The Washington State Senate and House are both mulling over how to incentivize more residents to ride electric bicycles, and the Senate’s version of the state budget would provide a $300 rebate for any state resident who buts an e-bike or $1,200 for low-income e-bike buyers. These rebates would bring the cost of owning an e-bike closer to a pedal bike, ensuring a rapid increase in the number of people riding them in communities across the state.
Washington Bikes has a handy online tool you can use to tell legislators that you support these investments as well as other biking and safe streets measures under consideration.
E-bikes are an incredible technology for communities without dense and walkable urban environments, which describes nearly all of Washington State. Where a pedal bike is still an amazing machine that can do much more than most people give it credit for, e-bikes are one of the world’s emerging technologies that truly does live up to the hype. If anything, the potential within them is underestimated and underrated.
E-bikes make daily trips across fairly long distances practical for a huge percentage of Washington individuals and families. While the most determined and fit among us have shown that long daily rides are possible using pedal bikes—even with kids and grocery runs and all—e-bikes can make these trips faster and easier. For example, the other day I had to take my kid to the doctor for a check-up before school. I didn’t even think about the distance before leaving the house. But when I got back, I realized that my morning ride to the doctor, preschool and home was more than 16 miles, mostly in the rain. All that before my morning coffee.
But here’s the thing: It wasn’t a big deal. It was just another day of doing kid transportation with an e-bike in Seattle. I didn’t even think of it as exercise. There was no huffing and puffing or anything resembling strenuous exercise despite the many hills along the way. It was probably about as physically exerting as a brisk walk.
For comparison, if you started in the city center of Amsterdam and biked 16 miles west, you’d travel through farm land, cross the entirety of the city of Haarlem, and ride through a national park before reaching the North Sea. The distances people often need to cover in Washington State communities just to do basic things can easily balloon like this, and that’s why e-bikes are such a powerful tool for helping more people live their daily lives on bicycles.
This is also a great time for e-bike incentives because e-bikes have finally broken fully into the mainstream. The days of needing to import a fancy European e-bike or try your luck with an unknown online-only bike maker are over. REI sells them these days, for example. Even Trek now has a full lineup of e-bikes for all users, from road to mountain to commuter to family-hauling cargo bikes. Having access to trustworthy warranties and professional local bike mechanics makes now the perfect time for public investment in the e-bike industry. The investment will return to the state in the form of a larger local bike industry which will become necessary in every community. And, of course, there are all the other economic benefits that come from more people riding bikes, such as improved public health, decreased traffic and car parking needs, and decreased environmental destruction.
E-bikes also don’t face the same issues that keep holding back electric cars, meaning there is a very high ceiling for adoption within our communities as they currently exist. Their batteries don’t require special high-voltage charging stations, and the batteries are an order of magnitude smaller and easier to source. My large cargo bike’s 400 Wh battery is the equivalent of about 4 or 5 laptop batteries. So if I ride 30 miles, I’ll use about the same amount of electricity as charging a laptop 5 times. For comparison, the Tesla Model 3 (one of the more efficient electric cars on the market) is rated at about 250 Wh/mi. The energy use is barely comparable between the two. Electric bikes are ridiculously efficient. And better yet, you don’t have to stress about range anxiety because even if the battery runs out of juice, it simply becomes a slightly sluggish bicycle.
Of course, e-bike rebates will only go so far on their own. The biggest impediment to more cycling in Washington State is the lack of safe bike routes. But e-bike rebates will pair perfectly with investments in safe streets and highways. We can reduce traffic deaths and injuries for all Washington road users while also encouraging more people to get around by bike. Let’s do it.