What is an e-bike?While e-bikes are becoming increasingly common on European roads, there remains some confusion about their definition as well as their legal status on the road.
Electric bikes can be broadly divided into two categories: basic pedelecs, or electronically power-assisted cycles (EPACs), and speed pedelecs with significantly more power. Though all e-bikes have a motor that supports the rider's propulsion and pedals that function as on a regular bike, the amount of power capability can vary greatly. The first category – basic pedelecs – are legally classed as bicycles in most European countries. On these bikes, the rider is assisted by the motor while pedaling, but the motor stops providing pedal assistance when the rider ceases to pedal or reaches 25 km/h or 15.5mph. The second category – speed pedelecs – consist of more powerful e-bikes, allowing riders to reach much higher speeds; some can even provide power when the rider stops pedaling. Due to these features, speed pedelecs are legally classified as a type of moped or motorcycle and are, therefore, often more strictly regulated.
EPACs are the primary driver in the electric bicycle boom. In the Netherlands, where e-bikes now make up more than half of the sales value of new bicycles, EPACs vastly outnumber speed pedelecs. In 2021, EPACs outsold speed pedelecs by about 120:1. Due to their dominance in the market, the term e-bike or electric bike is often used colloquially to refer exclusively to EPACs.
Who uses e-bikes?While there is a perception in some parts of Europe that e-bikes are for older people, who may find a regular bike too taxing and welcome the additional support of the electric motor, the age group most likely to consider using an e-bike is 25 to 34-year-olds. However, in some countries, the likelihood of using an e-bike does lean more toward older age groups. In Poland, a country with many regular cyclists, interest in e-bikes is highest among people aged 35 to 54.
Regarding the styles of bikes considered for purchase by Europeans, city e-bikes are the most popular choice. City bikes are primarily designed for comfort, convenience, and utility on short to medium length trips in urban environments. Next to more traditional bike styles, twelve to thirteen percent of younger people between 18 and 34 years old also indicate an interest in electric cargo bikes. These bikes usually have a cargo box or platform, which allows riders to carry larger and heavier loads and are particularly useful for young families.
However, relatively high prices of e-bikes can still pose a hinderance to their purchase and use, with 41% of respondents to a YouGov survey indicating that a subsidy might be an incentive to buy or hire an e-bike. Yet, respondents also recognized the overall lower running cost of an e-bike compared to a car. Nearly half of respondents saw the cost of living, including fuel prices, as a reason to use an electric bike.
With sales continuing to grow, electric bikes are now solidly established as part of the European bicycle market and are likely to substantially impact the future cycling habits of Europeans.