For the first time ever, Climate protests have brought the climate crisis to the attention of pretty much everyone. I’ve felt for years that our warming climate is the MOST important issue and that pretty much everything else is a distraction. Ebikes are one of the most important parts of solving the climate crisis, especially in big cities and yet many governments have been resistant or even downright hostile to bicyclists and ebikes. The tide is slowly turning and a window is opening up right now for ebikes to become accepted into the mainstream all over cities in the US. This article is about why that is so important and how ebikes can help solve congestion problems as well as help us fix the climate.
It’s all about the carbon footprint
Think about a car and all the resources that go into making a car. You have thousands of pounds of steel, rubber, copper, and electronics. A modern Prius has over 100 different computers that monitor a multitude of things. Even building a Tesla, arguably the best electric car on the market right now costs the same amount of carbon to create (according to this report) as an ICE car if you don’t count the battery. Adding a battery puts an additional 15% to the carbon cost or 1 metric ton of CO2. This is of course dwarfed by the carbon savings over the life of the car by not using gas, even if that electricity is generated entirely by coal. What if there was a better option than building an enormous 3-ton vehicle to cart your 175 pound bag of mostly water around? It’s called a bicycle, and it’s shockingly efficient.
The average speed of someone on a bicycle is 9.6mph, the average speed of traffic on Manhatten Island is now 4.7mph (true story). If we pulled all of the cars out of NYC and just had bicycles we could double the speed at which everyone gets around. Now, let’s talk about e-bikes.
We don’t have an energy problem, we have an efficiency problem
With Ebikes they cost very little carbon to create, they take very little energy to power and they are exceedingly efficient at moving us from place to place. In this world, we don’t have an energy problem we have an efficiency problem. Case in point, I just installed $24,000 worth of panels on my home, but these panels are less than 15% efficient. What that means is that if I had a single panel about the size of a bed that was 100% efficient it would provide all the energy needs for a 3,500sq/ft home with 2 apartments in it. When you really start thinking about that, it just blows your mind.
Now think about how much energy it takes to move around 5000 lbs of steel, plastic, and rubber. Compare that with the energy it takes to move around 50lbs of steel, plastic and rubber. What really makes sense?
Why they hate us
Bicyclists hate ebikers because they feel like they are cheating, governments hate ebikes because they see them as a safety risk and ebikes are not regulated and taxed like motorcycles and scooters. Pedestrians hate ebikes because they are silent and fast and sometimes people irresponsibly ride on the sidewalks. All these things are doubly true for electric scooters. The only people who advocate for electric bikes are the ebike manufacturers and the people who actually ride ebikes who tend to love them. Together they have very limited lobbying power and pull when it comes to making policy. The best that we can hope for is to piggyback on the bicyclists and hope we don’t get kicked out of their bike lanes.
Something has to change
Ebikes are the BEST solution to the problem of commuting in inter cities. When I was in Denmark they were closing roads in the city center and building bike lanes and housing where the roads used to be in every major city. In Esbjerg, they now have about 20 city blocks in the city center where cars are not allowed to go and it has been a huge boon to the city. There are shoppers everywhere and the bicycles and ebikes zip along in the center of the street, easily getting to wherever they want to go. This is the model of the city of the future. No congestion, just pedestrians, bicycles, and ebikes with lots of trees and people where the streets used to be. I don’t know when cars took over our cities, but it’s high time we took our urban centers back.
In order to get off fossil fuels in the near future, we must give up our giant, inefficient hunks of metal to get around and embrace a new paradigm of riding bicycles or e-bikes. There is nothing more efficient at getting you from one point to another as an ebike.
What makes a good commuter
A good commuting ebike is different than a good trail bike. It is geared much higher so you can pedal along at a good clip at high speeds. It should be geared low enough that you can ride the bike when the battery dies so you don’t have to worry about range anxiety. One of the biggest problems with electric cars is when you run out of battery you are stuck with a 5000 lb hunk of steel, with an ebike you can just pedal home. I think a good commuter is light enough to carry upstairs and preferably has a belt drive to keep you from getting chain oil on your clothes when carrying your bike up and down stairs.
I built a very cheap commuter many years ago for about $780 without the battery (review here). If I was to buy a commuter today I would invest in the Luna Fixed (available here) which is an incredibly clean ebike for $1650. If you don’t want to buy a new ebike you can just convert almost any bicycle to an ebike with a BBS02 or BBSHD conversion kit for about $1000-1300 with a battery. I’ve never met a hub motor that I didn’t destroy, and I can’t recommend mid drives enough. I have 8 BBS02’s and 4 BBSHD’s and put thousands of miles on both and they are totally awesome. There might be people out there that have bought a BBS02 or BBSHD that are not satisfied with the bikes that they built, I just haven’t met them yet.
No left turns
One of the biggest complaints about ebikes and bicycles is how incredibly unsafe they are to ride in most cities. My experience is this is often the case if you’re trying to make a left-hand turn against several lanes of fast oncoming traffic. In Denmark and many other European countries that is completely avoided by bicycles ALWAYS being in the right lane of traffic. When the bicycles want to make a left-hand turn, they instead turn right and get in the line of traffic going straight and wait for a green light. This is shown in the diagram below. My experience doing this is that it makes riding in big cities with lots of lanes of traffic many times safer than to cut across and try to make a left-hand turn against several lanes of fast oncoming traffic.
You must decide your level of involvement
When it comes to the climate crisis every person on this planet must decide what they are willing to do to contribute to ending the problem. I don’t know of any parent who wants to destroy the world for their children, yet in our continued complacency, that is exactly what we are doing. Whether it means eating lower on the food chain, planting trees, installing solar or commuting with an e-bike, everything thing that we are willing to do to save the planet will help. I’ve decided to plant over 5000 trees (Chestnuts and Hazelnuts) in less than a year without using a tractor. That means that every spare second I have I am shoveling wood chips or manure and I am really the happiest and healthiest I have ever been.
I feel like the best way to influence others is to lead by example. Commuting with an ebike is cool, efficient and really fun. You can use bike and hiking trails instead of congested highways to get around.
Even though the current administration had declared war on the environment, there is nothing that is stopping you from growing trees on your own land. If you do decide to plant trees I highly recommend planting trees that produce food, as the future will almost certainly bring food shortages. Planting trees is the one way we can reverse the damage of climate change, but planting trees is not enough. We must also end our addiction to fossil fuels.
The science has told us in no uncertain terms that we don’t have a choice, it’s a do or die situation. I have yet to meet anyone living in a first-world country who I would consider to be sustainable, much less carbon positive, and I’m not even sure if that is possible. I feel like my mission in life is to figure out if we can live on this planet in a way that actually improves the earth, not just degrades it.
Ebikes are fun, cheap and are one of the ways you can cut way down on your CO2 transportation footprint. What’s not to like?