Ask G

Ask G: Bikes with batteries

Are battery-powered bikes environmental?

I’m considering buying either a new electric powered bike or a conversion kit for my existing bike, so that I would ride more often and for longer trips. But I’m concerned with just how environmentally friendly and economical this is considering the costs per kilometre, battery materials and disposal, etc. Is it worth it?
- Greg Morgan, Fairy Meadow, NSW

Green bike

Credit: sxc.hu

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Electric bicycles (e-bicycles) win hands down when compared economically and environmentally with petrol cars, but they suit some lifestyles and family needs better than others. One life cycle assessment of transport options from Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported that e-bicycles use less than 10 per cent of the energy required to power a sedan for each mile traveled, taking into account the energy use of fuel production, infrastructure, maintenance and manufacturing, as well as that of driving or riding. Dollar-wise, running cost estimates of e-bicycles range around 1-3 cents per kilometre, while the RACQ puts the running cost of the current top selling car (Holden Commodore 3.0L V6 automatic sedan) at 11.61 cents per kilometre.

There’s been a bit of negative hype surrounding electric vehicle batteries, which I suspect has been perpetuated by those who don’t want to give up gas guzzlers. In Australia, car battery recycling is a success story (around 97 per cent are recycled), and the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative is running pilots with the aim to safely recycle all types of domestic dry cell and vehicle battery. The website www.batteryrecycling.org.au will keep you up to date on where this program is up to and give details of places that bicycle (and other) batteries can be dropped off to.

Electric bicycle enthusiast Mike Rubbo, who writes the cycling blog www.situp-cycle.com, recommends lithium batteries, with a guarantee of at least one year. He also recommends e-bicycles with detachable battery packs that can be brought inside the house to recharge overnight, particularly if you don’t have an enclosed garage or similar spot for recharging. Mike also advises against ordering a bike over the internet. Buy locally so that you can test drive the e-bicycle, and get it from a reputable dealer who can also provide local servicing. You get what you pay for, so be prepared to pay $2000-plus. Solar photovoltaic recharging options are also available. Electric bicycles are perfect for many who live in a hilly area and might not ride without the extra help of an e-bike.