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E-Bikes on ABC’s Good Morning America

by Bike Shop Girl

This article is part of our on goingE-Bike Wednesday series.  Every Wednesday we will be touching on something in the electric bike industry in hopes to clear up any e-bike questions or concerns you have.


In honor of National Bike to Work Day the well received, Good Morning America, had a special on electric bikes.

No carbon footprint, no emission, and no noise

A couple notes that was mentioned and I would like to talk about. The above facts were listed and my response is : “Well, not exactly.”

Carbon footprin.  – Riding a bicycle has far less carbon footprint than most modes of transportation..  Creating a bicycle, feeding the human engine and upkeep of a bicycle is financially less than an automobile, but the footprint is much smaller – but there still is a footprint.  There’s a footprint in all we do, but that’s a rant for another post.

No emission – There is no emission from the bicycle but there needs to be some measurement of the electricity it takes to charge the system.

What I mean to say is..

Riding a bicycle is a very green thing to do, an electric bike isn’t as green but a very large step or leap forward compared to other means of transportation.  I don’t want everyone to have construed thoughts on buying an electric bike. I most likely have opened up a can of worms.  As bike commuters we tend to be more eco friendly than most, that may not be the reason you have chosen a bicycle for transportation but for some it is.  It keeps me out of my car for trips under 5 miles if possible..  In a perfect world, I would like to see a fully self charging electric bike system.

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10 Responses to “E-Bikes on ABC’s Good Morning America”

  1. I am happy to see people get around without pulling their 2-3 ton hermit shell around with them. That savings is HUGE, moving a 2 ton mass around is expensive.

    If people aren’t willing to do it all under human power an e-bike is good choice. I think e-bikes can make hills and distances possible in the minds of those who don’t ride today.

    I do think that the majority of people in the US consume enough food already to support riding a bike everywhere. The issue is to compute the delta of your impact from case (A)uto to case (B)ike. It will be quite large.

    Right wing think tanks like to assume the sunk costs into automotive transport as a given. Then compute the footprint of alternatives as having to pay for infrastructure and acquisition of all equipment and accessories of the alternative. They also then compute food intake, and other footprint costs for the alternative yet ignore the current costs being realized for the automotive option. In other words people are eating today even though they are driving. It is foolish to fall into these traps. Compute both footprints as running costs of operation and ignore the sunk costs of acquisition. Compare the two. Then you can amortize costs of acquisition over time if you want to see what your cost-benefit analysis is. But remember for the planet, the timeline is much longer and if it takes x years to realize the benefits, it is still a major improvement.

    Cycling, e-bikes, and other alternative human powered vehicles have very large potential and I can’t wait until the day we wean ourselves off of our 2.5 ton hermit shells.
    -Duncan

  2. Engineer Tim says:

    Bike Shop Girl

    You alluded to the need for some measure of the electricity (energy) required to charge these “zero” emission vehicles. This claim by the electric vehicle (EV) industry is one of my pet peeves. I am a mechanical engineer working in the power industry and use a bicycle for my daily transportation.

    Don’t believe any claim that an EV produces zero emissions. Most EV manufacturers’ claims have a footnote that clarifies the statement as zero tailpipe emissions, but they neglect to publish the smokestack emissions from the source that actually produced the electricity to charge the batteries. Unless you live off the grid and supply all of your own electricity from non-fossil powered generation or are referring only to regenerative electric systems that capture extra pedaling energy or wasted energy from braking, this claim of zero emissions is false.

    In very simplistic terms let’s compare the emissions for three systems. (1) A standard bicycle propelled only by a cyclist, (2) an electric bike propelled only by the battery, and (3) a gasoline engine propelled vehicle scaled to the same power output.

    Let’s assume it requires on average 100 watts of power to propel each of these vehicles.

    Case 1:

    The human body has roughly a 22% fuel conversion efficiency. That means for a 100 watt output from our legs to the cranks, it requires 455 watts of food energy to sustain this power output. Arguably food energy has no carbon footprint and most would consider this form of transportation to have no carbon footprint and be zero emission.

    Case 2:

    An electric bike requires its battery to be charged. This requires electricity, which in turn requires an energy source. In 2008, the fuel sources for electricity production in the US were coal (48.2%), natural gas (21.4%), nuclear (19.6%), hydroelectric (6.0%), renewables (3.0%), petroleum (1.1%), other gases (0.3%) and other (0.3%)

    We can neglect nuclear, hydroelectric, renewables, and the insignificant sources since they have little or no emissions. That leaves coal and natural gas as the significant emitting fuel sources in the US that produced that power. Roughly 70% (or 70 watts) of the power required to charge that battery has a carbon footprint. That is not the whole picture. Considering the energy conversion efficiency of each of those sources (coal ~30%, natural gas ~60%), and the energy conversion efficiency of the battery (~90%), that 100 watts of battery power requires 222 watts of power input that originated from carbon emitting sources. This is not zero emissions.

    Case 3:

    A gasoline engine has roughly a 20% energy conversion efficiency. For the sake of argument, if a vehicle requires 100 watts of power, that requires 500 watts of energy input from the fuel. Granted most automobiles have a much larger energy consumption (in the range of 20,000 to 50,000 watts) and switching from an automobile to an e-bike would greatly reduce a persons carbon footprint.

    Just don’t claim that e-bikes are zero emission. Please.

    • Engineer Tim,

      Thank you so much for your input. This is exactly what I have been looking for to show the complete scope of a bike vs ebike vs car. Yes it is better, but how much better??

  3. Terry says:

    Check out the Pedego special edition bike for the ultimate Lakers fan at http://www.pedegoelectricbikes.com/lakerbikes/146

  4. Kevin Love says:

    Dear Engineer Tim,

    It would be better for you to use “Electricity consumption in the USA” rather than “Electricity production in the US.”

    The USA imports large amounts of hydroelectric power from Canada which seriously skews your analysis.

  5. steve says:

    While an ebike does have an operational carbon footprint, ebikes, bikes and cars all have carbon footprints for manufacture and delivery. The amount of materials in ebikes and bikes is insignificant compared to cars that if you are displacing a car, either is an amazing win.

    The person does have to expend energy above their resting metabolism to run a bike, but I think all of us can agree this is very low and healthy.

    For some numbers. Where you get your electricity makes an enormous amount of difference .. the US average co2e emission for a kwh of delivered electricity is 1.3pounds. The range is 0.02 in Idaho to 2.24 in North Dakota. These are very important if you are worrying about eCars, but I would forget about it if you are displacing a car:-)

    By comparison a car emits 19.6 pounds co2e per gallon of gasoline burned. Probably a better way to look at car mileage is grams/co2e emitted per 100km .. but lets stick with pounds, miles and gallons. If you get 25 mpg you emit a bit under 80 pounds of co2e. A 350 watt ebike can go about 20 mph with a normal person .. so it takes 5 hrs of 1.75 kwh of electricity which emits a bit under 2.3 pounds of co2e using the US average. Ride it in Idaho and you are about 4/100s of a pound.

    Of course many ebikes – like he BionX/Treks are really human/electric hybrids and have higher efficiencies.

    You can quibble with the example numbers but they are roughly right back of the envelope.

  6. steve says:

    ps – I should add that I prefer a plain old bike. I’ve helped a half dozen people with ebike mods and have done some other work in the field. My view is the more bikes of any kind we can get on the road, the safer we’ll be and we’ll emit less carbon and have a lower need for oil. The folks who decide to pedal some or all of the time will have the added benefit of exercise and the health that comes from it.

  7. paul says:

    I don’t know if operating a car is really cheaper than riding my bike.

    I mean gas is cheaper than most food, and I must consume twice as much food when biking 45 miles to work 3-5 days a week compared to driving.

    I also have an eBike with 1000 watt Phoenix motor that I use for weekend trips to the gym, shopping and errands, so that has an impact also.

    I think you have to calculate a full lifecycle analysis of consuming much more food when biking vs a few gallons of gas when driving that same distance.

    It wouldn’t surprise me all to discover that my impact is greater when biking than driving.

  8. piese auto says:

    The first thing you need to do is to educate people. Important cycling is huge and I am glad that this article does this. I hope more will be written such articles to educate the population.piese auto online

  9. Engineer Tim,

    Nice analysis, but in Case 1 you assume a carbon footprint of zero for food–this is not the case! Agricultural methods these days are heavily dependent on fossil fuels. You also have the transport, packaging, refrigeration, cooking, etc. For every calorie of food consumed in an average U.S. diet, there have been 11 calories of energy put into that food. So, unless you are powering your bike solely on food from your own garden you simply cannot assume a zero carbon footprint.

    If you want a detailed analysis, check this out: http://knol.google.com/k/energy-global-warming-and-electric-bicycles# (nice graphics to accompany the analysis). The bottom line? For trips less than 5 miles a regular bike wins, but beyond 5 miles the ebike actually has a lower carbon footprint.

    As a seller of ebikes, I don’t try to sell to people who actually use their bikes, but I would say at least 80% of people who own a bike only use it for occasional recreation, and not as a means of real transport. I see ebikes as a means of getting people out of their cars more often and over greater distances, and for helping people who want to lower their carbon footprint but don’t want to arrive to work sweaty. I also sell scooter-style ebikes, which are not as good as the pedal-assist for CO2 emissions, but are still far better than a car and far less polluting than a motor scooter. No exercise benefit, but it still feels great to ride them!

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