July 23, 2019

Where are the electric bikes (and scooters)?

During this time of good weather, late nights and less clothing, I search for an agreeable public space along a greenway, to stop for a while to nurse a coffee and watch the passing parade.  I look for one specific thing.

Electric bikes. And the occasional electric scooter.

Here’s the curious thing: there aren’t any.  Well, hardly any – at least nowhere as many as you’d reasonably expect in a city as cycle-friendly as Vancouver, particularly one with hills.  Especially, say, North Vancouver.

At the opening of the Shipyards this weekend, I looked for any bike that had a battery pouch.  None – not too surprising in a pedestrian-heavy area.  But Tony Valente, the CNV councillor, also confirmed that there aren’t as any many electric-assist bikes as you’d expect in a community whose main street, Lonsdale, is essentially a hill.  He thinks they’re on the way.

But why aren’t they already here, given how popular they are – along with a tidal wave of electric scooters – in other cities as near as Seattle?

Perhaps it’s our culture.  We think battery-assist bikes are somehow cheating.  If you ain’t sweating up that hill, you’re a lazy weak person.

And we’re law-abiding.  Since electric scooters are illegal everywhere but in parking lots and your backyard, we’ve held back the inevitable.

But if what I saw in Tel Aviv is indicative, along with other global cities, the electric scooter is on its way, proliferating in traffic in a mere two or three years to the point where they often seem to be the traffic.  Here’s a typical scene along the beach front in TLV:


And on Allenby Street, a major avenue through downtown.


I welcome your theories.  And an answer to the questions: where should electric-assist cycles and scooters be?  On bikeways, separated routes, side streets, in any traffic? Or anywhere unless very specifically prohibited, like sidewalks and seawalls?

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  1. I ride an electric bike. Right now they make up about 10% of the vehicles stolen in Vancouver so I don’t leave mine around unless I carry my monster lock which is clumsy. If you want a better indication of the number of bikes, watch the riders, not the parkers.

  2. We purchased an electric bike about 5 or 6 years ago (a Stromer) because we were living in West Vancouver at the time and, as you know, the hills are murderous. We still use it, depending up where we are going and who is tired or injured. E-Bikes are fabulous and even though I also ride my regular bike (thank you, Arbutus Greenway!) , we feel no shame on the Stromer. The primary drawback to possessing an e-bike is price. They can be very expensive and represent a considerable investment. They can also be very heavy. The new Stomer now has a lighter battery, but I’ve heard that the price is now double what it once was.

  3. Been watching this file for years. Used to be seeing an ebiker was a novelty. Now it’s the rare bike ride where you don’t see one, esp along the main commuter routes to and from the burbs.

    Pro tip: the cheapest ebike is a used mountain bike with disc brakes, equipped with a conversion kit from a local supplier such as Grin Technologies. Also the least GHG intensive IMO.

    1. That is exactly what I did, built up on a steel Surly MTB frame with hydro disc brakes. I have been riding it for 8 years now, and i’m only on my second battery.

  4. You don’t have to go as far as Seattle to find electric bikes. Victoria is loaded with them. Seems like one out of four bikes is electric. Maybe it’s the demographic? Lots of older, retired people who seem to comprise the majority of electric bike owners.
    In response to your question of where to ride them and electric scooters, my skewed bicycle centric view is that space should be taken from cars to accommodate them in separated, protected lanes.

    1. Yea, I agree; they’re everywhere around Victoria. They’re accommodated in regular bike lanes, and no one seems to care. Perhaps it’s the demographic – mostly older folks riding both regular and e-bikes. I went to a meeting at the top of the Malahat this past week and met one middle-aged, in-shape guy that came up the Malahat from Langford on his – mostly just to cycle to a meeting without allowing several hours travel, which he also does. He said he averaged 38 km/h. E-bikes are obviously a great assist.

      1. That isn’t an electric assist cycle, which by law is regulated to a top speed of 32 km/hr. It is an electric motorcycle.

  5. Rain.

    The factor so many choose to selectively forget when it comes to posting on transportation or our urban environment.

      1. And snow in N Van .. and hills. The weather indeed is not like Tel Aviv.

        Mainly a cultural thing ie no bike lanes until Mr. Gregor Robertson arrived.

        W and N Van still undersupplied.

        I enjoy my ebike tremendously. Sweating while biking .. so overrated ! UBC has a long hill to climb up, after every ride.

        We ought to allow e-scooters on roads like bikes or in bike lanes of course. That is one reason why we see so few here. A major oversight in BC, like the lack of Uber or the requirement for class 4 licenses. Nannystate needs some serious moderation here. Or 70 km/h on Alex Fraser bridge. Are you kidding me ?

    1. Just returned from stockholm. Further north than vancouver by far, cold weather, rained while we were there and its very cold in the winter. Oddly the city was packed with scooters and bikes.

      Maybe this disqualifying environmental factor is more perception than anything else. I for one greatly prefer the rain to temps below zero.

      1. Stockholm average annual precipitation 575 mm, Vancouver 1280 mm. I’m sure you’d agree that’s quite a difference.

        1. Sure, but you missed the point. Yes it rains. Rains a lot actually. But its way better than consistent below freezing for months at a time.

          1. I remember reading about some study or survey that showed a much higher correlation with temperature than rain for lowering biking rates, meaning that below a certain temperature biking fell off steeply, but rain had much less effect on biking rates. I can anecdotally confirm that it is more miserable in the cold below about 3 degrees, than in the rain above 6 degrees, of course I mean with proper rain gear and not too heavy rain. A large percentage of the time when we say it is raining here, it is more like a drizzle.

  6. Hmmm… maybe because I live right by the North Shore bike trails, but I seem to see e-bikes pretty regularly, although not as often as electric cars.

    Still though, when you ask “But why aren’t they already here, given how popular they are” my answer almost always comes down to “Because they’re so darned expensive.” If you can get e-bikes selling for $500 or less they’ll be everywhere. When they start at pretty near two grand you’ll only get the people who know that they can make a business case for owning one.

  7. They are on the way and soon! The North Shore municipalities are in the midst of procuring electric bike share which will be a huge change. HUB Cycling BTWW counts over the last few years have shown huge growth in e-bikes. They are on the rise and seniors especially love them. During a council ride to work during Bike to Work Week (BTWW) experienced Councillor Don Bell fell in love with his demonstrator e-bike and is rumoured to have made a purchase.

    What happens if the company that ends up delivering bike share ends up being Lyft or JUMP and results in the possibility for e-scooters? Then say maybe a few months later the Motor Vehicle Act is amended to the Road Safety Act and makes once illegal modes legal?

    Transportation is changing and it’s coming fast!

  8. Where are the electric bikes (and scooters)?

    They’re in Calgary. Seriously. There are loads around here. Come by for a visit!

  9. Radwagon is the new SUV in Mount Pleasant! Lots of e-bikes on Ontario bikeway, not the worst hill in town but still going to make you sweat a little. You sure can tell who is on an e-bike and who isn’t at 8th / Ontario.

  10. Hi Gord: Lots of ebicycles here in 2019. 2016 not so much!

    Monday-Friday, I see at last 5 e-assist bicycles in my 6 km East Van (clark park-> woodland->adanac->dunsmuir->cambie) commute to work and another 5 e-assist on the return trip home. I also see at least 1 or 2 electric scooters/snowboards er i way one ways/skateboard each way. Radwagons are popular too as per Anthony!

    I think only the diehards and the MAMILs see it as cheating 🙂 everybody else just sees it as a less sweaty and more consistent way to get to work that’s cheaper than cars and more reliable than transit (although our transit East Van to Gastown is great too!)

    I have an electric bicycle but don’t use it much because I am addicted to exercising and for a commute less than 10km the saving of 5-10 minutes is not such a great saving if you are fit already (which is a big IF since so many folks have physical issues and aren’t fit but that’s another can of worms 🙂 ) !

    Anyhow #ymmv but the ebike and eskateboard and escooter thing is definitely happening in the East Van to Downtown commuter rush !