Why is government suffocating sales of electric bicycles?

pedelec electric bicycle

In the face of road danger, deadly air pollution that kills over 30,000 a year, crippling congestion and an obesity epidemic that costs the NHS over £10bn a year, you might assume the government would grab at the opportunity to promote a safe, clean and healthy mode of transport.

So-called pedelecs may not be environmentally benign like conventional bicycles, but battery-powered bikes offer numerous advantages over electric cars; Not only do they consume far fewer natural resources to build and run, but they occupy less road space, contribute very little towards road danger, create no tailpipe emissions and constitute active travel. Another key advantage is that pedelecs can be recharged from a household electricity supply so no need for the infrastructure that is slowing the uptake of electric cars.

However, perhaps the thing about pedelecs that should be most attractive thing to those in power is the potential they offer to wrestle people out of their cars. Make no mistake – for all the talk about cleaner cars and ‘sharing the road’ – the only way to deal effectively with air pollution and road danger and to promote liveable neighbourhoods is for there to be far fewer cars on the roads. Electrically assisted bicycles are by no means a cheat, but their variable assistance feature allows novice cyclists to take on journeys of 20 miles or more without difficulty. And for those for whom the car is status symbol or style statement, fear not. Electric bicycles come in a variety of shapes, sizes and price points. In fact, just like many cars, some pedelecs put style over practicality. The Ruffian pictured above is designed to look like a motorcycle from the early twentieth century.

Given all the merits of the electric bicycle, it seems strange that the ongoing £400m+ subsidy for electric cars via the -‘plug-in grant’ has never been extended to include pedelecs. Equally curious is the fact that the government’s cycle to work initiative – the salary sacrifice scheme that allows people to buy a tax-free bicycle via their employer – has not had it’s cap of £1,000 increased to allow for the higher purchase price of pedelecs.

ETA cycle insurance

Ethical cycle insurance

Check your small print for so-called ‘new-for-old’ replacement – many insurers use the term, but if your bicycle is more than a few years old, they devalue it severely. This means you are left out of pocket when you come to replace it.

With ETA cycle insurance, however old the bike, if it’s stolen you get enough to buy a new model. Furthermore, every cycle insurance policy you buy from us helps support the work of the ETA Trust, our charity campaigning for a cleaner, safer transport future. No wonder The Good Shopping Guide rated us ethically.


  1. D M Butcher


    I am glad you are raising this issue. The UK Governments attitude towards cycling is a disgrace and their support, with our money, for electric cars seem a nonsense when the benefits are marginal at best – the power still needs to be produced somewhere!

    Electric assisted bikes are a revolution waiting in the wings and, with a little support, could dramatically alter peoples ability and desire to use bikes for transport.

    • Will


      So we shouldn’t incenticise electric cars because they still use electricity (it’s still better for the planet than combustion engines though!), but ebikes are okay, Philip? What about those who can’t cycle, even with a motor assistance?

      Taking no step in a better direction at all, its the true nonsense here.

      • Will


        Apologies, that reply was intended for D M Butcher, alas this site has no edit button for comments.

  2. Philip


    Let’s face it. We live in a country which is hostile to cYcling. BicYcles do not incur vehicle excise duty, so the government would not be too keen to entice the population out of their motor vehicles.

    I speak as both a motorist and cYclist, by the way, since the lunatic fringe who are forever spouting off in the media about “lycra louts” cannot comprehend that some people may, through choice or necessity, do both.

    The UK school, which this week announced that pupils who cYcle to school would have to display special registration plates had the lunatic fringe mentioned above quickly foaming at the mouth and demanding this be applied to all cYclists.

    Quite how we change this ingrained hostility I do not know.

  3. Welshjas


    I am a very weak cyclist who had to push my old bike up every slope in Kent. When I moved to the midst of the Snowdonia mountains, I though I would never cycle again and would rely on the car.. But after getting a cheap second-hand battery bike (charged from my renewable household electricity), I can easily do a 25 mile round trip over the mountains and regularly cycle the 17 mile shopping trip to town. It has certainly got me out of my car.

  4. trevor brooker


    In order to get car drivers to switch to electric bikes for their daily commute they must firstly feel safe, as fear of road traffic is the primary reason given when asked why they do not cycle.

    E-bikes offer all of the advantages of cars over public transport, with similar journey times for the average commute, but at dramatically lower cost.

    I feel that a few simple changes in the law could encourage the switch, by providing cyclists with parity with motorists.

    Firstly change the vague overtaking rule (not too close) into something simple – not the same side of the road i.e. the cycle has the right to the entire width of the carriageway so if you want to overtake you must cross the white lines & do so entirely on the other side. This could be policed by cameras on the bikes.

    Secondly as so many urban areas now have a 20mph speed limit increase the e-bike speed to the same, so they do not hold up traffic & because they are going the same speed this increases safety by reducing overtaking,

    Thirdly increase the power of e-bikes so that they can maintain 20mph uphill, again so they do not hold up traffic
    So a vehicle that offers the same speed, is safe in traffic & costs less to run should encourage more commuters to switch, gaining twice daily exercise & reducing the congestion & pollution in their area.

  5. Peter Gorton


    Why is government suffocating sales of electric bicycles? Probably because they’d lose tax revenues from vehicles and income from public transport fares to pay for the Tube trains and buses…..

  6. Michael duplock


    I had to get rid of my car to expensive my electric bike is great I do get weird looks as electric bikes are a novelty round here .Is that one of them electric bikes? .Yes it is .Shopping well they deliver .

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