Proponents say two-wheeled electric vehicles are a cheaper, greener option to decarbonise transport

As part of the drive to decarbonise the Australian economy, there has been a lot of emphasis on the need to switch to electric cars.

But advocates say there is a much cheaper and greener electric vehicle to consider – the e-bike.

Although you’d probably have to put yourself on a 12-month waiting list and find at least $40,000 to buy a new electric car in Australia right now, you could get a two-wheeler with a battery that costs less than 10 cents to load, quite easily.

Chris Jones, president of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association, says many of us have forgotten that bikes are a form of transport and often think of them as simply for fitness and recreation.

Chris Jones says electric vehicles on two wheels seem forgotten by policy makers.(ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

“It’s a bit sad that this humble, highly efficient and very affordable electric vehicle is often overlooked,” said Dr Jones.

“I think a lot of people, especially in Perth, have always thought of bikes as toys or hobbies; very rarely are they seen as means of transport.”

But that is changing rapidly.

“[E-bikes] are the most abundant electric vehicles on the market today. Electric bikes sell for 10 times more than electric cars,” he said.

They range from around $1,200 to convert an existing bike to an electric motor and $2,000 to $3,000 for a factory-built e-bike, and running costs are “negligible”.

“My e-bike battery is about half a kilowatt hour. Based on Synergy [WA’s energy retailer] rates, it’s anywhere between 3.5 and 7 cents to fully charge the battery,” said Dr. Jones.

‘You’re halfway there before you know it’

In the hills of Perth we met Andy, who had cycled into Kalamunda town center for some shopping.

He bought his used e-bike six months ago after his license was suspended and said it was a practical replacement for the car, and he plans to continue using it even when he got back behind the wheel.

“It’s more fun to go to the shops and get around than to get in the car and drive through traffic,” he said.

“And I didn’t have to worry about fuel, so it’s been good, especially with the price of fuel now. You have a choice of parking spaces.”

Andy in Kalamunda with electric bike
Andy bought his e-bike six months ago and says it’s more practical for short trips than driving.(ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

He’s used push bikes and motorcycles before, but what surprised him most about the e-bike was how easy it was to get around.

“It’s easier than walking to the car and jumping in it and whatever turns it on and hitting the road,” he said.

“You’re halfway there before you know it.

But it highlighted for him the gaps in cycling infrastructure in his neighborhood.

“Paths could be better, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t have figured that out before.”

Remove obstacles to driving

While there’s nothing an e-bike can do differently than a pedal bike, the electric motor removes the barriers to cycling for trips where people would otherwise use their cars.

Road with uphill bike sign
An electric motor eliminates much of the difficulty of climbing hills.(ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

It’s also appealing to people who want to ride but don’t have the physical shape or desire to sweat, but want to keep riding, according to Henry Shiel, who works at Fremantle Solarbike e-bike shop.

“We see people who, for example, want to commute a relatively short distance, but don’t feel like they want to sweat too much,” Mr. Sheil said.

“E-biking is like having a little helping hand pushing you, you still put in the effort, but you don’t sweat as much otherwise.

“On top of that, quite a few parents drop their kids off at school with the bikes.

“We also have older people, or people who may have lost their sense of balance, maybe after a little medical episode.”

Henry Shiel repairs an e-bike wheel
.Henry Shiel repairs an e-bike wheel. (ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)

He said the store had recently sold an electric tricycle to a young man with a disability.

“He can go out with his family and follow them around, and his father told me that has really been a huge advantage for the young man in terms of his independence.

“And there’s definitely a section of people who have decided to phase out the car, for the cost and the environmental impact.”

Two cyclists on a shared path at Claisebrook station above the Graham Farmer Highway in East Perth
Planners say it will be crucial to encourage people to ride rather than drive.(ABC: Emma Wynne)

While most e-bikers choose to pedal while assisted by the motor, they often feel that having a motor to assist them is somehow cheating or not giving them the full benefit of the exercise. biking.

“I absolutely reject that,” Mr. Sheil said.

“I found it [having the motor] meant that I used the bike on days when I could have gone otherwise: “Oh, it’s too windy, it’s raining too much, it’s too hot” and I took the bus, or took the car or whatever thing.

“Whereas with the e-bike, I found that I used the bike a lot more, and so my aerobic fitness felt the benefits.”

Reducing car use is crucial for reducing emissions

Removing the temptation to just jump in the car is essential if Australia is to achieve net zero emissions, says Courtney Babb, senior lecturer in urban and regional planning at Curtin University in Perth.

“As part of the transition to net zero, we need to get people away from cars and reduce car use,” Dr Babb said.

“The focus is on electric vehicles to do that and reduce our emissions that way, but that’s not going to be enough, we actually have to reduce car use.”

He says there is good evidence that e-bikes have done this.

“Research shows that e-bikes replace 20-80% of trips in different cities around the world, with cycling-friendly cities having the highest rates,” he said.

An aerial photo of a suburban street
A cycle boulevard on a ‘safe active street’ in the northern suburbs of Perth.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

He noted that since the start of the COVID pandemic, there had been growth in bicycle and e-bike sales, but there were still obstacles, and one of the main ones was cycling infrastructure.

“One of the biggest factors that gets people into cycling is having safe cycling environments,” Dr Babb said.

“We have a very good primary cycle network [in Perth]although it could also be better.

“But what’s missing are a lot of secondary connections…cycling on local streets and roads in general is considered unsafe.

“The United Nations recommends that about 20% of transportation budgets be spent on active transportation, and I think about 2% of ours are.”

The extension of subsidies for electric vehicles to bicycles is mentioned

A number of Australian states and territories now offer subsidies and rebates for the purchase of electric cars.

Dr Babb suggested that governments could also consider extending this financial support to e-bikes.

“I think if the government was serious about decarbonising transport, but also addressing some of the problems associated with a very car-centric and car-dependent transport system, we need to think about solutions other than e-cars and providing subsidies for people for e-bikes could be one way to do that,” he said.

“Even with a subsidy or rebate for an electric vehicle, they focus on the wealthiest people on the spectrum.

“With e-bikes, maybe you can reach out to people who don’t have as much money to spend on an electric car and also replace a lot of those commutes in that 15 kilometer watershed where they live. “

Bicycle lane.
Calls are being made to extend subsidies and rebates to e-bikes.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

Chris Jones agrees.

“I think the fact that really efficient two-wheeled electric transport has been completely ignored by the various existing programs is quite disappointing,” he said.

“I think governments often forget how cheap e-bikes are as a transportation option.”

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