Climate Change

Electric bike sales grew by 145% in the US last year - here’s why that matters

image of a person using an electric bike

electric bike sales have soared since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Image: Unsplash/ Tower Electric Bikes

Sean Fleming
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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Climate Change

  • Bicycle sales in the US were up 65% between 2019 and 2020, with pandemic lockdowns a key driver of that surge.
  • Electric bike sales grew by 145% in the same period.
  • In Europe, it’s predicted that twice as many bikes as cars will be bought each year by 2030.
  • Bike infrastructure now needs to catch up, say industry experts.

Sales of bicycles have taken off in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic – they were up 65% between 2019 and 2020, according to a report in the New York Times.

The ability to get around while remaining socially distanced from other people could be one reason for bikes’ booming popularity. And with more people working from home, fewer cars on the road will make some cyclists feel safer. Plus, there are the obvious health benefits from the additional exercise.

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Let the pedal take the strain

Not everyone relishes getting out of breath though, as sales of electric bikes have exploded by 145% during the same period, leaving sales-growth of regular bikes trailing far behind.

Unlike larger, more powerful two-wheelers, such as motorcycles or scooters, e-bikes are essentially regular looking bicycles that have a battery and motor built in. Although heavier than a traditional bicycle, e-bikes are easier to get around on, as the motor helps power the rider along.

There has been an uptick in the use of e-bikes by cycle-share schemes, too. “COVID was able to highlight micro mobility as an essential transportation service, filling in where transit service stopped or where gaps existed and helping essential workers get to work,” said Samantha Herr, Executive Director of the North American Bikeshare Association, in the New York Times.

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Bikes to out-sell cars in Europe

Sales of e-bikes are also on the up in Europe. By 2030, annual bicycle sales are likely to be 47% greater than they were in 2019, according to European cycling organizations quoted by Forbes.

Growth forecasts indicate the number of e-bikes sold each year in Europe could go from 3.7 million in 2019 to 17 million by 2030. If those predictions are accurate, twice as many bikes as cars will be registered per year in the European Union, the Forbes article suggests.

a graph showing that the sales of electric bikes are increasing
Sales of electric bikes are increasing. Image: Heinrich Böll Stiftung

However, it also highlights a potential bump in the road for cyclists and e-cyclists alike. “Growth will be possible only with the right regulatory environment and a clear industrial strategy across the EU and beyond,” says Manuel Marsilio, General Manager of the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry (CONEBI).

CONEBI is lobbying for more support for cycling across Europe and warns that the patchwork of cycle lanes and other bike-friendly infrastructure is a problem. Cities like Copenhagen have become famous as pro-cycle locations, due to limits on where cars can go, dedicated cycle lanes and financial incentives, such as tax breaks, for cyclists.

With e-bike sales on the rise, there may need to be greater public-private collaboration on regulations to create safer cycling environments, enable cycle-share schemes and also to ensure access to charging points where necessary.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Climate ChangeSustainable DevelopmentCOVID-19
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