Pears Report: It’s time to get really smart about e-bikes

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We need more focus on e-bikes and low speed EVs. My dream is a fold-up e-scooter with an integrated bag so it can become a wheelie bag on public transport.

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China has over 150 million electric bikes, for good reason. Their experiment with car-based cities showed very quickly that cars simply take up too much space and conflict with more space-efficient solutions in urban areas.

Cars injure or kill a lot of people. So Beijing now has many fenced-off road lanes for use by bikes and other low-speed, compact vehicles.

A lot of money is tied up in a car and the depreciation cost is high: in three years, the value of a new car can halve. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, an average household spent $195 per week on motor vehicle-related costs in 2015, of which only a quarter was fuel cost.

Many spend far more. Annual fuel use contributes over five tonnes of carbon emissions per household.

The cost of new roads in urban areas is astronomical and the impact of disruption during construction and maintenance is high.

The ‘avoidable cost’ of traffic congestion in Australia was estimated at $16.5 billion in 2015, and predicted to increase to around $30 billion by 2030 (see here).

Parking space is expensive; it also forces everyone to travel further by taking up land that could be more productively used and limiting access to railway stations, workplaces and services.

There are much cheaper solutions with lower environmental impact.

Many Australian owners of e-bikes have enthusiastically described how their lives have been transformed. E-bikes deal with the hills, headwinds and sweating that discourage bike riding. They can carry substantial loads, including young children. And they can outpace peak hour car traffic.

But the common complaints from both e-bike users and observers are that they don’t work well with either pedestrians or cars because they accelerate rapidly and go too fast (click here for example).

The cheap ones are not very durable and the good ones cost too much. And you can’t take them on most public transport, especially at peak times.

So what do we need?

We need e-bikes that have sensors and smart speed controls. When they are near pedestrians, they would slow down and avoid them. They would warn riders of nearby cars or other dangers and slow acceleration to match traffic conditions.

Beyond that, we need new kinds of compact low-speed personal electric vehicles that can be carried on public transport.

Already many people use electric skateboards. Some use fold-up scooters that could be motorised. My dream is a fold-up e-scooter with an integrated bag so it can become a wheelie bag on public transport.

Governments should be subsidising smart e-bikes and other low-speed personal vehicles, and accelerating roll-out of infrastructure to support them.

Alan Pears is Senior Industry Fellow, School of Global Studies, Urban and Social Studies (GUSS) at RMIT University. This article was originally published on Renew MagazineReproduced with permission.

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53 Comments
  1. George Darroch 1 year ago

    We need more bike lanes, for a start. Put them everywhere.

    • Joe 1 year ago

      I’m a pushbike rider…100% human power! In Sydney The Lib Govt builds WestConnex, NorthConnex, a Connex to everywhere with not a bike lane to be seen. Just crazy but then they / Lib Govt. are anti Clover Moore and her forwards thinking bicycle lanes in the Sydney City Council and CBD area. On another angle in the story by Alan Pears, you can take bikes onto public transport in Sydney. Bikes on trains is okay to do. A further aside, there is a lady on my regular bus route, she hops on with her fold up bike. Catches the bus up the hill to get to the local shops, then rides / freewheels it downhill on the return trip home again….nice one.

      • Petr [email protected] 1 year ago

        I’m in favour of bikes but all road users should contribute to building and maintenance of them.

        • Ian 1 year ago

          That’s just silly, I don’t see you asking for a tax on pedestrians who for generations have walked for free on pavements and paths. There is almost one car for every man, woman and child in this country. How many bike owners don’t also have motor cars. Comparing a car to a bicycle, cars weigh over a tonne, bicycles under 15kg, cars travel 60 to 100km in an hour bicycles less than 30km, cars cover a surface area of about 7m2 , bicycles 0.4m2, cars fill a lane, bicycles the white line.

          • As it should be 1 year ago

            According to the road rules a bike is allowed a 1 meter imaginary border by which vehicles must avoid. This means in effect they take up the same space as a car.

        • My_Oath 1 year ago

          They do. They are called taxes. Registrations and licenses don’t pay for the infrastructure.

          • Michael Murray 1 year ago

            Also council rates I think. Maybe my suburb which attracts a lot of rat runners should charge tolls on non-resident drivers 🙂

        • Michael Murray 1 year ago

          Road wear is apparently proportional to the 4th power of the axle weight

          http://www.nvfnorden.org/lisalib/getfile.aspx?itemid=261

          If the average car weighs around 1500 kg and my bike with me in it around 100 kg (most of that is me) the car user should pay 15^4 = 50,625 times what I do towards road maintenance.

          • Rod 1 year ago

            And if that were extended to road freight they would go broke in no time flat.
            Road transport subsidies including tax payer funded roads and tax deductible fuel are wealth destroying for our Country as well as encouraging ridiculous subsidised movement of goods.

      • Petr [email protected] 1 year ago

        Sound like a bunch of bludgers

    • Petr [email protected] 1 year ago

      We need more bike riders to contribute to their cost

      • Peter Campbell 1 year ago

        Whenever and wherever facilities for bicycles are discussed there is someone who says bike riders should pay for them. Always from someone who, I suspect, has benefitted from the extra road and parking space available because a cyclist did not take their car that day. And the cleaner air etc.

      • Rod 1 year ago

        Virtually all of my cycling is on shared paths and local streets paid for and maintained by councils.
        I pay two lots of council rates so consider myself contributing more than my fair share.
        Now how much of the national health costs due to vehicle exhaust and emissions, road deaths and fat bastards are you paying?

      • Nick Kemp 1 year ago

        Stop repeating the same dumb comments

      • My_Oath 1 year ago

        By paying taxes. Which I already do.

  2. Robin_Harrison 1 year ago

    The cost of Ebikes is relative to what they replace. If it’s replacing a bike then it’s expensive, but if it’s replacing a motor vehicle it’s incredibly cheap.
    About 10 years ago a friend visited from interstate with a folding Ebike and trailer carrying her luggage. The road wheels came off the trailer and packed inside with the folded bike and yes, it had luggage wheels. She traveled on planes, buses and trains with 2 pieces of luggage. A great idea that I haven’t seen since.

  3. JohnRD 1 year ago

    The future is already here! I bought a l-up carbon fiber e-scooter recently that weighs about 7 kg. I bought it to connect to and from high frequency public transport routes. Folded it is easy to carry or roll like wheeled luggage and compact enough to sit between my legs sitting in a bus seat or hold alongside me if standing. My son carries his blade scooter as hand luggage on planes and can hop up over a gutter without spilling his coffee.

    • Rod 1 year ago

      They do look interesting but I see the push back on pedestrian safety has started.
      My concern would be braking efficiency compared to a bicycle?
      http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-scooters-20180307-story.html

      • JohnRD 1 year ago

        I find blade scooters (both e and non e) much better than bikes for mixing with pedestrians as long as I use appropriate speeds and keep a reasonable distance. The regenerative brake on the scooter I own will keep speed right down on a fairly steep slope. In general I find e-scooters safer than bikes because you are are not tangled up if something goes wrong, you are upright with head level about the same as pedestrians. It is easy to step off in emergencies. Stopping at stop signs or walking in amongst slow pedestrians is easier because it is so much easier to step on and off. E-scooter speeds make them OK to mix with bikes..
        I frequently ride my non-e bike and have no problems mixing with e-bikes. If I wasn’t retired i would think seriously about getting an e-bike because it would allow me to get to work and use rain gear without getting all hot and sweaty.

        • Rod 1 year ago

          So you also have a brake or the regen just slows you down?
          Pretty impressive having regen braking on a scooter. I think the e-bike sector have very few with regen which is not surprising to any regular cyclist unless in hilly terrain.
          I cycle commuted most of my working life and agree, sometimes an e-bike would have been much appreciated.

          • JohnRD 1 year ago

            Rod: The regen brake is very strong to the point where i never use the foot brake. Good thing given that the foot brake is poor compare to other blade scooters I have used. The scooter I have needs more torque for someone my weight and a better manual or hand brake.

          • As it should be 1 year ago

            Hi john, i’m around 95kg, would i have similar issues?

        • Ian 1 year ago

          Yes, why be restricted to one pedestrian-aid. Each device adds variety to our streets. Who needs entertainment or sports on TV when you can watch those obviously skilled on their skateboards scooters etc on the roads and paths.

  4. Russell Watson 1 year ago

    We need not just bike lanes but bicycle roads that would not only cater to bicycles but could be used by joggers, skyrunners, rollerbladers, skateboarders, scooters etc.

    • Petr [email protected] 1 year ago

      We need bicycles to pay for them too.

      • My_Oath 1 year ago

        We do. Its called “paying tax”.

    • Ian 1 year ago

      Time to remove cars from city centres. Years ago Brisbane’s city elders chose to build the biggest eyesore right along their river frontage, the riverside expressway. They turned their backs on the biggest natural asset they had the Brisbane river and now this legacy is set in concrete to last forever or until North Korea nukes us. However, this can be turned around to create an elevated park with trees, gardens, solar-shading and paths for cyclists and all other manner of pedestrian transport aids. We can make this laughing stock of a highway into a world class tourist attraction . Brisbane has three functions, health care, tertiary education and government, this can add a forth: Livability and tourism.

      • As it should be 1 year ago

        I agree in principle that cars need not be in the very center of the CBD. However for that to function, public transport would need to be seamless and car parks should be placed on the city outskirts to allow you to park and then head into the CBD from there. Seems a waste that much of the CBD is actually built for cars.

  5. Petr [email protected] 1 year ago

    We also need lane’s for mobility scooters. They can’t share the road with cars and trucks. They can’t ride partway on busses and trains, they should use bike lanes, but I fear bike riders won’t agree.
    Where do we draw the line on bikes ? I know many that would like to ride electric bikes on bike lanes, but due to age and/or infirmity, would only use fully electric drive. At slow speed.
    Car drivers pay the most for roads, if they stopped driving trucks would pay and all costs would escalate. Bike riders must contribute to building roads.

    • Rod 1 year ago

      Roads are no more expensive due to the space afforded to cyclists. Space currently available for parking could be reassigned for zero cost. Local roads are paid for via council rates. Country roads actually benefit from a sealed shoulder making it harder for water to get under the surface and increasing the safety margin for drivers.
      Cyclists don’t damage roads. The heavier the vehicle the more expensive the road with B Doubles and the like trebling the cost of roads.
      More cyclists mean less cars, means less need for car related transport. Fewer fuel trucks, fewer cars being ferried between cities, fewer tyres being transported etc.
      As for utopia, maybe a trip to Groningen is in order. Not that hard to imagine for anyone capable of rational thought.
      https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jul/29/how-groningen-invented-a-cycling-template-for-cities-all-over-the-world

      • As it should be 1 year ago

        If only we could get Tesla to develop a scooter. It’d cost $15,000 but go 0-100kph in <2sec and automatically ride home after it takes off, leaving you flat on your back. It would also look funky and take a while to order, but so worth it for bragging rights that you've saved the planet. Suppose though, we'd then need to register it.

        Brings me to a question, how much is the registration on an electric vehicle?

        • Rod 1 year ago

          AFAIK in all Australian States there is no registration discount for EVs.

        • Michael Murray 1 year ago

          Google Netherlands has already developed a self-cycling bike

          • Rod 1 year ago

            I had an inkling but had to wait for the release date. LOL
            And Google is 70 Years too late

          • Michael Murray 1 year ago

            Brilliant. I hadn’t seen that before.

          • Rod 1 year ago

            Just a snippet from “Jour de Fete” by Jacques Tati.
            I love all of his stuff.

    • Nick Kemp 1 year ago

      “Bike riders must contribute to building roads.”

      they do – they pay taxes like everyone else and probably cost less on health

    • My_Oath 1 year ago

      Car drivers don’t pay for the roads. Tax payers do. Bike riders – aka Tax Payers – are already paying for the roads.

  6. Petr [email protected] 1 year ago

    Quote “Governments should be subsidising smart e-bikes and other low-speed personal vehicles, and accelerating roll-out of infrastructure to support them.” End quote
    Who will build the roads ? If people stop using cars, trucks will pass on astronomical cost rises. Governments cannot subsidise eBikes.
    EV are a good thing but will cost more in the long run unless government owns power stations. Renewables are good but need nuclear for baseload. We trade dirty for dangerous.
    The world is still a few centuries from utopia

    • Kimmo 1 year ago

      I’m so damn fed up with all those who imagine their rego fees or even their fuel tax pays any more than a mere fraction of the costs of building and maintaining roads. Everybody pays for roads.

      What’s more, these goons always assume cyclists don’t also have cars. Pff.

      Furthermore, this idiotic user-pays mentality ignores the fact that roads are public space that has been taken over in favour of the car lobby, and that perhaps not everybody appreciates having hectares of asphalt everywhere. Not to mention the fact that bikes basically cause zero wear to roads, quite unlike heavy vehicles. Not to mention a whole other bunch of facts pertaining to the astronomical cost of motor vehicle carnage…

      You know, I reckon we could solve a bunch of these problems at once by no longer providing licences to morons. Of course, as an obviously good idea, it’ll never happen here.

      • Rod 1 year ago

        Share this with them next time. This particular goon didn’t mention registration or I would have shared it with him/her.
        18-reasons-why-registering-bicycles-is-a-bad-idea
        http://www.executivestyle.com.au/18-reasons-why-registering-bicycles-is-a-bad-idea-1m23gh
        I like the idea of an IQ test for drivers and voters. Would make the World a lot easier to cope with.

        • As it should be 1 year ago

          We would certainly have a lot less traffic congestion.

          • Rod 1 year ago

            Yes. I’ve always said all drivers are idiots. If not before they get behind the wheel, certainly after.
            By that measure, congestion will be non existent.

        • Kimmo 1 year ago

          Many of those reasons also pertain to the insanity of mandatory helmet legislation.

          • Rod 1 year ago

            Yes a few of them. In fact, any logical discussion on the pros and cons of helmets would lead to a repeal of the law but unfortunately the subject brings out irrational emotions.
            I would personally wear a helmet in cool conditions but would love a naked head in hot and humid weather.

      • Greg Hudson 1 year ago

        What’s more, these goons always assume cyclists don’t also have cars. Pff.
        Well Pff off then, because I have an eBike, and no car. (But I do have a Model 3 Tesla on reservation for delivery sometime before my great great grandsons death) – or maybe longer… 😉

    • Ian 1 year ago

      You do raise some nice objections, like the devil’s advocate, well done, makes a person think to come up with some counter-arguments. It’s not a question of the only choice being between car and bicycle. Quite clearly cars are so much better for long distances and rainy weather, but they are atrocious for short distances and built up areas like city centres. Why should there be a single technology to fit every circumstance?

      • As it should be 1 year ago

        Personally, i think this is a good argument for not requiring registration for alternative forms of transport (eg. ebikes/scooters/etc) allowing us to chose a vehicle based on the length of trip, weather, purpose. I think registration costs should simply be charged on emissions of the said vehicle. Trailers/Bicycles/E-Bikes etc should be charged $0. I could imagine a decent argument for some sort of 3rd party insurance charge, adjusted obviously for the potential for injury. I’m sure i’d rather be hit by a scooter going 40kph weighing maybe 150kg than a 2000kg car going 60kph.

    • Umbrella Man 1 year ago

      More than a few, frankly.

  7. Robert Comerford 1 year ago

    There are already plenty of foldup scooters on the market. Some even come with a bag. Hyundai are the latest to offer a similar item.

  8. Starganderfish 1 year ago

    No mention of the fact that many powered personal devices like scooters, skateboards etc are actually illegal in many states in Australia? It’s against the law to ride an e-scooter anywhere apart from private property in NSW. And even e-bikes are only legal if they are “pedi-bikes” ie: pedal powered pushbikes with limited electrical or assistance. And they cost upwards of $4-5k! I’d love to ride an e-scooter the 3km to and from work but I can’t. Not going to ride a push bike or kick scooter and sit in a sweaty suit all day at work. Until the law is changed to make these things legal, we simply don’t have that option!!

    • Rod 1 year ago

      Just checking, that is a 3km commute? If so. I can’t imagine raising much of a sweat in that time unless you are racing. In fact. it would hardly be worthwhile changing clothes.
      The e-bike limit is 250W and that is ample assistance on flat terrain.
      https://reneweconomy.com.au/the-quiet-e-bike-revolution-84526/

  9. Steven Gannon 1 year ago

    E bikes in Australia are governed to 25kph. I’m in my mid fifties and I can ride faster than that, and get off the mark almost as fast. My point is that a lot cyclists can and do ride faster than 25kph, I can’t see any major problem with e bikes, in fact I’ll buy one before too long. But the first thing I’d do is disconnect the governor.

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