Shifting Gears: The E-Bike Revolution in Sustainable Transportation

By Zoe Reckas & Chance Cutrano

What is an e-bike, and why are they everywhere?
Electric bicycles, or e-bikes, have been on a meteoric rise since 2020 as pandemic restrictions encouraged more people to get on bikes and as more affordable options became available. But what exactly is an e-bike? Simply put, an e-bike is a type of bicycle that gives the rider a helping hand via an electric motor and battery. This can be useful for a variety of reasons and allows people of all ages, abilities, and skill levels to get around in an efficient, affordable, and sustainable way. They’re a heck of a lot of fun, too!

How are e-bikes changing the way we get around?
The most effective way to reduce emissions in the transportation sector is to get people out of their cars, which isn’t easy. Bus stops can be difficult to walk to, public transit schedules aren’t always convenient, and some commutes are just a few miles too long for a “traditional” bicycle. E-bikes help remove many of these barriers to car-free transportation. With the help of an electric motor, that extra mile or two doesn’t seem so daunting, the hills are barely noticeable, the commute is faster than on a pedal bike, there’s no need to change out of sweaty clothes, and the weight of your grocery haul isn’t so concerning. Additionally, e-bikes are a more welcoming option for those who are unable to ride a traditional bike due to age or health concerns. And with more financial incentive and rebate programs emerging for e-bikes, particularly for low-income households, the cost barrier is becoming more manageable for many.

How can we safely use e-bikes in our communities?
There have been growing pains as current infrastructure struggles to keep up with greater usage, and it’s important for e-bikers to recognize that the extra weight and speed of their bikes requires greater caution when interacting with other road users. On mixed-use pathways, always “slow and say hello” before passing pedestrians or other bicyclists, ringing your bell or announcing yourself in a friendly and respectful way while keeping your speed to a minimum helps to prevent crashes and fosters goodwill with our fellow travelers. While riding on the street, always abide by the rules of the road, such as obeying speed limits, signaling at turns, and stopping at red lights.

E-bikes reduce emissions and clear up roadways.
E-bikes may be new and might require some getting used to, but they can and do replace car trips, cleaning our air and freeing up our roads for those that have to drive. Recent studies estimate that carbon emissions could be reduced by 12 percent if just 15 percent of urban transportation miles traveled were instead made on e-bike. Other emerging research reported that between 35 and 50 percent of e-bike trips replaced car trips, making e-bikes an effective tool to achieve the tandem goals of reducing roadway congestion and carbon emissions. To realize these goals, we must continue to create safe active transportation infrastructure and encourage the expansion of bicycling throughout our communities.

Zoe Reckas is the Marin County Bicycle Coalition Advocacy Assistant. Chance Cutrano is the Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter Chair.