,and cheaper electric bike.If there are dangerous elements of cycling, they usually involve the c
yclists’ fear of 
traffic and the risk to cyclists from other, larger vehicles. Electric bikes, in this regard,are thought to be safer than traditional pushbikes. In particularly hilly areas, or pointslike junctions and traffic lights, electric bikes can invaluable in improving theconfidence and road awareness of cyclists; allowing them to accelerate away fromdanger or keep pace with larger vehicles.
So what’s next for electric bikes?
The Chinese are currently attempting to regulate their booming e-bike industry.There are at least half a dozen manufacturers, and the market is growingexponentially; with government pressure to vastly improve the quality of exports,while keeping costs down. E-bike exports are still projected to grow quickly,particularly to Europe and North America. However, it is clear that Europeanmanufacturers are not resting on their laurels; the Dutch in particular have continuedto innovate. Tellingly for such a bike-loving nation, the Dutch Bicycle of the Yearaward in 2009 was won by an electric bike (the Gazelle Chamonix Innergy); e-bikes sales in the Netherlands have tripled in three years. Increasingly, electric bikes arebeing identified as a prime means to access those
demographics (such
as the over 55’s)
which have, so far, been
resistant to marketers’
attempts to lurethem out of their cars and into greener modes of transport. It is promising for e-bikesupporters that EU policy is actively encouraging and helping cities to improve theircycling infrastructure. With both Chinese and European e-bike manufacturers

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