Bike Share; Continued Growth in Bike Share Readies Acceptance of E-Bikes

4 minute read

Although not in every state, bike share - also known as bike transit - is on the rise in the United States, as I try to show in the following maps and graphs with data from @beyonddc and with Plotly. Sizes of bubbles are given by the number of bikes / stations respectively.

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With the explosion of bike transit mainly concentrated around the coasts and large urban areas, it begs the question of where is transit going and can bike transit continue its large growth?

Exponential Growth of Bike Share: is it ending?

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As articles like this attest, bike share systems are a fundamental step towards larger bike acceptance in areas unlike Copenhagen and the Netherlands where biking is so deeply rooted in the everyday life, and electric bikes can help to bridge the gap of novice riders and experienced cyclists to flat and hilly areas alike. Meredyth already covered a lot of technological innovations to help reduce the costs and bring about larger adoption of electric bikes in the U.S.

An unconventional source turns to e-bikes for its mobility needs

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[caption id=”attachment_184” align=”aligncenter” width=”700”]Bike Share at General Motors General Motors’ new Bike Share system with e-bikes Source: John F. Martin from GM[/caption]

Just last week, General Motors announced the first ever bike share program for a U.S. automaker turning its 330 acre Warren, Mi Technical Center into an E-Bike Haven across 61 buildings using private bike share company Zagster, formerly CityRide. (You can find out more about Zagster’s business model and relative size (600 bikes in total) relative to Capital Bikeshare of DC (~1,600) and Citi Bike of NYC (~7,000) in a recent article by the Guardian.)

[caption id=”attachment_185” align=”aligncenter” width=”700”]map-gm-warren-technical-center Map of GM’s Warren Technical Center[/caption]

[caption id=”attachment_186” align=”aligncenter” width=”700”]BIke-Share at GM's Warren Technical Center GM Implements Bike Share Program At Tech Center Source: John F. Martin from GM[/caption]

The bike above uses a modest 600W motor and 48 volt battery to propel the bike decently along the mainly flat campus at the Warren Technical Center (schematic shown above) getting riders to their destination quicker and easier than driving or shuttling around campus. The bike’s electrical power are supplemented by solar panels on each docking station to keep their energy impact minimal (not to mention recovering some from braking). With its choice of an e-bike system, GM avoided segregating the use of its bike share to more fit people, but rather with the easy twist of an electronic throttle on the right and seven easy speeds for human powered pedaling, all employees can take advantage of the system should they choose to. Although GM requires helmet for obvious legal concerns, I think any unease that comes about from the policy will be muted at best as employees gain the benefit of a bit of exercise and enjoy the late summer and early fall weather on their journey from building to building. It remains to be seen, however, if the service will remain in use this coming Winter, or close for the season like Minneapolis’s Nice Ride. Then again, there are some brave souls from Minneapolis who seem to embrace to cold with fat-tire bikes and plenty of thermal layers…

A Larger Ideology Shift

As you heard in the video above, GM’s commitment to a new bike share system uncovers a larger ideology shift for the symbol of America’s 20th century. “Non-auto transportation” as some GM designers called it has become a larger part of their evaluation of their business especially in developing countries where crippling traffic brings mobility to a halt. As an automotive engineer myself, the greater question facing automotive transportation is not its disappearance but its restructuring into the larger mobility picture. With carsharing programs like Car2Go and Zipcar, ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, and increasingly, growing bike share systems in dense urban areas pushing car ownership out from areas that really never could handle it to begin with, parking laws and rules will find the next axe to allow us to regain our open spaces in urban settings and with time and public funding turn dilapidated shopping malls into rejuvenated open centers that young and old alike will be attracted to - with or without a car.

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As the above videos show and a semi-successful beginning to a “cars pushed to the boundaries” city layout trail with Masdar in the UAE, bike share and its more equitably attractive cousin electric bike share have the real power of delivering the solution to the “last mile problem” in transit along with the aforementioned rise in ride sharing services. As cities look to either enter into bike share systems for the first time or to further expand their options to the public (and private institutions alike), further decreased costs in electric bikes and bike share technologies will make electric bike share systems more attractive especially in “vertically challenged” cities as bike share looks to spread inland from its coasts.

Of Course, Electrical Components Aren't Entirely Carbon-Free

Of course, as with electric vehicles, newer designs and implementations must remain cognizant of the sources that its components come from, as was studied in a 2009 report detailing electric bikes in mainland China with then Pb-based electrical components, as well as the energy they use to power them. We’ll take a look at that in the next coming weeks, but I want to hear your thoughts on where electric bike share systems should head next? Any personal experiences riding an electric bike share bike?