🎁 'Tis the season to support public service journalism Donate Now
The Marketplace Reader

Bicycle roundup

Dalasie Michaelis Aug 20, 2008

Several days ago the Associated Press reported electric bicycles are selling well.

The surging cost of gasoline and a desire for a greener commute are turning more people to electric bikes as an unconventional form of transportation. They function like a typical two-wheeler but with a battery-powered assist, and bike dealers, riders and experts say they are flying off the racks.

And a former GM executive prognosticated on their popularity.

“The electric bikes are the next big thing,” said Frank Jamerson, a former General Motors Corp. executive turned electric vehicle guru.

The bikes may be doing well here, but they’re doing really well in Europe. Also from the Associated Press.

In the Netherlands, sales of electric-powered bikes increased from 45,000 in 2006 to 89,000 last year, according [sic] BOVAG, a motorized vehicles industry association, which expects that the meter will read 121,000 at the end of 2008.

That compares with an estimated 10,000 units sold across the U.S. in 2007, according to the Gluskin-Townley Group, which does market research for the National Bicycle Dealers Association.

The popularity is partly due to imports from China, where manufacturers are making very affordable models.

China itself is teeming with electric bikes. Even Pizza Hut delivers via electric bike.

The uptick in electric bike sales comes at a time when commuters are increasingly turning to two-wheeled transportation in general. Take note of a bike-share program — brought to you in part by outdoor advertiser Clear Channel — that launched in Washington, D.C. last week. From an article at WashingtonPost.com last Tuesday, April 12.

Today the city will join the ranks of Paris and Barcelona with the launch of the first high-tech public bike-sharing program in the United States, forcing such cities as San Francisco and Chicago to look here to see chic alternative transportation in action in America.[…]

SmartBike DC will rent 120 bikes at 10 self-service racks mostly in the downtown area, including near the Gallery Place, Shaw and Judiciary Square Metrorail stations. A $40 annual fee gets riders a membership card, which allows them to pick up a cherry red three-speed bike. Then it’s time to tool around the city for up to three hours. Those who want to keep going can pick up another bike; there’s no limit on the number of trips.[…]

In the United States, cities including Portland, Ore., and Austin have experimented with more low-tech versions, in which “beater bikes” were painted one color and made available for use. Most were vandalized or stolen after a short time.

Bicycle theft was also the reason the world’s first bike-sharing program, the “white bicycle” plan failed in Amsterdam in the mid-1960s. But that program, launched by a counterculture group called “Provo,” was arguably more successful than the group’s “white chicken” plan, which involved disarming the local police and transforming them into social workers “with candy and band-aids in their pockets.”

All this is a long way of saying that two-wheeled transportation is on the rise and may become even more popular when David Byrne of Talking Heads fame designs bike racks for your city.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.