By J David Goodman
India had no sales of electric bikes until two years ago, but its market could eclipse Europe in one year
Jiang Ruming, a marketing manager, owns a van, but for many errands, he hops on a futuristic-looking contraption that lets him weave rapidly through Shanghai’s messy traffic. He rides an electric bicycle.
Half a world away, in San Francisco, the president of that city’s board of supervisors, David Chiu, uses an electric bike to get to meetings without sweating through his suit. And in the Netherlands, Jessy Wijzenbeek-Voet recently rode an electric bicycle on a long trip that, at 71, she would not have been able to make on a standard bike. Detroit may be introducing electric car designs and China may be pushing forward with a big expansion of its highways and trains. But people like Jiang, Wijzenbeek-Voet and Chiu — as well as delivery workers in New York, postal employees in Germany and commuters from Canada to Japan — are among the millions taking part in a more accidental transportation upheaval.
It began in China, where an 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.
Electric bikes have been a ‘gift from God’ for bike makers, said Edward Benjamin, an independent industry consultant, not only because they cost more — typically $1,500 to $3,000 — but also because they include more components like batteries that need regular...