Are e-bikes good for the environment?

So you want to buy an e-bike. You know that cycling is awesome. It’s a pollution-free and noise-free method of travel, it keeps you fit and healthy, it’s a lot cheaper than using other transport. E-bikes give you the same benefits with less effort on the legs, if that’s what you want.

But how green is e-biking? Is it really environmentally friendly? In fact, is it even good for you? Is it just cheating? Don’t you just sit there and a battery takes you places?

Listen… you’ve no doubt heard the phrase ‘whiter than white’, in relation to someone who is so pure and innocent, the sun shines from every part of their body. Well, there’s greener than green as well. And all shades of green.

Here we champion all things green while acknowledging that some things are greener than others. But even pale green is better than there being no green at all.

So to electric bikes, of course they have their eco-downsides – as can regular cycling. But the overall direction is extremely positive for our planet.

And yes, they’re good for you – battery power will only get you so far, you will need to put a bit of effort in here and there.

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E-bikes – pros and cons for the environment

Emissions

The first thing to consider is what you’re comparing e-bikes with. Electric bicycles, just like traditional models, are far better for the environment than cars and other road vehicles.

Much of the harmful carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in the atmosphere come from fuelled vehicles, with many of our road trips being short ones.

A report in the United States found that if everyone who lived within five miles of their home would use a bike instead of a car to get to work, a million cars would be taken off the road.

Across the world, up to 80% of all car journeys are less than six miles. Incredibly almost a third of journeys are of only one mile.

These facts are made worse when we learn that 75% of a car’s exhaust emissions are made during this first mile, when the car is colder and least efficient.

While most people would not want to replace their car for long journeys, these short journeys are ideal for bikes and e-bikes.

Not only for environmental reasons, including the fact that emissions in our towns and cities can be choking, but also because of the time and cost of using a car.

Congestion means that it’s often quicker to go on two wheels, while fuel and parking costs are always on the rise.

There’s a gap that e-bikes can fill, between the point where a journey becomes too long to walk, and the point where it’s so long, you’d rather travel by train or bus, or car.

This also makes e-bikes a viable replacement for a second car.

Batteries

Electric bikes use a battery to power the motor to help push you along. But how environmentally friendly are they?

To extract lithium to make lithium-ion batteries, the process involves a lot of mining and an awful lot of water to be used. We also also require the mining of cobalt, nickel and graphite.

Then the batteries have to be manufactured and distributed, giving them their own carbon footprint (not even mentioning that of the frame and the rest of the bike).

Oh, and batteries can also contaminate the environment if they aren’t recycled properly.

But there is a bright side.

Batteries are coming onto the market that are far more environmentally friendly. The batteries also last a long time – and many are capable of being recycled.

Of course you’ll have to charge the battery, often using electricity powered by fossil fuels – but you can opt for green power, including solar, to make charging eco-friendly, too.

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Conclusion

Electric bicycles – just like traditional bikes – do impact the environment through the process of making them. Obviously, anything in this world that is manufactured will have some negative effect.

But looking at the bigger picture, when you compare e-bikes to petrol cars as a mode of transport, the environmental benefits are huge with zero emissions helping to tackle air pollution.

And you do still get exercise with e-bikes – the rider can usually set a level where pedal power can kick in, and you get aerobic exercise, of course.

If you want to take up cycling but don’t fancy the physical effort involved, you can rest easy knowing that you’re doing your bit to help the environment by riding an electric bicycle.

Mark Campbell
Mark Campbell
Editor of greengreengreen, Mark has been a journalist for more than 30 years, campaigning on environmental issues. Living a vegan and sustainable lifestyle, he also writes for green groups and businesses across the world.

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