The E-bike Revolution is Coming

It was great to see the Linus Ember e-bike, donated by Joann Knuth in honor of Dan Knuth, in Climate Generation’s Voices to Power Earth Day fundraiser and auction. It is a high quality ride.

I know active transportation and electric assist bicycles, or e-bikes, are not the only solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but it is easy to show that the return on investments (ROI) in making biking and walking convenient, safe, and fun is very high. The ROI on e-bikes is also increasingly being recognized by consumers, policymakers and businesses. That is a good thing, but like so many other things, the United States is far behind the rest of the world in adopting active transportation as part of climate solutions and that includes e-bikes.

In April, when speaking to Congress, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, “Climate change is real, I recognize that the single biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United States is the transportation sector. Thankfully, that means that the transportation sector gets to be the biggest part of the solution.”

It is such a relief to hear that from a top advisor of the administration. We are all hoping that those words translate into meaningful action in Minnesota and nationwide. However, it has been frustrating to watch our inability take any significant climate action steps here in Minnesota.

Still, I’m thankful that MnDOT is also pursuing greenhouse gas reduction solutions. For more than a year I have served as a member of the MnDOT Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council (STAC). Recently, MnDOT adopted the recommendations of both the Fueling and Powering Transportation and Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) STAC work groups. Among their many recommendations they notably said charging infrastructure should include outlets for charging e-bikes. But, more importantly, they recognized that VMT reduction needs to be a big part of the solution, along with electrification and adopted a statewide 20% VMT reduction goal which is one of the only statewide goals in the nation. Achieving such a goal will take a coordinated effort that involves infrastructure investment and land use planning to make transit, active transportation, and telecommuting more accessible. E-bikes will be an increasingly important part of this effort.

E-bike sales have been growing 100% per year for the past three years. Minnesota specialty retailers/bike shops expect $65 million in sales in 2021 alone. 152,000 e-bikes were sold last year in the U.S., a figure that would be more than five million if Americans used them at the same rate as western Europeans. But we are working to catch up.

The Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota is working with the Legislature to update the e-bike definitions and regulations to the national and international standards and national bike organizations are supporting an e-bike purchase tax credit in Congress along with much more funding for active transportation infrastructure.

Encouraging e-bike use makes so much sense. Even though a lot of the bike sales are mainly for recreational use, studies show that people slowly begin using them as transportation for short trips. With increased infrastructure, and as people return to their dreaded commutes, we have an opportunity to capitalize on the overall increase in walking and biking, especially on e-bikes with their numerous practical and environmental advantages. The majority of trips people take—to school, to work, and for errands—are less than ten miles, easily within e-bike range. In fact, a Bureau of Transportation Statistics study found that up to 69% of car trips are two miles or less.

In the best of cases, e-bikes are charged using low-carbon energy sources like residential solar panels or wind and solar from the grid, but even if powered by a dirtier electricity grid, they are still the most energy-efficient form of motorized transport, consuming the electricity equivalent of about 1,000 miles per gallon of gasoline. A study by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy shows that transportation mode-shifting to bicycles and e-bikes—increasing from about 7% worldwide (much lower in the U.S.) today to approximately 22% of urban passenger travel distance by 2050—would greatly reduce emissions and save $128 trillion compared to business-as-usual.

An e-cargobike recently took up residence in one of the two stalls in our garage. It has a range of 93 miles on low power assist, has no trouble cruising close to 20 mph or going up the steepest hills at a good pace, requires much less effort than a regular bike, can easily carry more than four bags of groceries, and you can park closer to the door of most stores than cars can. My wife Margie and I now fight about who gets to go to the grocery store.

The Linus Ember, the e-bike in the auction, is from Perennial Cycle, the e-bike specialists in Uptown Minneapolis. It is a high quality bike with an aluminum frame and a Shimano motor that should provide about 100 miles of pedal assist range on low power and about 50 on high. I’m so happy it was part of the Climate Generation’s Voices to Power Earth Day fundraiser and auction.

Dorian Grilley
Executive Director
Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota


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