Today being Earth Day 2022 it seemed appropriate to reflect on our journey as Top5ebikes, one that was partly inspired by a roadtrip in 2020 across the United States. From those early days in our living rooms formulating the beginnings of a business plan to where we are now; on the cusp of 1000 YouTube subscribers, over 150,000 video views and over 1.6M generated impressions. More importantly, we’ve created a small, but growing community of ebike enthusiasts with a shared passion for bicycles.
You might think that this is all about ebikes for us but it’s far more than that. The technology is cool, I’m not gonna lie. The innovative designs, the explosion of DTC ebike manufacturers, the sheer diversity of styles of riding that these brands are developing products for- there’s so much to be excited about. Emobility is a super hot space to be in right now, which is why you are seeing so much investment to sustain this explosive growth. I would argue however, that there isn’t this same urgency on the legislative front or in the attitudes of consumers to embrace biking as an alternative to car travel. There’s still a long way to go before biking to work, or to the bank, or to meet friends for lunch becomes the norm and not the exception.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be excited about. Ebike sales have nearly doubled in North America and Europe since 2018 reaching over 6.4M last year (although the bulk of those are in Europe). In 2020 and 2021 ebike imports in the US outpaced electric vehicles (which includes plug-in hybrids). This ebike boom does not seem to be slowing down. But even with all these positive developments it’s less clear to me that the increase in ebike sales is translating to more bikes on the road and an overall decrease in our reliance on gas powered vehicles.
The main reason for that is bike infrastructure, or lack thereof, which in turn shapes bike culture. For a lot of riders out there, it still doesn’t feel very safe to ride in our communities. Places like Los Angeles, New York City and San Diego have little pockets of protected bike lines in many neighborhoods but there is still a lot that needs to be done to connect those places within the larger network of roads that cross those cities. Furthermore, how can we expect people to give up their cars if our entire transit system is optimized for the free and unimpeded movement of automobiles rather than for the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. That really has to change, but it won’t unless individuals like you and I demand it.
The #1 goal of Top5ebikes is to get as many people riding bikes as possible. We firmly believe that getting outside and using the power of your legs to move around leads to meaningful positive change. The simple act of riding your bicycle, ebike or not, and encouraging other people to ride their bikes is one of the most meaningful ways to take action against climate change. Yeah, it’s great if you have an electric car to curb emissions but you know what’s REALLY great, not having as many cars on the road period.
The decision to ride a bike, instead of driving a car is influenced by external factors that go beyond bike infrastructure or accessibility of ebikes. These decisions are largely cultural in nature and are the result of decades of urban planning and economic development. In Southern California in particular, where freeways were born, you become quite accustomed to transit projects that are designed to widen lanes and intersections at the expense of pedestrian or cyclist safety. Getting people in cars moving faster towards their destination has unfortunately been the default state and that has to also change.
The other thing that has to change is people’s mentality about how quickly they need to get to where they’re going. It might take you 15 extra minutes to get somewhere by bike versus 5-7 in a car but for some people that extra 10 minutes may as well be an hour. Biking to work could take you 35 minutes whereas riding the subway might take you 15-20 but there are just some things you cannot put a price on, such as mental health and physical well-being. I’ll tell you what, when I lived in New York City I was never more happy than on days when I got to bike a hundred blocks after work through midtown and Central Park to my apartment in Harlem. My job was stressful, soul crushing and too often the go-to post work activity was downing two or three beers at happy hour. Liberation of mind, body and soul was in my bicycle (and it wasnt even an ebike).
This is really what Top5ebikes is all about, building bike community and breaking down mental, and yes, physical barriers to biking. In order to break down the physical barriers you need bike legislation but in order to get that you need the political will to demand those changes. So we bike, and we get our friends to bike and we review cool bikes in hopes that people will take notice. That’s how you get cars off the road and that’s how you change people’s mentality about what a livable city looks like. Not one that makes it easier and cheaper to own and park a car but one that provides the freedom to not even have to own one.
So thank you to everyone who has supported our endeavor over the last year. We look forward to producing lots more ebike content on YouTube and Instagram and getting the chance to ride with as many of you as we can along the way.