E-Bikes have been on the rise for roughly a decade, but the pandemic seriously accelerated adoption. U.S. e-bike retail sales — so just new bikes, not gear or services — were up +145% in 2020, compared to 2019, according to the NPD Group.
Plus politicians are starting to take note. There’s a proposed federal bill that would offer Americans of all income levels a refundable 30-percent tax credit for purchasing a pedal-assist bicycle. Then there’s a state-level e-bike affordability bill proposed in California that would incentivize the purchase of electric bicycles as a means of reducing vehicle miles traveled. There are similar bills proposed by other states. As a cherry on top, our Transportation Secretary commutes via electric bikeshare! To us, this indicates a sea change and signals that e-bikes will be a fixture of commuter transportation from now on.
What’s more, people who buy e-bikes report riding them often. One study found that people who buy an e-bike more than double their use of a bicycle for transport. It also found that e-bike owners were riding to work, to run errands, and visit friends instead of driving their cars.
As an employer, you’ll want to prepare for the influx of electric bicycles (and riders) at your workplace. Here’s what you should consider:
Our guidance for bike parking — that it should be convenient, easily accessible, and secure — goes double for e-bikes. Here’s why: E-bikes tend to be heavier (because of the battery), so wheeling them up to buildings and through doors, and navigating interior spaces, is potentially fraught. Things like kick plates to automatically open doors, wide hallways, no stairs/elevators or tight corners become more important when employees are pushing their e-bikes. Additionally, some e-bikes may in fact be electric cargo bikes, making them extra big and heavy.
We don’t recommend employees park bikes at outdoor racks in general (less secure), and since e-bikes tend to be pricier (high end e-bikes can cost upwards of $10K) we really don’t recommend outdoor parking. As a best practice, have employees park their bikes in badge-access bike rooms inside the building or in the parking garage (if that’s the only option).
Parking Electric & Cargo Bikes
E-bikes require floor racks, like basic staple racks. They are usually too heavy for most people to hoist them onto the hook of a wall-mounted vertical rack or the top level of a double-decker bike rack.
And remember what we said about cargo bikes? Cargo bikes in particular have a much larger footprint than regular bikes – 36” wide by 120” long. To provide enough space for this kind of bike, increase parallel spacing between staple racks to 48” and center the rack in a 120” long space. The end caps of parking rows are often an excellent place to add a few cargo bike spaces. Access to these spaces should be as direct as possible. Mark the pavement (preferred) or post signs to indicate that these spots should be reserved for cargo bikes. While the usage rate for cargo bikes varies considerably, two spaces per bike parking location is a good minimum. Target cargo bike parking ratios are 2-5% of total bicycle spots.
E-bikes have batteries that power the electric assist, and you’ll want to make sure riders have places to charge their e-bike while at work. The good news is e-bike chargers plug into normal wall outlets, unlike electric cars. E-bike riders really need to be able to charge their bikes during the workday in preparation for the commute home to avoid range anxiety or worse, running out of juice in the dark.
Risks & Liability
When we’re designing bike rooms, we always get questions about e-bike fire risk, probably because electric bikeshare bikes sometimes do catch fire. It’s very rare, but the cases are highly publicized. The rate of these incidents is very low, and there isn’t a lot on a bike that can burn other than the battery. Bikes that are properly spaced out on racks help prevent any hypothetical fires from spreading. For more on charging and storage procedures for lithium-ion batteries, check out the guide by Human Powered Solutions.