By Chris Carmichael
CEO and Head Coach of CTS
Recently, while riding a lightweight Pinarello F10 on the 10-mile commute between my home and office, a middle-aged man in work boots and overalls blew by me like I was standing still, and it brought a big smile to my face. Like many of you, I’m a diehard analog cyclist, but it’s time for all of us to embrace ebikes.
There is no downside to getting more people outside on two wheels. None. It’s good for the new people riding, good for the environment, good for a struggling cycling industry, and yes, it’s even good for devoted cyclists like you and me.
Ebikes eliminates fear of hills
In my experience, hills are second only to safety concerns as the most intimidating factor that keeps people off bikes. You and I may seek out hills for training and enjoyment, but most people get tired just looking at them. An ebike eliminates the fear of not being able to make it to the top. Put another way, an ebike expands the range and routes people consider rideable, which increases the likelihood they’ll choose the bike for recreation or transportation.
Ebikes make commuting more realistic
A lot of people like the idea of riding a bike to work, until they show up to a meeting in sweaty work clothes. Ebikes eliminate, or at least minimize, that concern. In my travels I’ve seen people in business suits and painters’ overalls riding ebikes, and everyone in between. In some places, commuting by bike can be as fast or faster than driving, but up until recently that was only true for reasonably fit cyclists. Ebikes enable people who are not – and may never be – very fit to achieve financial and time savings that make bike commuting a reasonable option.
Ebikes are still exercise
There might be a small percentage of people who start riding a pedal-assist ebike and transition into traditional road cycling or mountain biking, but the bigger potential benefit is the public health impact of simply getting more people to be more active than they are now. Plus, they provide a great draft for you and me.
Ebikes might save your local bike shop
Local bike shops are struggling to adapt to a changing marketplace and flat to diminishing demand. Ebike sales are one of the few bright spots in the industry. According to market research firm NPD, US road bike sales declined 12% in 2017 compared to 2016 and mountain bike sales grew 3%. Ebike sales made up a much smaller portion of the market ($77M vs $557M for mountain bikes and $413M for road bikes), but ebike sales increased 91% compared to 2016. Trade publication Bike Europe estimated sales growth of 21% across Western Europe, a more mature market for ebikes compared to the US. Purists may not like to see ebikes lined up on the shop floor next to carbon race bikes, but selling – and particularly servicing – ebikes could help stem the steady decline in the number of specialty bike shops in the US since 2000.
Ebikes increase visibility of all bikes
More people on bikes make cyclists less of an anomaly for drivers and pedestrians. Although research on the theory of “safety in numbers” is not conclusive, habituating motorists and pedestrians to expect the presence of cyclists may reduce the risk of collisions. Even more than the potential for safety in numbers, increased visibility normalizes cycling as a means of transportation and recreation. Perhaps the less we are seen as outliers the more we will be included in conversations about city planning and cycling-related legislation.
Ebikes make cycling infrastructure a priority for more people
It is hard to get people behind spending public money for cycling infrastructure when they have little to no personal connection to it. People tend to prioritize issues and expenditures they benefit from directly. While the ‘build it and they will come’ model of increasing ridership by first improving cycling infrastructure has proven effective, more people on ebikes is a way to apply positive pressure and influence on the demand side of the equation.
You might need one
As much as I love being the only motor on my bike, I’m not getting any younger and there may come a time when I – or you – need or want the assistance of an electric motor. Like many of you, cycling is an integral part of my life and I want to ride for as many years as I can. If years from now an ebike enables me to spend more time pedaling outside on two wheels, I’ll gladly trade my F10 for a Pinarello Nytro.