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E-bikes rolling forward…slowly

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Copenhagen Wheel, a fun new entry in the electric bicycle market. The New York Times declares that the market might finally be ready to take off, but to me it sounds like we have many years to go before e-bikes gain any sort of mainstream acceptance.

The good news is that the technology has come a long way, thanks mostly to lightweight, high-capacity lithium ion batteries. The new Eneloop e-bike from Sanyo, for example, looks and rides much like a regular bicycle, but the 250-watt electric motor can double your pedaling power for a full 46 miles before it needs to be recharged. Not bad!

The bad news is that such bikes are still expensive. The Eneloop costs $2,300. Worse, though, is that consumers don’t know what to make of them. Biking is still seen primarily as a form of recreation and exercise in the United States, not a mode of transportation. Bicycle infrastructure, such as dedicated lanes, is woefully lacking. Cycling enthusiasts view e-bikes as cheating. Car drivers view them as a downgrade. And the mainstream probably mostly just views them as an oddity.

Could this change? Maybe. In China, where bicycles are a major mode of transportation, people love them. In Copenhagen, also a cycling hotbed, people are indifferent. I’m not entirely sure what accounts for the difference, but I’m guessing culture plays a big role.

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