The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

E-bikes are on the rise

Manager Chad Keele, left, and owner Charlie McCormick of ElectriCity Bikes. (Nathaniel Koch/for The Washington Post)

According to industry consulting firm eCycleElectric, in 2017 about 36.5 million e-bikes were sold worldwide, mainly in China and Europe. In the United States, only about 263,000 were sold. But things may be changing, and ElectriCityBikes (4810 Wisconsin Ave. NW) wants to help. The e-bike shop, part of local chain City Bikes, opened in 2016, and has joined manufacturer-dealer Riide in the District and Arlington retailer Hybrid Pedals. Last month, ElectriCityBikes added locations in Adams Morgan and Rockville.

An e-bike is a bicycle with a battery-powered motor that assists the rider. Some have a motorcycle-style hand throttle. Others add e-power when you pedal.

Owner Charlie McCormick and manager Chad Keele say many of their e-bike customers are European expats or Americans just back from Europe. His own time there, says McCormick, helped fuel his interest in e-bikes. He also liked the environmental and economic benefits. He says Washington’s hills and heat make it a promising market for e-bikes, and so do its high incomes. (A quality nonelectric city bike can cost $700 new; a comparable e-bike is about three times that.) Laws governing e-bikes vary from one jurisdiction to the next. In the D.C. area, most e-bikes can go almost anywhere any bicycle can go.

Opening a separate shop, McCormick says, helps shield e-bike customers from the cycling culture’s macho aspects. Keele compares that culture’s resistance to e-bikes (especially electric mountain bikes) to the 1990s turf feud between skiers and snowboarders — one that faded when “the skiers became snowboarders,” he says.

Many customers buy e-bikes to accommodate a physical disability, to equalize riders of unequal strength, or to carry children and cargo. McCormick adds that they tend to see themselves as an avant-garde of enlightened outsiders — “the people who want to get out of cars” but who need or want something more than the usual bicycle.