Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

E-bike Options, Benefits and Environmental Impact

Martin Wahl

It is not too early to start thinking about spring and how you can blend fun, exercise, and getting around efficiently as the weather improves. An electric bike helps achieve this, including accomplishing longer-range errands while minimizing your carbon footprint.

So, what kind of e-bike is best suited for longer-range needs, such as running errands or commuting?

For commuter and errands use, assume you’ll be riding on roads primarily, not trails. Be prepared to master hills and keep up speed, so consider longer range batteries and adequate power. For errands involving shopping, look into models with larger carrying capacity, with racks and panniers.

Commutes are usually measured in driving time, not distance, but for the Green Energy Times readership area, it appears most commutes are between 15 and 25 miles one-way.

Considering e-bike speeds of about 20 mph, a 15-mile one-way trip will take around 45 minutes, and the battery range must be at least 40 miles to last a round trip with some reserve.

As to what type of e-bike, here are some considerations.

  • Class 1, 2 or 3 descriptions- see chart below for descriptions and state requirements.
  • Pedal or throttle assist. Try them out and see what you prefer.
  • Capacity – enough to support you and your stuff – make sure all components can handle the weight.
  • Geometry and suspension – comfort for long rides, not for single track or bunny hopping.
  • Range – critical for longer rides; consider a range extender auxiliary battery.

I asked Sal Cania of Omer and Bob’s bike shop in Lebanon, NH what the most important things a prospective longer-distance e-biker should be considering. Without hesitation, he mentioned quality concerns, starting with ensuring that critical electric components-the motor and battery, are Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) certified or equivalent, and that the manufacturer has a good track record.

Sal recounted instances of bikes brought to them for repair that they are not able to work on due to insurance and safety concerns, and there are horror stories of fires with un-certified batteries.

Some other points:

  • Exposed add-ons raise repair likelihood and cost: mirrors, electronics –keep it simple.
  • Range extender batteries will add up to double the range at the expense of weight (about 10 pounds)
  • Make sure warranty service is available and shops that will honor it are nearby.

*E-bike State Law Differences

New York:

  • Helmets are required for all Class 3 e-bike riders.
  • Maximum speed for Class 3 e-bikes is 25 mph.
  • Note that some laws are written in ways that seem arbitrary and unenforceable: E-bikes are allowed only on roads with speed limits 30 mph or lower, and Class 3s only in cities with populations of a million or more.

Vermont: E-bike motors may be up to 1,000 watts; in other states the limit is 750.

New Hampshire: Currently has no laws differing from the generic, however there is proposed legislation, House Bill 1447, that may result in significant changes.

Maine: A person under 16 years of age may be a passenger on a Class 3 e-bike only if it is designed to accommodate passengers.

What’s the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Impact?

Manufacturing Emissions

Bike manufacturer Trek estimates that making one of their bikes generates 174 kilos (384 lbs.) of CO2 equivalent GHG emissions.

Emissions produced manufacturing lithium ion batteries are notoriously hard to measure – an MIT study puts it at 30 to 200 kilos (66 and 441 lbs.) per 1,000 watt hour capacity. So, for a 600Wh e-bike battery figure 40 to 265 lbs.

Adding battery and bike production emission levels yields GHG manufacturing emissions for an e-bike between 423 and 678 lbs. Keep in mind that manufacturing a typical gasoline-powered car produces 5.6 tons of GHGs!

Operating Emissions

Recharging an e-bike battery uses about 600 watt hours of electricity. Nationally, generating 1,000 watt hours of electricity produces 0.86 lbs. of GHG emissions, so the electricity to charge an e-bike battery would generate about half a pound. In Vermont, where electricity generation produces nearly no GHG emissions, it’s even lower.

A typical gas powered car emits about 0.8 pounds of CO2 per mile, more than required for a 40 mile trip on a typical e-bike.

Riding an e-bike has cardiovascular health benefits for the rider as well!

After a career in data product management, Martin Wahl has worked in biofuels since 2006, currently with Lee Enterprises Consulting, a large bio-economy consulting group. Dividing his time between California and New Hampshire, he serves on Corte Madera, California’s Climate Action Committee and is a Newfound Lake Region Association member.

To see this article as it appeared in print, in a pdf file, please click HERE.

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