Electric bikes have yet to really take off in the UK and US, but in China they’re now outstripping car sales by a huge margin.
Some 20 million e-bikes are expected to be sold in the People’s Republic this year – the same number as in 2007 and 2008, according to a report in The Washington Post.
Sales of motor vehicles have also shot up in recent years but, with a predicted 12 million new cars hitting the road in 2009, still lag far behind e-bikes.
The loser in all this is the humble bicycle, once synonymous with communist China but now struggling to compete with its electric cousins, which are available for as little as £130.
According to the China Bicycle Association, a record 40 million bikes were sold in 1998. That number has now halved, and the models being sold today are more likely to be specialist road and mountain bikes than basic urban runabouts.
In Beijing – once known as the Kingdom of Bicycles – it is clear why e-bikes are more popular than cars. Rush hour lasts 11 hours a day, with frequent gridlock paralysing the city centre. Electric bikes can weave through the traffic and get users to their destination faster than a traditional bike.
However, the increasing reliance on powered vehicles has been linked to growing levels of obesity. Jin Shan, director of the sports culture research centre at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, told The Washington Post: “Before, no matter how far it was, the bike was your only choice. Changing from bikes to cars and e-vehicles is one reason Chinese people are getting fatter.”
In the UK, the British Electric Bicycle Association has predicted that sales of e-bikes will reach an all-time high this year of 21,000 – up by 6,500 on 2009 – and rise to 30,000 in 2010, although this has been refuted by electric bike magazine A to B.
Judging by the number of models on display at this year’s Eurobike and Interbike trade shows, America is the next market to crack.