Folding bike and electric bike specialist A to B Magazine has released a survey which shows that UK sales of electric bikes are on target to hit an all-time record of over 15,000 this year, with most manufacturers reporting shortages of bikes, and equipment, and waiting lists for popular machines.
"E-bikes seem to be recession proof", said A to B editor David Henshaw.
"Car sales are expected to plummet in 2009, but e-bike manufacturers are forecasting nearly 50 percent growth to almost 23,000 machines."
E-bikes cost less than 2p to recharge – the equivalent of 1,000mpg. They don’t need an MOT, tax or insurance either.
The total value of the UK electric bike market was about £13 million in 2008, with sales of £25 million predicted for 2009.
E-bikes are even more popular on mainland Europe. In the Netherlands, over 120,000 will be sold this year, and it’s thought annual sales could hit 300,000 in a few years. In Germany, e-bike sales are expected to double between 2007 and 2009.
E-bikes are legally classified as bicycles, provided they have motors of 250 watts or less, and a top assisted speed not exceeding 15mph
When asked to defend e-bikes against the charge they pollute the planet because they're not totally human powered, Henshaw said:
"Quite a significant part of the damage done by bicycles is in manufacture, and high-end MTBs with all the titanium and carbon gizmos, and a shelf-life of a few years use a lot of energy in production and distribution. Electric bikes typically do more miles. Many ordinary bikes with wide knobbly tyres, overweight components and horrid gears, hardly ever get used, whereas electric bikes are generally used much more. So there is, oddly enough, a good argument that for ordinary not-very-fit people, an electric bike will keep them fitter, because they will use it a lot more.
"Electric bikes are much more likely to replace car journeys. So they should really be compared with cars in terms of fuel use, environmental damage.
"An electric does some 1,000mpg, and it converts energy very efficiently into motion. We charge ours from solar panels, but the energy use is so small, it's hardly worth bothering about. A cyclist working hard, and scoffing carbs and choccy, then taking a long hot shower has used much more energy."