June 3rd is World Bicycle Day and Canada is seeing a rapid uptake of battery-powered electric bikes from coast-to-coast as more providers and riders hit the roads
Electric bikes have gone from a niche luxury item in the industry to an integral mode of transportation for many people around the world — including thousands of Canadians.
Recent data from a Canadian research firm, Precedence Research, shows that the global e-bike market was valued at US$17.56 billion in 2021 and is projected to be worth around US$40.98 billion by 2030.
“Customers’ perception about e-bikes is as they are an ideal substitute for smart cars, scooters, and public transport. These bikes help in tackling traffic jams, owing to the compact size of bikes and can attain high speed with minimum effort,” reads the press release from the study.
In North America, the popularity of e-bikes has seen an unprecedented level of growth since the start of the COVID pandemic. Research from ReportLinker, a market research data collecting company, found that the e-bike market was valued at US$ 710 million in 2020. It is now expected to reach just over US$1 billion by 2026.
As more North Americans decide to switch out four-wheeled gas vehicles for two-wheeled e-bikes this will also have a substantial impact on lowering greenhouse gas emissions and reaching emission targets.
A U.S. study from Bike Advisor found that if just eight per cent of Americans replace their short-distance car trip (less than eight kilometres) with e-bikes it would save 44,000 metric tonnes of CO2 a day. If 50 per cent of Americans make the switch, then savings can reach up to 273,000 metric tonnes of CO2 every day.
With June 3rd marking World Bicycle Day, which celebrates the versatility of the bicycle as means of transport, several Canadian companies are looking for ways to make e-bikes a lot more accessible for people all across the country.
Toronto-based Zygg Mobility is one of the companies expanding their subscription e-bike rental services across Canada. This spring, it expanded to Vancouver, eying the Vancouver market — a green-conscious city with a longer-bike-friendly season — for both its consumer and delivery services customers.
Zygg rents out its e-bikes to customers under a subscription package that includes home deliveries, next-day repairs and exchanges and maintenance. The price ranges from $99 to $169 per month.
“[Our] mission is to provide an affordable way of renting out e-bikes,” says Sachit Chawla, Zygg Mobility’s GM Vancouver in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada. “E-bikes are expensive, which by the nature of that makes it harder for people to own. In our case, they can rent out an e-bike and it could be theirs for whatever amount of time they sign up for.”
E-bikes for food deliveries
Zygg was founded in Toronto during the onset of the pandemic in 2020. The company offers a range of six different bike models at different costs for personal use and commercial food deliveries.
“Three years ago when we launched the service we definitely thought that it was a sure shot need for personal riders who want to ride the bikes for leisure, but then we found that a large chunk of customer demographic are looking for an affordable way to rent our e-bike so that they can do deliveries,” said Chawla.
“There’s a huge demand of customers and they love us because they can just come in, they don’t have to pay four grand to own a bike or buy a bike.”
Nowadays, more Canadians are getting food delivered to their homes than ever before. A study by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax found that $4.7 billion of food was ordered in 2019 and close to $1.5 billion of that was
via food delivery services.
Zygg partners with food delivery operators Tiggy in Vancouver and Toronto and a Vancouver-based food delivery company, Fantuan, where Zygg provides their e-bikes to these businesses for use.
“The industry has matured in a way that there are now different use cases that we have come across and so the customers have evolved in a way that e-bikes can be used by everyday users or commercial businesses.”
In the next two months, Chawla says the company is expecting to have around 350 Zygg bikes on Vancouver roads and 500 Zygg bikes in Toronto, with the goal of reaching 500 to 800 e-bikes in the future in both cities.
Neuron, Bird e-bikes in Calgary
An unlikely leader in e-bike adoption is Alberta.
The province is looking at increasing access to e-bikes this summer with the launch of 100 dockless e-bike rentals from Singapore-based Neuron Mobility in Calgary. The city is the third location in Canada to get Neuron’s e-bikes — which were delivered in April to Lethbridge, Alta., and Vernon, B.C.
The company is expanding into e-bikes after successfully establishing itself as one of Calgary’s leading providers of another form of micro-mobility: e-scooters.
“Both locals and visitors have strongly embraced Calgary’s e-scooter program,” said Ankush Karwal, head of market for Neuron in Canada, in a press release. “We’re thrilled to be adding Neuron’s e-bikes to the shared micro-mobility services offered, giving riders one more safe, sustainable option to get around the city.”
Rental e-scooter operator Bird Canada, another seasonal presence in Calgary, is also expanding into e-bikes this year. On June 3rd, the company announced it secured permits to operate 200 of its e-bikes and 750 of its e-scooters in Edmonton as well.
Under Calgary’s shared micro-mobility program, Neuron and Bird Canada have the exclusive permit to operate e-bikes and e-scooters in the city.
“After a successful trial first year of shared e-scooter operation, the City is pleased to renew the permits for both Neuron Mobility and Bird Canada. The permit renewal includes allowing our operators to introduce shared e-bikes, as part of their commitment during the initial competition to operate in Calgary,” says a spokesperson for the city of Calgary in an email statement to Electric Autonomy.
“Shared e-scooters and e-bikes are a great way to reduce carbon emissions, relieve congestion and eliminate some car trips from our roads. They provide safe, sustainable and low-cost “last-mile” transportation to Calgarians, and we’re looking forward to seeing shared e-bikes in the city.”
With the transportation sector contributing to approximately 12 per cent of Alberta’s annual greenhouse gas emissions and 25 per cent of Canada’s, experts say e-bikes are another way to help reduce emissions.
Supply chain could slow adoption curve
Mike Clyde, owner of electric bike retailer Pedego Canada in British Columbia echoes similar views of the bright future he sees the electric bike industry having.
“Electric bikes have been one of those lucky industries that have benefited from COVID. As a whole, it has had a strong demand for the last two years and it seems like that demand is continuing,” he says.
Pedego offers a range of 18 different electric bike models, selling in over 25 its stores and dealers across B.C. Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick. Clyde estimates that the demand for e-bikes grew three times since before the start of the pandemic. He believes the reason they have caught on is electric bikes make the activity more inclusive and broadens cyclist demographics.
“What electric bikes do is they really remove barriers for people riding bikes, so you’re creating a whole lot of new bike journeys and more specifically new bike riders,” says Clyde. “For example, we sell a lot of bikes to 50-55 plus to right up to 85-year-old people. It’s a really big part of our demographic.”
But with the growing demand for e-bikes, the industry is also dealing with supply chain challenges. Like the challenges facing the auto industry, many bike components are currently unavailable for purchase and shipments are delayed.
“The challenges have been really large,” says Clyde. “Just one example is a container of bikes used to cost something like $4,000 to import and the shipping cost now has peaked at around $25,000.”
Looking to the future
Despite these issues, Clyde is optimistic that supply will improve in the next couple of years.
He adds that the industry in North America is still in its “early days” in terms of its growth potential when compared to Europe, where “well over half” of the bikes sold are electric.
In Europe, he explains that the “concept of the bike as a vehicle” is much more prevalent with people owning several different types of bikes for various use-cases and cyclists being prioritized on roads.
For example, according to the Light Electric Vehicle Association, one in three people in the Netherlands owns one or more e-bikes. They say this amounts to 4.6 million Dutch people who together own more than 4.9 million e-bikes.