Around the world, electric bikes are becoming more and more popular. According to the Light Electric Vehicle Association, e-bike sales are outpacing those of hybrid and electric cars in the United States.
“The level of ridership has almost doubled or more every year since 2015,” said Mike Radenbaugh, the founder and chairman of Rad Power Bikes. “And we see no slowing of that in the years forward as we look at fuel prices increasing and other challenges to transportation only getting worse.”
The variety of options that have entered the market is largely to blame for this trend. Some are made to fold up or have extra seats for kids, while others are made for specific jobs like food delivery.
Now, people who don’t want the hassles and costs of owning a car are using them as a convenient micro-mobility mode of transportation.
E-bikes can reach speeds of up to 28 mph in the United States, but most reach speeds of around 20 mph.
This speed is frequently faulted for the expanded risks that are seen with e-bicycles contrasted and those of customary bicycles.
“It’s actually simple physics. If a car is traveling 45 or 40 miles an hour and hits somebody, it’s almost a certain fatality. Whereas if that same car is traveling just 10 miles an hour less, you’ve got less than half that probability of a fatality,” said Charles DiMaggio, a professor of surgery and population health at NYU who led a study on e-bike injuries.
E-bikes are significantly more dangerous than other forms of micromobility in terms of the severity of injuries.
“E-bikes are three times more likely to result in a hospitalization if an injury occurs compared to traditional bikes,” DiMaggio said.
E-bikers and cyclists, on the other hand, argue that the speed isn’t a problem; cars are.
“Cars are the greatest threat to other road users,” Radenbaugh said. “Whether that’s pedestrians, regular cyclists or electric bikes.”
E-bikes are much safer to use in places like the Netherlands where bike infrastructure is prioritized.
“The big difference that you see here in the Netherlands compared to most other places, with very few exceptions, is that everybody cycles here. Everybody from 6-year-olds to 90-year-olds,” said Jason Slaughter, the creator of an urban planning YouTube channel called Not Just Bikes.
A likely solution for making e-bikes safer in the United States is to replace roads with bike paths and pedestrian plazas, as has been done in a lot of the Netherlands.
“And bicycle infrastructure is not expensive. But we need to start thinking about this seriously in North America as a network,” Slaughter said.