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Electric powered travel is not as new as we think it is. For more than a hundred years, inventors have been trying to develop systems which allow consumers to use electricity to power their vehicles and even bicycles rather than burning fossil fuels. This has meant developing batteries that can last long enough for extended journeys without being huge and too expensive. Electric and hybrid bicycles have been around for more than a century, so why are consumers only hearing a lot about them right now?
Hybrid & Electric Bicycle Absence
Technology was not quite ready to meet the needs of consumers a hundred-plus years ago; even a decade ago. Low-tech batteries were very large. The e-bike, as it would later be known, was slow and expensive. The battery was capable of only short journeys, just like an electric car battery. Battery chemistry has been subject to extensive research and funding in recent years, thanks to demands for electric cars, so technology has been leaping forward at a fast rate than ever. This is also partly due to the desire for wireless electronics among consumers.
UPDATE! We now have some great electric bikes listed!
Check our sections on “Electric and Hybrid Bicycles” and “Electric Bicycles on Amazon“
Why Go Electric
With a regular bike, a person’s body is responsible for doing all the work. This makes it impractical for consumers to make regular journeys by bicycle if they travel many kilometers to work, church, school, etc. Time constraints are an issue as is the uncomfortable reality that you sweat when you work like this. Bosses tend to frown on sweaty employees. Then again, traffic and parking prices plus the cost of purchasing, maintaining, and insuring a vehicle make cars poor options as well. Even if you can afford the price of running your car and taking it to work every day, there is the unfortunate environmental cost to be weighed up.
Think of a traffic jam, where cars are spewing toxins into the air without going anywhere. Bicycles can get between the vehicles, however, allowing individuals to travel more freely at times. Of course, that is not the case on a high-speed highway or where cars are able to move freely; when climbing hills, a car will go faster. Ultimately, the efficiency and usefulness of an electric bike is not as important as environmental factors.
Hybrid vs. Electric
There are two types of electric bike. The hybrid requires consumers to do some of the pedaling and might take some power back into the battery as a result of a person’s cycling efforts or while coasting downhill. An electric bike can be pedalled but the motor will handle everything if you wish. The line between them is a very fine one; more to do with battery power and duration; wattage and speed than anything else. Designs resemble all types of bicycles and they are made for city or off-road use specifically.
Who is the Electric Bike for?
Little has been said about electric bikes in North America until recently. The success of electric cars has prompted greater interest, however. Like Tesla and Nissan, e-bike inventors and manufacturers are responding to environmental needs. Finally, the technology is becoming affordable enough for average people to purchase it.
But will the average person buy one? Right now, that depends on where you live. In places where cycling is the normal way to travel, these devices are very big business. Holland and China are two examples. If your destination is further than 60 miles, a car is the better choice, and this is only with the top bike motors installed. For short journeys of 20 miles or less, electric bikes are excellent if there is somewhere to plug the battery in and charge it up.
The senior/disabled market could benefit significantly. If you can’t ride a regular bicycle comfortably because of injury or poor health, motorized assistance offers a compromise. You might have to pedal a little bit and at least get some exercise, but age and infirmity don’t keep you off of two wheels anymore. Spouses and kids can’t complain that a loved one is riding a dangerous, noisy motorbike; bicycles with motors are permitted on paths, are quiet, and they don’t reach nearly high enough speeds to make for a risky ride.
Young people are also discovering the allure of riding a bike with a motor. Battery operated technology and green attitudes are trendy. Teens and 20-somethings are more assertive about environmental issues than the previous generations have been, so they are choosing this bike versus a car. Moreover, since a good once can be purchased for around $1,500, a young person on a budget can afford this sort of transportation far more easily than he can afford to buy a car, fill it with gas, and keep it insured.
Generally, the electric bicycle is not fast enough or capable of high enough wattage to require registration or licensing. Anyone can ride them down city streets. Cars enhance one’s feeling of independence, but an electric bike is a compromise between that desire for freedom and budgetary realities.