CHICAGO — During the pandemic, electric bikes have become a hot commodity and increased demand is making them harder to come by. The eco-friendly rides can be pricey, but efforts are underway to make them more affordable for the average consumer.
Eve Santiago, an avid e-biker, got bored during the pandemic. “I started working from home. I was like, 'I need to get out of the house,'" she said.
On a quest to avoid the pitfalls of urban congestion and parking problems, she found the solution in e-bikes. “I actually sold my car because this was just so much more convenient. You can park on the sidewalk,” said Santiago.
But even though it cost her a few thousand dollars, she says the investment in an electric bike was worth it. After a few modifications, like a new headlight, seat, and upgraded battery, she was off. “If I need to get around traffic, I can easily go into bike lane because it's an electric bike. So, it's just it's way more convenient.”
It’s that convenience that has sparked a boom in the e-bike industry, as Americans seek ways to get outside while avoiding commuter crowds. “The catalyst was clearly COVID, and people became more aware of alternative transportation,” said Don DiCostanzo, CEO of Pedego Electric Bikes.
During the pandemic, the California-based electric bike company, which has about 200 retail stores around the country, reported sales of $121 million. “Our stores are doing two and three times the volume they did. It used to take a year before they break even. Now, they break even in month one and they start making money in month two,” said DiCostanzo. “I've never seen anything like it.”
Advocates say e-bikes are great for users with limited ability and mobility and can even lead to a car-free household. “Electric bicycles are truly unique, and that electric boost just expands the physical activity of bicycling as an option to so many more Americans,” said Noa Banayan, director of federal affairs for Washington D.C.-based advocacy group PeopleForBikes.
It's also eco-friendly. A 2019 study from the Transportation Research and Education Center found that a 15% increase in e-bike use across the U.S. could reduce 11% of transportation-related CO2 emissions and would replace 72% of car miles that would have been traveled for strictly practical purposes.
Electric bikes can range in price from the very low-end at around $600 to $8,000 for high-end e-bikes, not including customization. However, if you’re in the market for an e-bike, it’s important to note that there’s an effort to make this kind of transportation more economical for the average consumer.
The E-Bike Act introduced in the Senate with a companion bill in the House would prioritize electric bicycles as a zero-emission mode of transportation. If passed, it would give consumers a refundable 30% tax credit on the purchase of a new electric bicycle — up to $1,500.
“We're thinking lower-income Americans, you are still fully eligible to receive this credit,” said Banayan.
Advocates like Banayan say the goal is to replace short car trips with CO2 eliminating electric bike trips. “You can do it with cargo in the back. You can do it with your groceries for the week. You could do it for deliveries, things like that,” she said. “It makes hills that much easier, longer distances, a bit shorter.”
For enthusiasts like Eve Santiago, it’s just charge and go.
“It's so much more convenient to say, ‘Hey, I've got to go run an errand. I'm going to hop on the bike,’” she said. “You don't have to worry about street parking. That is a huge, huge thing.”