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E-bikes

A low-energy solution for independent mobility

By Ania Szmyd-Potapczuk

, |

E-bikes

A low-energy solution for independent mobility

By Ania Szmyd-Potapczuk

, |

3 min read

E-bikes are like ordinary bicycles, expect they have an electric motor attached. This motor provides assistance relative to the amount of energy you exert while riding it. As more South African cities lay down bike-friendly roads, the sales of e-bikes have surged, which leaves many people wondering if they’re a viable alternative to normal modes of transportation.

Fitness

A common misconception about e-bikes is that they do all the work for you, like a small electric motorcycle. The truth is that e-bikes still require you to pedal, but the motor will provide some extra assistance, making pedalling that much easier.

Many people have considered cycling as a means of transportation, but one of the most common excuses is that they feel they’re not fit enough to start. E-bikes alleviate much of that concern as they provide you with the extra energy to get over that first hill. You’ll still build up fitness with an e-bike, and you may eventually get to the point where you don’t need the electric assistance at all.

Usefulness

Another major concern that car drivers have with switching over to bikes as a form of transport is that bikes simply aren’t useful for daily activities such as shopping. Luckily, just as with motorbikes, there are several add-ons that alleviate this issue completely. Panniers fit on the side of the saddle and can store a surprising amount of stuff. And, what’s best, the electric motor will pick up the slack, so you won’t have to spend more energy hauling your groceries around.

Safety

E-bikes are limited to a top speed of 25 kilometres per hour, which is around the typical cycling speed of an experienced cyclist. This relatively low top speed ensures that riding an e-bike is about as safe as riding a normal bicycle.

The main safety concern of any cyclist is riding in a metro area packed with angry drivers who resent your very presence on the road. While South Africa does have numerous safety regulations about cycling on the road, many drivers (and cyclists) don’t adhere to these rules at all.

As the major cities start implementing more cycling lanes, cyclists will have safer places to travel, allowing them access into metropolitan areas. In cities like Cape Town, where congestion into the CBD is continuously on the rise, the arrival of dedicated bike lanes can’t come fast enough.

An exciting and safer alternative to e-bikes are e-trikes, a great option if you’re a bit uncertain of your balance, and the electric motor eliminates the major problem with traditional trikes, namely their extra weight, since the motor can give you just enough assistance to overcome the weight disadvantage.

Carbon footprint

Most e-bike manufacturers advertise their products as being completely emission-free vehicles. Technically, this isn’t true since the rider emits CO2 while they ride, and the claim also fails to take into account production and electrical generation. However, even in the worst-case scenario, e-bikes are significantly more environmentally friendly than cars or buses.

The European Cyclist Federation estimates that e-bikes have the same carbon footprint as traditional bikes. The average cyclist produces 21 grams of CO2 per kilometre travelled, and the average e-bike user produces 22 grams of CO2 per kilometre. This is around 20% of the carbon emissions of travelling by bus (101 grams of CO2 per kilometre travelled), and only 10% of the carbon generated by using a car (271 grams of CO2 per kilometre travelled).

Conclusion

Electric bikes present an exciting and fun new way to travel. Most people are reluctant to use bicycles as a form of transportation due to the perceived notion that it’s too much effort and takes up too much time. Electric bikes mitigate many of these aspects by providing assistance to the rider whenever needed. So if you’re struggling on a tough uphill on a normal bike, the e-bike will make the experience a breeze.

The major hurdle remaining about using e-bikes and e-trikes consistently is the safety issue. Many cities in South Africa aren’t bike-friendly, though Johannesburg is leading the way in building cycling infrastructure in its metro area. That said, if you want to get fit and lower your carbon footprint, you could use an e-bike for short trips around the estate – especially if you have a retail element on site. It’s faster and not much more effort than walking, and much more environmentally friendly than hopping into your car.

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