The bright future of electric cargo bikes

For a lot of city dwellers, an ebike might make more sense than a traditional automobile

An electric bicycle.
(Image credit: JFsPic/iStock)

Among a certain set of eco-conscious city dwellers, electric bikes are all the rage. These motor-assisted, battery-powered bikes are increasing in numbers on many city streets, as people discover how fun, practical, and affordable this alternative form of transportation is.

Electric bikes — or "ebikes" as they are often called — are part of a larger movement that is encouraging people to go "car-less," particularly for the 40 percent of car trips that are under two miles. After all, in a big city, owning a car can be a real pain, with traffic congestion, parking woes, and mounting expenses. But of course, not everyone wants to work up a sweat muscling a bicycle around town. That's where ebikes come in. They offer the freedom of a bicycle, with the assistance of a powerful motor and battery. And the best part is you can still haul your groceries, packages, and other equipment without having the added weight slow you down or make you work harder.

Fans of ebikes are quick to sing their praises. "People and companies want to reduce their carbon footprint, and the stress and time associated with driving," explains Ty Collins, cofounder of Rad Power Bikes. And indeed, there are real environmental advantages to ebikes. They only emit 22 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. A car, by contrast, belches out 271 grams per kilometer. Plus, ebikes can be charged using alternative energy sources such as solar and wind.

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They're also quite practical for many commuters. You can weave in and out of immobile cars on congested roads, using bike lanes and paths, shoulders, and so on. You can flatten hills with the assistance of the electric motor. And parking is free and a breeze. Just lock up your bike and go.

But it's the affordability that may be the clincher for many people living in big cities. Putting gas in your car will cost you roughly $2 for every 25 miles you drive. But with an ebike, you can travel the same distance for only eight cents. Plus, you'll never have to go to the DMV or pay for pricey maintenance and upkeep.

It's not just commuters, though. Many businesses are also getting in on the ebike action. With increasing fuel costs, lack of parking, rising consumer expectations for delivery services, and pressure to improve sustainability, many businesses are turning to ebikes to boost their bottom lines and improve their services.

"Compared to traditional cargo vehicles, ebikes are inexpensive to own and operate, and are vastly more efficient, nimble, and green," explains Collins. In fact, UPS is already experimenting with electric bikes.

Of course, not everyone is a believer. Many justifiably scoff at the idea of electric-powered bicycles soon dominating American cities.

For his part, Collins encourages the skeptics to give ebikes a try. They'll quickly realize how easy, enjoyable, and efficient electric bikes are, he says. "There is a real freedom gained by riding ebikes — even more so than driving and especially compared to relying on public transportation," he adds.

Will we actually see electric bikes replace cars in big cities? Well, for some people, sure. "Electric cargo bikes are already replacing personal and commercial vehicles, especially in urban areas," explains Collins.

However, America is still very much dominated by its car culture. And let's be honest: Most Americans would balk at the idea of replacing their beloved car with a bike of any sort. So no, for most people, ebikes will not replace cars. But their future remains bright indeed.

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