E-biking our way to zero emissions - Museum of Science Earthshift Newsletter

This May, MassBike teamed up with the Museum of Science on a column in their Earthshift newsletter from the Museum of Science Center for the Environment. These bicycling-themed updates covered everything from bicycling history to biking for climate. Thanks to the Museum of Science for being a 2024 Bronze-level Bay State Bike Month Sponsor and collaborating on this series! Below is the third column, "E-biking our way to zero emissions", discussing how e-bikes can help us obtain our climate goals.

E-biking our way to zero emissions!

The e-bike is a surprisingly old innovation, with a vision for an electric bicycle dating back to 1895

Earlier this month, we noted how the modern bicycle has been around since the 1890s, with Boston as a hub of innovation and cultural revolution. You may also be surprised to learn that the early first electric-motor assisted bicycle also hails from the area, as one of the first e-bike patents is from in 1895 attributed to H. W. Libbey from Boston “to produce a bicycle to be propelled by electricity generated by primary batteries and in motors therefor.”

Most modern e-bikes are typically bicycles with a “helper” motor, meaning they have all the standard features of an analog bicycle with fully operable pedals and similar diamond-shaped frame and controls. There are several classes of e-bikes, including ones with throttles and others that are closer to electric mopeds, but the most common e-bikes provide motorized support when the rider is pedaling, meaning it’s just like riding a bike. The motor allows someone to get extra oomph when climbing a hill, or not tire out when going further distances, or helps when carrying cargo, or to overcome physical limitations. With so many uses, it’s no wonder that e-bikes are the fastest-growing sector in the bike industry.

One particular benefit, and of top importance for Earthshift, is that the more trips taken by bike, the less need there is to drive. E-bikes are a way for people to choose a zero-emission vehicle instead of taking cars, buses, or other automobiles that add to pollution and congestion of traffic. To demonstrate this, MassBike has been tracking data with a program we’re running in Worcester where over 100 residents in New England’s second largest (and hilliest) city who otherwise did not have access to a bicycle received free e-bikes. Participants tracked their miles and trips over two years, and since 2022 riders have collectively ridden over 60,000 miles, the equivalent of twice around the equator, and avoided producing over 33,000 lbs of greenhouse gasses.

Imagine the climate benefits that would come if this behavior was scaled up to all riders of Massachusetts. We can only guess what H.W. Libbey, the originator of the e-bike patent almost 130 years ago, would think about his invention being used to tackle one of humanity’s existential crises!

Stay tuned for the final column from this bicycling series, which includes "Biking on the Wheels of Change" and "All Biking is Local". For more from the Museum of Science make sure to sign up for their Earthshift newsletter.