Hybrid electric bicycles (also sometimes called pedelecs, e-assist bikes, or e-bikes) look and ride much like standard bicycles, but with the addition of an electric motor to assist the rider. Some are standard off-the-shelf bicycles with aftermarket motors added on, others are purpose-built with a battery and motor thoroughly integrated into the design. Hybrid controls run the gamut from simple twist throttles to sophisticated systems that provide as-needed assist based upon the amount of torque being generated by the rider. Unlike electric scooters and motorcycles, hybrid electric bicycles can be ridden as conventional bicycles with no assist.
The hybrid electric bicycle has yet to really take off here in the U.S., but if Europe and Asia are any indication, we may be seeing many more of these on our roads in the future. It’s yet to be determined exactly where they’ll fit in among existing road users, but so far it appears many local municipalities are classifying hybrids as bicycles, not motor vehicles. I don’t see a problem with this as long as speed limits on multi-use trails are set low enough (and enforced) to prevent conflict among user groups. Certainly there’s no problem with allowing hybrids access to all on-street bike lanes.
Hybrid electric bicycle riders sometimes get a bad rap from the macho crowd as being “cheaters”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hybrids are just another alternative to the automobile and they provide tremendous potential to attract riders who otherwise would not be able to use a bicycle at all, such as those with physical disabilities, age-related exercise restrictions, or overwhelmingly difficult terrain to traverse.
We’re going to dip our toe in the pool and start providing a little hybrid electric coverage here on EcoVelo. I’ve fielded many questions about hybrid electric bicycles over the past year, and we’ve taken on our first e-bike sponsor (Currie Technologies), so I figure it’s time to get up to speed (haha) and learn more about these interesting bicycles.
To start, please note that we now have a “Hybrid Electrics” category in our link collection at right. The next step will be a full hybrid electric bicycle review later this year.