David vs Goliath: Could e-bikes defeat the urban car?


As the auto industry weans itself off fossil fuels and seeks reinvention via electrification and driverless tech, might the car lose its personal mobility crown to the humble e-bike?

E-bikes might be cheaper to buy, run, park, insure and maintain than cars, but their widespread uptake faces an uphill battle that even the most powerful electric motor would struggle to win; apart from the absence of widespread cycling infrastructure, it’s easy to forget just how much we subsidise motoring here in the UK.

A 2012 study revealed that road traffic collisions, pollution and noise associated with motor vehicles costs every EU citizen more than £600 a year.

air pollution

A 2012 study revealed that road traffic collisions, pollution and noise associated with motor vehicles costs every EU citizen more than £600 a year.

The report by the Dresden Technical University in Germany calculated the costs amounted to £303bn per year across the 27 EU member states – the equivalent of €750 per man, woman and child – and recommended these externalities be factored into the true cost of driving.

The study found UK drivers accounted for £48bn of costs, or about £815 per person per year; a figure not including costs from congestion or ill health caused by sedentary lifestyles. It’s also worth noting that motoring related taxes have never been hypothecated, but even if they were, at the time the report was released there was £10bn shortfall between revenue from motoring taxes and the £48bn costs.

Electric bikes might not benefit from government subsidies, tax breaks or the flexible finance options offered to drivers, but an increasing number of companies are offering e-bike subscription services.

While it’s not clear why the UK government refuses to include e-bikes in the subsidies available for every other class of electric vehicle, one thing’s certain; there’s a huge group of potential e-bike customers who’d buy if helped with the purchase price.

Forget electric cars, e-bikes are waiting in the wings ready to replace many cars in urban areas at a moment’s notice. After all, their batteries don’t require bespoke charging infrastructure and can save families thousands when used to replace a household’s sole or second car.

Two-thirds of us would consider buying e-bikes if helped by a subsidy scheme, according to a poll conducted by Bosch. That’s almost 30 million people ready to buy an e-bike – a figure that would dramatically alter the UK’s transport landscape for the better.

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ETA cycle insurance includes the following as standard:

• Theft, accidental damage & vandalism
• E-bike battery theft cover
Cycle Rescue (covers breakdowns including flat battery)
• No devaluation of your bike over time
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• Shed and garage storage
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e-bike with flat battery

ETA Cycle Rescue covers breakdowns – including a flat battery

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  1. Vinnie


    E-bike no good in high winds and driving rain.

    • The ETA


      Tell that to the Dutch

  2. Thomas Lankester


    The statment “subsidies available for every other class of electric vehicle” is not true. There is also an anomaly bnetween EV grants for cars an dmotobikes: trikes (category L2e and L5e) are also inelibgible for EV grants.

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