Are e-bikes a prerequisite to attract active travel investment?

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Author: Oliver O’Brien

Before we had e-scooters, we had bikes.

Now, some e-scooter companies are adding bikes to their fleets.

Is it a nostalgic nod to past fleets, or a push into active mobility that could be an easier sell to transport authorities?

The UK government has promised £2 billion of public funding through its Gear Change strategy to boost cycling and walking and shared e-bikes could make it easier to unlock that money.

First, we need a quick history of shared mobility in the UK.

We had manual pedal-bikes, attached to docking stations, for point-to-point hire.

Neatly organised, but inflexible. Then the dockless bicycle companies appeared. The bikes were everywhere – including across pavements.

Then electric bikes came along, making the experience easier.

But they are complex beasts and still use up street space, and are expensive to maintain.

Bikes still have a place

Now we have e-scooters as a more compact and (for the operators) hopefully more profitable operation.

Some started as pure e-scooter companies, while others have brought scooters into their fleet, maybe even retiring their bicycle option.

But bikes still have a place, and so the e-scooter companies are introducing a new generation of electric shared bicycles on UK streets.

E-scooters are well designed for “last mile” journeys, but bicycles are more comfortable for longer commutes.

They can handle rougher terrain, carry luggage, and offer more visibility on the road, increasing their attractiveness for certain user types.

They also come without the Government mandated driving licence and age requirements of the UK e-scooter trials.

E-bikes launches are ramping up

Voi, who dominates the UK shared e-scooter market with over 50% market share, has recently launched electric bikes in three places, Cambridge, Kettering and Peterborough.

For the first two, the bikes compete with the company’s existing fleet, but in Peterborough’s case, the bicycles have launched ahead of any potential e-scooter rollout.

The three areas each have 50 bikes available for short-term hire.

Lime started as a bike-sharing company and still operates its electric bicycle fleet in London.

However, until recently, it appeared to be focusing entirely on e-scooters, with UK operations in Milton Keynes and Salford.

Lime’s bicycles in Milton Keynes all-but disappeared once its scooters launched there.

But, this week, Lime has announced a major $50 million investment in its cycle platform, born out of its acquisition of Uber’s JUMP bikes and technology.

At first glance, the new bike looks a lot like their JUMP bikes, painted green and white, but Lime promise a lot of “under the hood” changes.

These include automatic transmission, a handlebar display that looks more similar to its scooters, as well as an upgraded motor.

Two further e-scooter sharing companies with UK operations, Tier and Neuron, have also announced electric bikes.

In Tier’s case, the bikes, which have not yet been unveiled, will be coming to the City of York, alongside their scooter fleet there.

Neuron has also announced an electric bike model “EB-1” (pictured) for Australia and New Zealand, but not for their UK fleets at present.

Going the other way, Beryl, like Lime, started as a bike-sharing company, but the company has evolved first into electric bikes and now electric scooters.

Norwich has the unique distinction of being the only city in the UK where a single operator has all three personal shared micro-transport modes – manual bikes, electric bikes and e-scooters – available there.

We covered Beryl’s Norwich launch and are keeping a close eye on what happens there, as it could be a good indication of the future of shared bikes versus shared scooters in the UK. Will one win out over the other, or will both happily coexist?

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