Chris Boardman, his wife and six children are big fans of electric bikes.
Having experienced the benefits first hand, the former Olympic cyclist is keen for the rest of the UK to become as passionate as he and his family are about this eco-friendly mode of transport.
So much so that the gold-medal winning champion is urging the UK Government to introduce subsidies on e-bikes in the same way that subsidies are offered on zero emission motorbikes and cars.
In a wide ranging interview Boardman told Auto Futures that he believes that e-bikes, rather than electric cars, are the way forward when it comes to future transport plans: “Electric cars make us feel that we’ve done something [to help the environment] without doing anything but they don’t stop congestion and they don’t improve health.’’
Boardman wants ministers to follow the footsteps of Europe and trial e-bike subsidies across UK regions and said he would ‘love to be part’ of and lead any such program in Greater Manchester where he is currently the Cycling and Walking Commissioner.
His push to incentivise e-bikes follows a recent poll by bike retailer Halfords which found that 54% of Brits would welcome such an initiative.
An e-bike subsidy scheme trialled in Guernsey found 63% of owners said it was now their primary mode of transport and 51% said they probably wouldn’t have bought an e-bike without the subsidy.
“It’s a game changer.”
E-bikes take all the hard work out of cycling and make it a pleasure, as Boardman explains: “E-Bikes are not only practical, they’re fun, something the UK public is now really understanding, hills are no longer a barrier and longer journeys can be enjoyed rather than endured.
“There are lots of small things [with electric bikes that are an advantage], you don’t get sweaty going to work, it makes riding bikes for people easier – it’s a game changer.’’
And it’s not just the public that enjoy the fun factor of e-bikes. Boardman’s family does too and even a celebrated and accomplished sportsman like Chris is not immune to the accessibility of e-bikes.
“My wife bought two electric bikes a few years ago, they’re Gtech ones. I’ve got six kids and they are not cyclists and they use them [electric bikes]. They see them in the garage and they see them as fun.’’
Chris, whose Boardman Bikes are sold through Halfords, has found his experiences reflect the growing trend on the high street for e-bikes. According to Halfords, sales of electric bikes are up by a staggering 47% this year and the UK retailer said that they now account for 11% of all bike sales across its group.
Why Subsidies Work
Europe has paved the way when it comes to e-bike subsidies and Boardman firmly believes the UK should now follow suit with an offer of £250 to entice more members of the public to buy them.
Revealing the compelling evidence for the UK scheme, he says: “A lot of people don’t see themselves as cyclists but when they jump on an electric bike, it becomes about transport.
“A recent study in France showed more than 30% of people who bought e-bikes wouldn’t have considered any other type, showing how they can be a genuine game changer in persuading people to get out of the car.”
The study in question, (Evidence Review by Transport for Quality of Life), found, in the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria, e-bikes now account for 30% of all bicycles sold annually; and for 10-20% of all sales in Italy, France, Sweden and Germany.
Boardman adds: “Everywhere in Europe where subsidies are used regionally or nationally, it changes the way people travel about. About half of all trips by e-bike substitute a journey that otherwise would have been by car. It pays back much more efficiently.’’
Although the UK does have a specific ‘Cycle to Work scheme’ which has been recently changed to enable employees to buy an e-bike at a discount, it excludes the self-employed, mature students, job-seekers, retirees and those new to cycling, or who do not wish to go to work by bike.
Boardman is adamant, there is only one way forward: “Subsidies of £250 and also making them time-sensitive, which would generate a fear of missing out (FOMO), would work best.”
Of the 2,000 people surveyed by Halfords, 81% said they would consider buying one if they were cheaper – most e-bike models cost between £800-£1,200.
What’s more 44% would welcome any UK Government incentives to encourage more people to take them up.
E-bikes Rather Than Electric Cars
E-bikes have changed the conversation when it comes to eco-friendly transport, says Boardman. He explains: “Electric cars make us feel that they’ve done something without doing anything but they don’t stop congestion, they don’t improve health. Electric cars also don’t affect particle pollution.’’
These problems have previously been highlighted by various experts and academics who state that while electric vehicles emit no exhaust fumes, they still produce large amounts of tiny pollution particles from brake and tyre dust for which the Government already accepts there is no safe limit.
E-bikes are also the perfect solution for the short journeys so many people make using a car. Boardman notes: “I own an electric car and I use it to move about. Another study has found 30% of journeys are less than a kilometre. All of my journeys [in a car] are relatively short.
“All those people that are making these short journeys, retired people and the self-employed, who aren’t targeted by cycle to work, incentivise them. It isn’t rocket science.’’
The results of a study by the Transport Research Laboratory looking at EV use, which was released earlier this year, found only one in four people would consider buying a fully electric car in the next five years.
The research found cost was a major factor. Cash incentives have been offered since 2011 to help promote cleaner cars and meet emissions targets. However the Government has now scrapped grants for new plug-in hybrids and discounts on all-electric cars have been cut from £4,500 to £3,500.
Boardman is in no doubt that it’s time the Government acts and starts regional trials for e-bike and is offering to help lead the one for Greater Manchester.
“Subsidising bikes costs less than subsidising cars. You get more for your investment at a fraction of the cost.
“Subsidising changes behaviour so it’s crazy that we are not following the example in Europe. At the very least we should be giving people the option,’’ concludes Boardman.