If you’ve been thinking about buying an electric bike but have been hesitant to pull the trigger, now may be the best time to go through with a purchase.
COVID-19 has completely upended how we get around on a daily basis. Public transportation is seen as too risky. Shared bikes and scooters probably are, too. You’re most likely staying at home or sheltering in place, so you don’t have too far to travel to run errands or get some fresh air. Walking is fine — for a while. Eventually, there’s going to be diminishing returns, especially as you wear out all of your available routes. You could haul out your old bike for a ride — and you should — but why not go electric?
Let’s look at all of the reasons why e-bikes are really the best mode of transportation for our new pandemic way of life and why this is a very good time to get one for yourself (if you’re fortunate enough to still be employed).
Social distancing: Experts advise that you stay at least six feet away from other people to minimize the spread of infection. It’s a blunt response to the immediate crisis that will last weeks, likely months, and possibly longer if there’s a resurgence before a vaccine can be found.
Cycling is an excellent way to adhere to social distancing guidelines — as long as you’re riding alone. Racing is an excellent group activity, but it’s probably not the best type of cycling for the present moment, so leave the spandex at home. An e-bike, with its varying levels of assist, is the perfect way to get outside, feel the breeze on your skin, watch the pavement rush past underneath, and still get that shot of endorphins in your brain without expending too much effort.
An e-bike also lets you ride farther to escape the congested hearts of most cities where crowded bike paths, especially in Europe, can still pose a risk. Most e-bikes will travel at least 25 miles (40 kilometers), with 50-plus miles (80-plus kilometers) possible when fitted with bigger batteries or when dialing back the assisted power level. And if the battery does die, you can often pop in a spare or pedal home for some much-needed exercise.
Owned, not shared: The shared scooter and bike startups thought they could stick it out during the pandemic, but it appears many are scaling back as ridership fizzles and operations become more difficult and expensive. Infectious disease experts say the risk of contracting coronavirus from a shared vehicle is low even though early studies show it hanging about on surfaces like plastic and stainless steel for a few days. Naturally, many aren’t willing to take the risk. In a recent video conference, micromobility analyst Horace Dediu said the novel coronavirus could accelerate the shift from shared vehicles to personally owned ones. We tend to agree.
Car traffic is plummeting: People are staying at home and avoiding unnecessary travel, demand for ride-hailing is fizzling, and the streets have never been more inviting for cyclists. INRIX says road traffic is down 30 percent in the US cities it tracks. And it could go even lower: Italy, the first nation to institute a coronavirus “lockdown,” is seeing a 65 percent drop overall and 70 percent in personal vehicle travel. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s clear sailing for cycling. Cyclist injuries in New York City were up 43 percent between March 9th and March 15th, according to the NYPD. Cities need to do more to protect cycling by banning car traffic from some streets and expanding their bike lane network. But for experienced cyclists or those who live in places with a robust cycling infrastructure, the time has never been better.
Rules are relaxing: New York City is one of the few cities worldwide to prohibit the use of e-bikes, but the pandemic is bringing some much-needed relief. After encouraging New Yorkers to avoid public transportation during the crisis, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was suspending the police department’s ongoing crackdown on immigrant food delivery workers who use e-bikes. It will likely be very difficult for the city to resume enforcement of its ban after the pandemic subsides, so why not take advantage of this new permissive culture and buy an e-bike.
The weather is improving: In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s springtime in the Northern Hemisphere. What better excuse do you need to get off your ass and into the saddle for a ride? Regular bikes are motivating in their own right, but e-bikes are the perfect all-weather-but-especially-springtime vehicles, allowing you to haul picnic or hiking gear over long distances without breaking a sweat (unless you want to).
A boost for small businesses and health workers: With many restaurants and small businesses turning to delivery to keep things afloat during the pandemic, the need for a fleet of efficient, fast-moving delivery workers is greater than ever. There is likely more supply than demand at the moment, with many gig workers turning to delivery to help offset losses in other jobs. But there’s no question that bikes, and especially e-bikes, are the best way to transport packages and food deliveries to customers.
Some cities are even recognizing that they have a role to play to encourage more delivery workers to use bikes: New York City’s comptroller released a report recently encouraging the city to subsidize “frontline workers” who may be interested in purchasing e-bikes to help speed up their work.
In the UK and parts of the US, bicycle shops selling electric and standard bikes have been granted “essential” status during the COVID-19 lockdown. In London, Brompton bicycles is loaning 200 of its folding bikes to members of the National Health Service (NHS), while many shops across the country are offering NHS staff free repairs. In Scotland, charity organization Forth Environment Link is providing free e-bike loaners to dozens of NHS staff so that they can move between hospital sites and home without using public transportation.
Good e-bikes at all price ranges: E-bike sales are booming globally, which is helping to drive down purchase prices. Local governments are also stepping in with subsidy programs, tax breaks, and other schemes to help drive adoption.
Good e-bikes can now be had for less than $1,000. Even premium e-bikes that offer more features and greater peace of mind can be found for less than $2,000. VanMoof, for example, recently dropped the price of its excellent Electrified S2 and X2 e-bikes to €1,798 in Europe and $1,998 in the US. Likewise, an exceptionally promising new e-bike from Muto has just started sales in Europe for an introductory price of €1,549. And Rad Power Bikes’ ridiculously fun RadRunner utility bike can now be had for $100 less at $1,199.
Many countries in Europe offer e-bike incentives to promote their green initiatives. In the Netherlands, for example, a government-backed scheme introduced in January allows employees to lease an electric bike for less than the cost of a Netflix subscription. A €3,000 (about $3,260) e-bike can be leased through employers for about €7 ($7.60) per month.
The US is not nearly as forward-thinking, but perhaps a pandemic will spur a much-needed change in how we see e-bikes.