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Published on October 21st, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans

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Electric Bicycles: Green Your Bike Commute

Despite the huge recent push to significantly reduce emissions, if you take a look around, you’ll note that cars still rule the road.  The common mentality is that a bicycle (or walking, for that matter) is for those who live right around the corner from work, or don’t have any extras to tote along during the day.  Enter the electric bicycle.

Electric bikes (also sometimes referred to as e-bikes or ebikes) haven’t yet proven to be a viable alternative for most people because of the cost, weight, and added complexities that can arise from their use.  However, there are some strong cost and environmental justifications for using these virtually silent motorized wonders as part of your daily commute.  The newest technology for electric bikes also effectively answers many past e-bike concerns such as weight and complexity.

Blue Electric BikeLet’s face it:  Who really wants to sit and twiddle their thumbs while idling out exhaust during traffic time?  Public transportation and bicycling infrastructure is thorough, and can provide great alternative options here.  There are generally a wealth of bike lanes in cities, buses have bike racks on them, and you can even roll your bike right onto some subway systems.  The latter carry-around requirement (other than total lack of awareness of their existence) is also why some choose not to go for electric bicycles.

Back at home, you can use your electric bicycle to de-stress with a quick ride outdoors in the fresh air, and there’s always that quick evening trip to the nearby store or local farmer’s market.  Although you might typically relish the opportunity to hop on your bike and pedal over, the electric motor is nice when you’re too tired to supply all of the pedal power—especially with a loadful of heavy groceries in tow!

There are generally a wealth of bike lanes in cities, buses have bike racks on them, and you can even roll your bike right onto some subway systems.

If any of these ideas resonate with you, the eco-friendly world of electric power-assist bikes may just have a role in your future.  With svelte designs, a lightweight aluminum frame, awesome range, rechargeable battery packs, and extensive storage capacity, the new electric bikes represent an excellent middle-ground between green pedal power and automotive gas guzzlers.

Bike Weight and Battery Technologies

If you keep your machine under 750 watts and 20 mph, you’re still technically considered a regular bicycle under federal law.  Not too long ago, an electric bike with 750 watts would have been akin to a V-8 Harley in terms of weight, and thus too heavy to be practical.  However, e-bikes are emerging on the market sporting lighter, sleeker aluminum frames, while incorporating electrical components inside of the frame itself (i.e.  no messy wiring to tangle with).  Lead-acid and Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) have been the battery technology standards, but recently, newer, lighter weight battery packs have replaced those on many models.

The hottest of today’s designs include lithium polymer battery packs, which add only about 10 lbs to the bike’s frame, and are said to give a range of 50-60 miles without requiring a recharge.  In addition, some packs deliver full power until the battery is drained (as opposed to a waning power as the battery dies), and sport a very speedy charge time of 4 hours or less.  Aspiring eco-evangelists can take things to an even higher level of green-ness by charging their batteries with solar or wind power using an inverter or a proper DC charger.

Recently, a U.S. company affiliated with MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) licensed its technology to a company that now produces 36 volt lithium packs to power its tools.  Some inventive folks out there caught wind of this, and are now using these 3 pound packs to power their e-bikes!  A modification such as this will take you as far as a 10 pound lead-acid (about 15 miles), and will last for around 1,000 recharge cycles, as opposed to the more typical 250 cycles of typical batteries.  Across the pond in England, a gentleman named Tony Castles of Ego Personal Transport has created an electric folding bike that weighs 40 pounds using an even smaller battery pack. His DIY (do it yourself) kit, available online at Ego Personal Transport, includes a hub motor which only weighs around 5 pounds—and can’t be heard over the astonished exclamations of people wondering how you are climbing that hill with all of that cargo!  A Canadian company named ItsElectric offers a similar conversion kit, including options for Lithium or NiMH batteries.

Range and Speed

One amazing aspect of electric bicycle (a.k.a. e-bike or power-assist bicycle) technology is how it can regulate the level of assistance you need during various portions of your journey.  Most new models can help you tote cargo uphill at speeds of up to 20 mph or more, and can reach speeds of 30 mph or more on flat terrain.

Keep in mind that 20 mph is the legal maximum assist speed allowable in most U.S. states.Black Electric Bike

20mph also serves as a mechnically practical limit for power-assist bike because its gearing will be lower, allowing for more torque to get you up the hills.  Range of travel fluctuates anywhere from 15–20 miles to upwards of 50–60 miles, depending on external factors like the model, terrain, amount of cargo, a rider’s weight, etc.  Some companies now offer the option of accommodating extended cargo packs, providing you with extensive storage space to portage your groceries or other gear to and fro.  Regulating the amount of assist allows you to kick back or to put in a little more effort during travel, depending on the load and your energy.

E-Bike Prices

What’s not to love about e-bikes?  They’re light, they recharge quickly, travel far without a trace of pollution, and store all of your stuff . . . “But wait,” you naturally ask next, “What’s this gonna cost me?”  A little research reveals a wide range of prices, simply dependent upon maker and added features.  Average prices span from $450 to $1,500, while add-ons like customized front suspension and battery upgrades will tack on a bit more.  However, that’s not too shabby considering what you’ll be saving in fuel costs over the long haul (and long hauls to the market), and the harmful pollutants you’ll be sparing Mother Nature in the process.

As you begin your quest to secure yourself one of these versatile, customizable and earth-friendly transports, keep in mind that this is not a purchase you’ll want to skimp on.  The reason is that doing so will likely net you older batteries and systems which are heavy and complicated, whereas many of the newest and somewhat pricier offerings feature lighter and simpler designs.  With an E-bike investment, you’ll not only get a chance to share the details of your pride and joy with admirers and inquirers (and trust me from personal experience here—you’ll meet many!), you’ll also be making some major personal headway towards reducing your air pollution contributions and total carbon footprint.  Très eco-cool!

Article Contributors: Keith Shockley

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  • If only anyone used these bikes…
    But people are to lazy to switch their cars to bikes. 🙁

  • jlwuthnow

    Are there any electric bikes that recharge as you pedal thus eliminating some plug-in-time and also allowing for a longer ride?

  • Kelly

    I live in the Eastbay, teach in SF, and usually have lots of stuff to carry to and from work. I have decided against driving across the congested bay bridge everyday, the drive causes mild frustration and stress, and the toll is probably going to increase from $4 to $5. Also, I finding parking once arriving in SF is yet hurdle. All this before actually beginning to do the work I am commited and enjoy doing.

    So then, I have decided to invest in an inexpensive bicycle, one that allows me to carry all my stuff; and I will use public transportation, this will cost about $8 per day.

    What do you think, will I get to frustrated by having to get up earlier in order to take my bicycle on train during bicycle hours, and what about the wet weather?????

  • Guest

    Want to find a way to “Green Your Bike Commute”?

    Try buying a used bike! It will come fully equipped with pedals and a chain, saving you all the unnecessary waste from battery packs.
    Worried about the energy it will take to make it move? Well, easy solution, eat daily to provide your body with enough energy to make it go. If you aren’t fit enough, now is a good a time as ever to start working out.
    For extra storage space you could try purchasing a basket or larger backpack to hold all your things.
    And we’re not done yet! A decent and comfortable used bike usually runs between $20 – $100 (depending on how good you are at negotiation) and it comes with the added satisfaction re-using…therefor limiting the waste going into our landfills.

    Talk about a deal.

  • Guest

    Personally, I think just commuting by bike is enough to green my bike commute. Doesn’t really get much more green than that.

  • The Electrification of Transportation appears to have the potential for the quickest, the most permanent, and the most profound impact with the best ancillary benefits for Human health, Land use, Pollution and Global warming. It is a natural, highly efficient response to the problem of “Peaking World Oil Production”. Lets not play by “Big Oil’s” rules anymore. Lets break away from those rusty chains of the gas pump and change the way we get around a few times a week!!
    Not only is it rejuvenating ( I feel like a kid again!) you’ll notice an increased sense of well being, which your body will thank you for. Never mind the savings in your wallet! Did I mention that an Electric Bike or Electric Scooter will pay for itself in 6 months to a year? We own a family run Electric Bike Shop. We are not greedy in our profit margin. We sincerely would like to see America embrace Electric Transportation and experience the freedom of it! Please check out or site http://www.ElectricBikeShopOnline.com. We would love to be of service to you and your family. We have something for everyone: Beach cruisers for mom, mountain bikes for dad, bmx’s for jr, scooters for the young’ns, trikes for grandma and grandpa. We are also offering $100 and $200 certain bikes for local residents. Shipping and Assembly are included in the price! Contact us for more info., and remember “You get what you pay for”. Shop Locally and Buy Quality. Think twice before supporting the billionaire walton children (Walmart). They’re customer service is non-existent after you make that purchase and you have to assemble it yourself. Thanks for looking and have a great day!

  • Nice article on electric bikes! Battery types, speed, range, price – you’ve hit all the major points!

  • ever seen someone on one of those little electric bikes and whispered geek, or thought to yourself i wouldn’t be caught dead on one of those.
    even if you got past the stigma and got one
    you soon found out that they are slow, lack power,
    and run down batteries fast.
    well not any more there’s a sit http://www.greenworldbikes.com
    they work very closely with some of the worlds greatest bicycle designers from around the world.
    they purchase these awsume bikes then add powerfull
    electric motors, extended range batteries, and accessories like leather saddle bags,real motorcycle light, underbody neons,air horns,and even digital cruise controll, and more.

  • Well, if we shift to Bike from Cars… Then Try buying a used bike! It will come fully equipped with pedals and a chain, saving you all the unnecessary waste from battery packs.

  • Electric Bike Shop Girl in Florida

    I dont care what anyone says… E-bikes are awesome!
    It’s nice to go for a super long ride having the confidence that the motors got your back if you get tired!!! That right there is priceless to me… not only because I own an Electric Bike Shop in Port Saint Lucie Florida (we just moved!)… but because I GENUINELY DO THINK THAT THEY HOLD THE SOLUTION TO GLOBAL WARMING, POLLUTION, HUMAN HEALTH, LAND USE AND THIS BIG OIL FIASCO.
    Come on people!!!! Let’s be the change we want to see! =)

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