The EV Revolution Is Happening – With Bikes

Hell, yes, electric vehicles are taking off! But more so the two-wheeled kind than the four-wheelers. A new report from Pike Research highlights the ongoing explosion in the e-bicycle market, “with sales expected to reach 30 million units in 2012.”

Thirty million — now. Compare that to electric cars, where even the International Energy Agency’s ambitious goal of 20 million electric cars total on the road worldwide by 2020 seems ambitious.

Faraday Porteur

image via Faraday Bikes

But bike advocates, take note: There’s a bit of an unsavory flip side to this seemingly happy story. Nearly 28 million of those electric bicycles will be sold in China, and most of them will use sealed lead acid batties, Pike notes, raising waste and contamination concerns. Plus, despite China’s massive investments in renewable energy industries, it’s coal power that mainly will charge those batteries.

“While this has resulted in extremely low cost e-bicycles in China, it has also led to a number of challenges including e-bicycle traffic congestion, lead contamination, and manufacturers effectively ignoring laws relating to e-bicycles speed and weight limits,” the energy market researcher said.

The United States has its own issues with e-bikes, Pike says.

“The market in North America and Latin America continues to struggle with a weak distribution network and modest demand,” Pike reports. “As a result, the e-bicycle market is experiencing an accelerated rate of acquisitions and business failures.”

Pike sees e-bike sales in the United States at least tripling in the next six years, hitting 265,000 in 2018, which is solid growth – but still barely enough to outstrip the sales 252,000 that much-smaller Germany will see this year.

“Although the e-bicycle will remain a niche product in the United States, the U.S. market is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent,” Pike senior research analyst Dave Hurstsaid in a statement.  “That means it will continue to trail significant Western European markets, but increases in bicycle infrastructure in growing urban centers and the rise in popularity of alternative means of transport will make e-bikes a viable choice for thousands of new users.”

That’s a trend that EarthTechling’s Paul Willis reported on earlier this year in New York City. And wouldn’t you know it, Willis found a China connection: “In Chinatown, electric bikes are showing up on nearly every corner and several shops have recently appeared, selling bikes imported from Chinese factories.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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