Navigating the e-bike boom with America’s aging infrastructure

Electric bikes are becoming more and more popular around the world. According to the Light Electric Vehicle Association, sales of e-bikes in the US are outstripping those of electric and hybrid cars combined.

“Every year since 2015, the number of riders has nearly doubled or more,” said Mike Radenbaugh, founder and chairman of Rad Power Bikes. “And we don’t see any slowdown in the coming years as we consider rising fuel prices and other transportation challenges that are only going to get worse.”

This trend is due in large part to the variety of options that have entered the market. Some are purpose-built for specific tasks like delivering groceries, while others are designed to fold up or be fitted with extra seats for children.

Now they are being used as a convenient micro-mobility transportation option for those who don’t want the inconvenience and expense that comes with a car.

In the US, some e-bikes can go up to 28 mph, but most top out at around 20 mph.

This speed is often blamed for the increased dangers seen with e-bikes compared to conventional bicycles.

“It’s actually simple physics. If a car is going at 45 or 40 miles an hour and hits someone, it’s almost certain death. If the same car is just going 10 miles per hour slower, the chance of a fatality is less than half,” said Charles DiMaggio, a professor of surgery and public health at NYU who led a study on e-bike injuries.

The severity of injuries between different forms of micromobility has proven e-bikes to be significantly more dangerous.

“E-bikes are three times more likely to be hospitalized than traditional bikes,” said DiMaggio.

However, e-bikers and cycling enthusiasts argue that speed is not an issue – but cars are.

“Cars are the biggest threat to other road users,” Radenbaugh said. “Whether pedestrians, normal cyclists or e-bikes.”

In places like the Netherlands, where cycling infrastructure has priority, e-bikes are much safer to use.

“The big difference you see here in the Netherlands compared to most other places is, with very few exceptions, everyone rides a bike here. Everyone from 6 to 90 years old,” said Jason Slaughter, creator of an urban planning YouTube channel called Not Just Bikes.

To make the US safer for e-bikes, a similar approach to much of the Netherlands – replacing roads with bike lanes and pedestrian plazas – is a likely solution.

“And the bicycle infrastructure is not expensive. But we need to think seriously about it in North America as a network,” Slaughter said.

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