The coronavirus pandemic has seen a surge in bicycle use, with local authorities and national government pledging more support for cycling in the years ahead. Meanwhile, further restrictions on cars and vans in city centres are expected.

Electric bikes (e-bikes) are poised to accelerate Britain’s active travel revolution. As well as helping more people enjoy low-carbon commuting and leisure travel, they could replace many of the polluting delivery vans clogging Britain’s roads.

But e-bike use currently lags far behind many other nations in Europe – sales per capita are 20 times higher in Belgium and the Netherlands, and at least 7 times higher in Sweden, Austria and Germany, the Bicycle Association reports

Innovative e-bike start-ups are prime examples of how a green recovery from the pandemic can lower emissions and kickstart the economy. On World Environment Day, Ashden CEO Harriet Lamb  has called on the Government to do its bit by backing e-bikes.

She says: “The Government has pledged to invest in walking and cycling, and we must make sure e-bikes are at the heart of these plans. E-bikes can speed us toward a fairer, better society – easing the air pollution that chokes our inner cities, and helping older people and the less fit switch from four wheels to two.  

“Politicians must act. Support for e-bikes through cycle to work schemes is welcome, but these initiatives are not open to jobseekers and some older and disabled people – groups that should be prioritised in our green recovery, and are most affected by current restrictions on public transport. We need broader financial incentives for e-bike ownership, like the grants and subsidies offered in other European countries, where e-bikes are more popular.

“E-bikes deliver proven health benefits. GPs are set to be given more support to prescribe walking and cycling, and they must be helped to offer e-bike access to patients. Finally, electric cargo bikes could soon be a common sight on our streets. So let’s make sure the new cycle lanes promised by the Government are wide enough to accommodate these game-changing vehicles.”

Two outstanding e-bike startups

Swytch Technology

Swytch, founded by two engineering graduates in 2017, has created an e-bike conversion kit can be fitted to normal bicycles. Swytch has received a boom in enquiries since the pandemic began – the waiting list to order a kit now exceeds 100,000 people, and production has had to be significantly increased to meet the growing demand.

E-cargobikes.com

E-cargobikes.com has partnered with supermarkets and small businesses to deliver goods via e-bike across London. In the face of the pandemic, the company has taken on new tasks – such as delivering medication and picking up food bank donations. A living wage for riders goes against the ‘gig economy’ approach of other delivery companies.

Swytch Technology and E-cargobikes.com are finalists in the Ashden Clean Air in Towns and Cities Award, supported by HSBC. The award winner will be announced at the Ashden Awards online celebration on 2 July. Register to watch.

Matthew Swain, HSBC UK Business Sustainability Development Manager, said: “HSBC UK is proud to sponsor the 2020 Ashden Clean Air in Towns and Cities Award and recognises the importance of financing the transition of the transport industry to a low carbon economy. From zero-emission electric bikes to biogas-fuelled buses, HSBC is supporting the businesses changing the transport industry.”