Piia Moilanen: Urban traffic is electrifying at breathtaking pace

Cargo bikes and electrical assistance are a match made in heaven.

A few years ago, an electric bicycle, or e-bike, would have caused heads to turn. Now, electric basic bicycles, cargo bikes and folding bikes are an everyday sight. As the range of bikes grows, people have once again woken up to the fact that urban logistics is not what it used to be. This is a good thing, since people are getting exercise, traffic jams are easing and emissions are reducing.

Europe and China are the superpowers of electric mobility. Their number one position is, of course, due to electric bicycles, since these easily account for the highest sales and are the most used electric vehicles. More than 200 million users hop onto an electric bicycle every day. Most e-bikes are pedalled off in China, where around 30 million new electric bikes are sold each year.

In Western Europe, the markets are clearly smaller, amounting to around 1.6 million new electric bicycles sold each year. However, the market is also growing rapidly here, by up to 15 percent a year. It is estimated that growth will continue to follow the same trend in Europe, until each third bike sold is electrically assisted. There is room for growth, since only one in ten bikes sold are e-bikes at the moment.

Cargo bikes and electrical assistance are a match made in heaven. A battery and small electric motor make the transportation of even large loads light, without being slowed by headwinds or upward slopes. A bicycle does not get stuck in traffic and the rider does not need a driving licence. There is no need to look for parking places. In Germany, almost every 40th e-bike sold is a cargo bike.

Electrically assisted cargo bikes have also inspired logistics giants to re-plan the "last mile" of distribution operations. For example, based on DHL's model, large loads are taken into city centres by vans, where final delivery by hand is performed by electric cargo bike. The experiment has proven to be an efficient way of reducing emissions and costs. Electric cargo bikes are in a key position in the reconfiguration of urban logistics.

The true revolution in electric mobility lies hidden in shared bikes, which are finally meeting customer needs after a long period of maturing in Europe. Helsinki, where public bicycles efficiently joined the flow of urban traffic in 2016, is a prime example of this. Shared bicycles were introduced in China with astounding speed. For example, there are currently over 500,000 in Beijing, and they conquered the streets in just half a year.

Public bicycles are already being electrified: electric public bicycles can be ridden in at least Copenhagen and Madrid. In China, where electric bicycles have become part of the street scene, it has been promised that public bicycles will be battery driven within the year. Millions of city residents, who are already used to shared bikes, are 'fomenting' the electric transport revolution.

Europe is a pioneer in bicycle tourism. The market is worth billions and growing, partly thanks to electric bikes which are encouraging groups and families to take active holidays. An electric bike enables tourists to extend day trips and increase their amount of sightseeing. Last year, a total of 13 percent of biking tourists in Germany opted for an electric bicycle.

I have booked a biking holiday for my family a couple of times in Central Europe and found myself thinking that the trip would be smoother if our smallest member had an electric bike. However, in the past renters have not dared to hire out electric bikes to minors. This spring, I was delighted when the tour operator was okay with a child using an electric bike.

And when will I see the first child on an electric bike during my commute? I think it will be pretty soon. Help is needed when on hilly terrain or if football practices are further away. In addition, cycling is more fun when you can take on upward slopes.

Electric assistance will hardly make children more lazy, since it has not had this effect on adults. On the contrary, adults on electric bicycles cycle for much longer distances, on average, than those on traditional bikes. An e-bike can enthuse a child to travel independently to school and reduce the need for parental taxi services. By encouraging children to get onto two wheels, we can activate them physically and build a new, exercise-based urban traffic culture.

Piia Moilanen
Programme Manager, Tekes
Twitter: @MoilanenPiia