How can we drive less or pollute less while doing the driving we have to do? We all know transportation is one of our biggest emitters of greenhouse gas, but public transportation is spotty in the north country and rural areas. Electric cars and plug-in hybrids can be pricy. What’s an environmentally-ethical commuter or delivery company to do?
How about electric bikes? They are listed by Project Drawdown as number 69 of its one hundred most effective solutions to global warming. According to Project Drawdown, half of all urban trips are under 6.2 miles, an easy distance for fit, young bikers or on flat ground. For the less fit or in hilly areas, or for longer distances, a bike with electric assist makes bike travel more viable and enjoyable. Tens of millions of Chinese now commute on e-bikes, largely in response to strict anti-pollution laws.
EZ Bikes and Scooters in Exeter, NH, is a leading purveyor of electric bikes, with several lines, Emotion, Magnum, and Addmotor. The Magnum Ui5, priced at $1299, is its economy bike. EZ Bikes has also recently added a line of electric scooters, manufactured by NIU, which the website identifies as the world’s largest provider of “smart urban mobility solutions.” For NIU, “smart” means environmentally friendly, but ‘smart’ can also mean cool and fashionable. Forbes predicts the NIU scooter will be “the new Vespa.” The NIU Scooters were introduced in the United States in the fall of 2019, and more models are scheduled to hit the lots soon.
EZ Bikes is carrying three models of NIU scooters, with prices ranging from $2699 to $4599. As with all electric vehicles, range varies with temperature and driving style, but the most economical scooter, the MQi+ Sport, has an estimated range of 75 to 100 kilometers. This is made possible in part by a fourth generation lithium-ion battery made by Panasonic, which has a longer life and range and is lighter, safer, and more powerful than other comparable batteries. NIU scooters feature advanced controllers and come with a prepaid Sim card which allows the controller to be accessed 24/7. The controller has gps, theft-control devices, remote tracking, and vehicle diagnostics, including keeping tabs on battery life and motor performance. The NQI series (currently available in the U.S.) features a Bosch electric motor, dual-piston hydraulic disc brakes, oil shocks, LED lighting, an LCD dash, and an USB charging port. NIU scooters are manufactured in China. NIU debuted a new model at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, and it is self-balancing, has a range of 150 miles, will go up to 50 mph, and has a self-parking feature. This is being marketed for “riders of any experience level,” and is set to go into production this summer.
Though the price of an electric scooter is high compared to a bicycle, it’s quite low compared to a car, and offers one of the most environmentally clean transportation modes available. E-bikes are even better. They have higher emissions than walking or regular biking, but outperform electric cars and most forms of public transportation. Even gas-powered scooters, of which EZ Bike sells several brands, are fuel-sippers, getting over 100 mpg.
In addition to the newly available NIU scooters, strides are being made in freight delivery by bike as well. E-cargo bikes are now available for as low as $1500 (the Radwagon longtail e-cargo bike from Rad Power). Four Vermont utilities offer e-bike rebates, including Green Mountain Power, and the possibility of Vermont subsidies is under discussion in Montpelier.
New York City began experimenting with e-bike delivery in December 2019. The city plans to permit up to 100 delivery e-bikes (run by companies like Amazon, DHL, and UPS) to park in commercial loading areas usually reserved for trucks and vans. The bikes will also be exempt from parking fees. Many large companies already operate cargo bikes in major cities outside the U.S. Mike Parra, CEO of DHL Express America, is quoted in the New York Times as saying, “The DHL Cubicle has enjoyed great success in Europe, with each bicycle deployed taking at least one conventional delivery van off the road ” This reduces congestion and local air pollution, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Parra says that cargo bikes “will play an important role in hitting our environmental targets.”
New York plans to allow small cargo bikes to park on wider sidewalks in the city and to travel on the city’s network of 1400 miles of bike lanes. The pilot program concentrates bikes in the most congested area of Manhattan, from the Battery up to 60th Street.
Project Drawdown estimates that e-bike travel could increase from around 249 billion miles a year (mostly in China) to 1.2 trillion miles per year by 2050. This could reduce one gigaton of carbon dioxide emissions, and save e-bike owners $226 billion by 2050. It will also go a long way toward making global cities livable and breathable.
Jessie Haas has written 40 books, mainly for children, and has lived in an off-grid cabin in Vermont.