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Tuesday, October 29, 2013 - 1:00pm

3 Charts (And A Few Words) On The Rise Of Electric Bikes

We told you last week about how bicycles are outselling new cars in almost every European country.

When we delved a little deeper into the numbers, we found that while bicycle sales remained steady in a six-year period that began in 2006 (the top chart), sales of electric bikes exploded (the second chart).

Now, electric bikes they have motors that engage when the rider needs it aren't new. NPR's Anthony Kuhn rode one back in 2007 and told us about it. And it's worth noting that their sales are still tiny compared to the sales of regular bikes.

But the gains are impressive. In the Netherlands, COLIBI, the association of the European bicycle industry, says it's the "most important sales segment."

The U.S. appears to be following that trend.

Ed Benjamin, chairman of the Light Electric Vehicle Association, told EV World, that about 900 retailers carry electric-assist bikes across the U.S.

Speaking to NPR in 2010, Benjamin said electric bikes could catch on in the U.S. but it depended on where you are.

"For example, I think electric bicycles are a very practical vehicle for a dense, flat city like New York City," he said. "But, you know, mountainous, or a place where you have a very large distance to go, they're not practical at all."

EV World has the figures:

"In the period from the summer of 2011 to 2012, some 70,000 units were imported into the United States. ... Then from July 2012 through June 2013, sales more than doubled to 159,000 units."

And where did it all begin? In China, as this 2010 story in The New York Times noted.

"[A]n estimated 120 million electric bicycles now hum along the roads, up from a few thousand in the 1990s. They are replacing traditional bikes and motorcycles at a rapid clip and, in many cases, allowing people to put off the switch to cars.

"In turn, the booming Chinese electric-bike industry is spurring worldwide interest and impressive sales in India, Europe and the United States. China is exporting many bikes, and Western manufacturers are also copying the Chinese trend to produce models of their own. From virtually nothing a decade ago, electric bikes have become an $11 billion global industry."

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