What Are the Biggest Challenges Facing Electric Bicycles?
By: Ash Lovell, Ph.D., electric bicycle policy and campaign director
Members of PeopleForBikes’ Electric Bicycle and Legal, Legislative, and Safety subcommittees met to discuss priorities and strategies for electric bicycles over the next five years.
PeopleForBikes' SHIFT'22 conference, which took place October 18-20 in Bentonville, Arkansas, brought together leaders across bicycling focused on moving the bike industry forward. At the conference, the trade association's Electric Bicycle and Legal, Legislative, and Safety subcommittees met in person to discuss priorities and strategies for electric bicycles over the next five years. The meeting offered attendees an opportunity to explore creative solutions to some of the most pressing challenges related to electric bicycles.
Subcommittee members and newcomers interested in joining gathered in an unexpectedly packed room at the 21c Museum Hotel. PeopleForBikes staff kicked off the meeting with an overview of the current state of electric bicycles, covering federal policy, updates from the Safety Task Force, and PeopleForBikes’ work to build more access for eMTBs on public lands.
Going around the room, participants shared one thing, in five words or less, that "kept them up at night" related to electric bicycles and their future. The goal of this exercise was to engage an audience of experts in unpacking some of the most pressing issues PeopleForBikes can address as we set goals for future policy, education, and outreach initiatives. While this list is not exhaustive, some of the issues identified included:
- Out of Class Electric Vehicles (OCEVs)
- General risks for retailers
- Bad press on electric bicycles
- The need for rider education and safety
- Potential bans on lithium ion batteries
- Safe infrastructure for riders
- A lack of useful market data
- Insurance concerns
- Trail conflicts
- eMTB land access
- Continued industry support for the Electric Bicycle Battery Recycling Program
After collectively recognizing the multitude of potentially problematic issues, participants then ranked these concerns in order of priority. The top three concerns identified by participants were:
1) Out of Class Electric Vehicles
2) Electric mountain bike land access
3) Electric bicycle rider safety and etiquette
With these priorities in mind, participants then split into three groups and engaged in a scenario planning exercise to explore how different potential futures could affect these three issues. The scenarios were organized around two mechanisms — level of electric bicycle rider participation and either positive or negative policies at all levels of government. This portion of the exercise was designed to build a narrative around what these individual scenarios could look like in reality. In the high participation, negative policy scenario, participants explored what it would look like for many people to be riding electric bicycles, but for policies at all levels of government to be working against ridership. Issues such as local bans of electric bicycles, the closing of trails to eMTBs, and increased negative media coverage of electric bicycles were explored.
The meeting closed with each group sharing brainstormed solutions for these potential challenges. As the discussion progressed, it became clear that there were many overlapping solutions which could be carried forward by PeopleForBikes and our members. Some of these solutions included:
- Elevating and promoting clear definitions of what an electric bicycle is to the public and with regulatory agencies.
- Media campaigns around the benefits of eMTBs for health, fire mitigation, and forest management.
- Incentivizing an industrywide rider etiquette and training curriculum for riders through insurance premiums.
- Introducing rider education to youth in a more comprehensive package.
- Incorporating technology into solutions, such as charging options, safe storage, and parking.
This list of potential solutions is not comprehensive, but it does offer a snapshot of the kinds of discussions that were shared. PeopleForBikes staff will continue analyzing the ideas, concerns, and solutions shared at this meeting and use this information to help shape our objectives moving forward. We appreciate the engagement from all of the participants during the workshop and we are grateful to all of our industry partners who participate in PeopleForBikes’ subcommittees.
Want to learn more about the future of electric bicycles? Be sure to join us for our Bicycle Leadership Series of events in 2023, including the return of the Electric Bicycle Summit!