The bicycle was first invented back in the early 19th century and evolved through several different shapes and styles before becoming the classic bike that we know today. Over the years, bicycle manufacturers have experimented with two, three and even four wheels, with different seat configurations, and with the inclusion or omission of pedals.
They have tried two-seater cycles; wooden, cast iron and wrought iron frames; and even used iron-shod wheels. Thankfully, the standard bicycles of the modern era are considerably more comfortable, solidly built and safer to ride than those early prototypes. However, manufacturers continue to experiment. In an increasingly eco-conscious world, bikes are experiencing a surge in popularity as people cast around for more planet friendly ways to travel, exercise and commute. Cycling as a sport is incredibly popular and the progress seen in the development of racing bikes is innovative and exciting. The 21st century has welcomed the humble bicycle with open arms and is doing its utmost to further perfect a 200 year old piece of machinery. Let’s examine how.
The Dawn of the Electric Bike
One of the most significant advances in bicycle technology in recent years has been the development of the electric bike, or e-bike. This has nothing to do with the electric motorcycle scooter, like a Vespa or Lambretta model, but instead refers to a standard bicycle with an optional integrated electric motor. An e-bike retains its pedals and often has a capped top speed in many countries. The average range of an electric bicycle is 16 to 20mph though some are able to reach as much as 28mph. Most e-bikes are still mainly powered by the exertion of the rider, but they can lend a helping hand up hills, on long rides or whenever is needed using the electric motor.
At first, it may seem unnecessary to add a low powered electric motor to a machine that is already a highly convenient and popular mode of everyday transport. However, consumers are responding well to their increased availability, with the e-bike gaining on the popularity of standard bicycles in European countries like Germany. In East Asian countries, where the electric scooter is a more popular vehicle, the e-bike is slowly replacing these fossil fuel-guzzling machines. All in all, this shift should make for greener, less polluted cities all over the world as people turn to bikes and e-bikes, rather than relying on scooters, motorbikes, cars and public transport systems.
Bike Sharing Systems
One of the main hurdles standing in the way of total e-bike domination, however, is the cost. Even fairly low range bikes – which manage an average of 20 miles before needing to be recharged – can set an individual back £600 or about €700. Local city councils and governments have realised that their cities and towns are losing out on all the benefits of e-bikes simply because the cost is still too high for everyone to purchase their own. So, many bike sharing systems have popped up, specific to e-bikes. Some schemes also offer access to e-scooters, or electric kick scooters.
The idea is that branded electric bicycles are provided in tactical locations around the city for people to use as an alternative to cars, buses, trains and metro systems. Some of these systems have a small cost attached, but others are provided completely free. Whichever option is made available, using a bike sharing system is certainly cheaper than purchasing your own e-bike. In recent years people have become more and more used to services moving into the online realm; everything from switching energy providers, to playing traditional table games, to ordering a takeaway, to chatting with friends is now managed by an app or website. So, it should be no great stumbling block for the modern city-dweller to navigate the apps or automated machines necessary to safely borrow and return a shared e-bike.
Cycle to Work Benefits
Some employers have taken this idea one step further and started to offer rewards for employees who commute via bicycle or e-bike. Many will even award a grant to workers who are interested in purchasing a new vehicle specifically for commuting to their workplace and back. Alternatively, the employer will buy a certain number of bicycles and then run an in-house hiring system, allowing employees to use the bikes for a set period of time or number of days a week. Innovative companies such as Freebike provide the necessary materials, and then the entire workplace reaps the benefits. Not only does this shed a positive light on the company providing the financial aid, but it also means that, in turn, their environment is less polluted, they needn’t spend millions on building new employee carparks, and their employees will generally be healthier and happier if they are cycling to work rather than driving.