E-bikes might be more than a fad brought on by the pandemic.

According to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) and the Light Electric Vehicle Association (LEVA)—considering import data—e-bikes are the best-selling electric vehicles in the U.S., with 2021 sales significantly surpassing those of electric cars. 

Americans bought about 652,000 electric cars in 2021, including battery electric models and plug-in hybrids, according to BNEF—a figure that’s more than double a total of 296,000 plug-in vehicle sales in 2020. 

E-bikes vs. EVs  -  Bloomberg New Energy Finance

E-bikes vs. EVs – Bloomberg New Energy Finance

The U.S. imported almost 790,000 electric bikes in 2021, according to the report, up from about 463,000 in 2020—finishing a second full year in which e-bikes topped electric cars. 

As BNEF noted, that lags both the 1 million annual e-bike total for Europe, or the whopping 35 million for Asia. 

Nearly all e-bikes sold in the U.S. are imported, so the totals are a guessing game involving imports and imported components. 

While we don’t typically cover e-bikes at Green Car Reports, we acknowledge that they can potentially help replace a car with a mode that contributes less to congestion and has a lighter carbon footprint, both for use and manufacturing. 

Wisconsin-based Trek has been one of the only e-bike makers to substantiate this, amid a sea of academic papers. It claims that making an e-bike nearly doubles the carbon footprint due to manufacturing—to nearly 295 pounds. To compare, making a small electric hatchback costs more than 40 times the CO2. 

The strong adoption for e-bikes hasn’t been an entirely smooth one, or universally welcomed. Most notably, New York has pushed back about their use for deliveries. And China has even imposed some restrictions. Even within the U.S., it isn’t uncommon for e-bikes to be banned on some recreation trails. 

Ford E-Bike Concept, 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show

Ford E-Bike Concept, 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show

GM, Ford, and Audi have been among many automakers to launch e-bikes over the years, but none of these entries have sold in any significant volume in the U.S. According to recent reports, the lifestyle-focused electric truck brand Rivian is considering them, too.

In the U.S., are e-bikes a recreation accessory, or an enabler for decarbonizing the commute? We’d appreciate your thoughts below.