Episode 1: Electric Bikes with Amber Wason (Riide)


Are electric bikes the next big thing to take over sustainable transportation? Amber cruised by to help us discuss the logistics, legalities, and plain fun of electric bikes and her new company Riide.

Episode Intro Notes


What We'll Cover

  • History of (electric) bikes
  • Classes of electric bikes
  • The electric bike market
  • Environmental impacts associated with electric bikes


History of (Electric) Bikes

The Dandy Horse - the original bicycle prototype - was created by the German Baron Karl von Drais and introduced to the public in the summer of 1817 (1). Its rider sat astride a wooden frame supported by two in-line wheels and pushed the vehicle along with his or her feet while steering the front wheel (2).  Basically, imagine a ski attached to two big wheels that you sit on while you use your legs to propel you. The modern bike as we know it was likely introduced in the 1890s, considered to the Golden Age of Bicycles, with freely rotating wheels and coaster brakes (3).

It didn’t take long for bikes to (try to) become electric. In the 1890s, electric bicycles were documented within various U.S. patents. For example, on 31 December 1895, Ogden Bolton Jr. was granted US Patent 552,271 for a battery-powered bicycle with “6-pole brush-and-commutator direct current (DC) hub motor mounted in the rear wheel.” There were no gears and the motor could draw up to 100 amperes (A) from a 10-volt battery (4). By 2007 e-bikes were thought to make up 10 to 20 percent of all two-wheeled vehicles on the streets of many major Chinese cities (5).


Classes of Electric Bikes

  • Pedal Assist: the electric motor is regulated by pedaling. The pedal-assist augments the efforts of the rider when they are pedaling. They have a sensor to detect the pedaling speed, the pedaling force, or both. Brake activation is sensed to disable the motor as well (6)
  • Power-on-Demand: the motor is activated by a throttle, usually handlebar-mounted just like on most motorcycles or scooters (6).

A single bike can have elements of both pedal assist and power-on-demand (6).

Legal speed limits of electric bikes (6):

  • Australia: 15.5 mph
  • Israel: 15.5 mph
  • UK: 17.3 mph
  • US: 20 mph

Even though federal law was amended in 2002 to distinguish between e-bikes that can travel 20 mph or less and motorcycles, mopeds and motor vehicles, about 30 U.S. states still have confusing regulations around them. Either the bikes are technically classified as mopeds or motor vehicles, or they have equipment, licensing or registration requirements that cause problems for riders. 


The Electric Bike Market

E-bike usage worldwide has experienced rapid growth. It is estimated that there are around 200 million eBikes in China, and sales are expanding rapidly in India, the United States of America, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland (7). Today, China is the world's leading producer of e-bikes. In 2014, the EU bought 1.3 million Ebikes and 80% of those were imported from China (8,9). In 2014, the market for eBikes in the United States was estimated at 193,000 (10). Electric bicycles are expected to generate $10.8 billion a year in worldwide revenue by 2020, up from $8.4 billion in 2013 (11).


Environmental Impacts of electric bikes

While electric bikes are technically zero-emission vehicles because they emit no combustion byproducts, the environmental effects of electricity generation and power distribution should be taken into account. Also, the manufacturing and disposing of limited-life batteries is of concern. The small size of the battery pack on an e-bike, relative to the larger pack used in an electric car, makes them very good candidates for charging via solar power or other renewable energy resources (12).

Generally, electric bikes are about (13):

  • 18 times more energy efficient than an SUV
  • 13 times more energy efficient than a sedan
  • 6 times more energy efficient than rail transit


Sources Cited

  1. "Baron von Drais’ Bicycle". Canada Science and Technology Museum. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  2. Ibid
  3. Sheldon Brown. "One-Speed Bicycle Coaster Brakes".Archived from the original on 29 November 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-01. Coaster brakes were invented in the 1890s.
  4.  "Patent US552271 - Electrical bicycle"
  5. "Cheap and green, electric bikes are the rage in China", by Tim Johnson. Originally published 23 May 2007 by McClatchy Newspapers.
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_bicycle
  7. J. David Goodman (2010-01-31). "An Electric Boost for Bicyclists". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-31.
  8. "Europe’s E-Bike Imports Indicate Market Size". Bike Europe. 2013-08-05. Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  9. "China's Cyclists Take Charge", By Peter Fairley. IEEE Spectrum, June 2005
  10. https://electricbikereport.com/report-on-electric-bicycle-imports-to-usa-by-brand-in-2014-2015/
  11. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jul/27/autos/la-fi-hy-ebike-electric-bicycle-sales-20130723
  12. Fishman, Elliot; Cherry, Christopher (30 Jul 2015). "E-bikes in the Mainstream: Reviewing a Decade of Research". Transport Reviews. Taylor & Francis Online. 36 (1): 72–91. 
  13. Shreya, Dave (February 2010). "Life Cycle Assessment of Transportation Options for Commuters" (PDF). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-15.