We’ve always believed in the power of electric bicycles to change the way we commute. But even we couldn’t have predicted how popular e-bikes would become in the midst of a pandemic: In June and July, year-over-year e-bike sales in the U.S. were up nearly 200 percent, according to PeopleForBikes. This is unprecedented growth, even for a sector of the bike industry that has been on the rise for the last five years.

Why Loaner E-Bikes Work for Reducing SOV Trips

Given the post-pandemic landscape, we strongly believe e-bikes will be an effective tool in fighting the back-to-work carmageddon. The reasons are multifold: E-bikes are naturally a socially-distanced mode; they’re on-demand and efficient — riders aren’t beholden to bus schedules and won’t get stuck in traffic; and they’re an equalizer — they work well for those who don’t think of themselves as cyclists; aren’t in tip-top physical shape; have a commute that’s longer than a few miles; or need to haul kiddos and groceries.

Plus, preliminary data supports e-bikes’ ability to change commute behavior, like the time and distance riders are willing to put in compared with its human-powered counterpart. A study published last year in Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives found that e-bike riders tend to ride both longer and farther than regular bike riders. Another recent study showed that over time, e-bike owners use cars less and their e-bikes more.

Companies Have Added E-Bikes to Their Bike Programs

E-bikes are gaining popularity in the corporate space too. Employees who ride them to work are requesting charging, safe storage, and racks that can accommodate larger, heavier bikes.

In addition to meeting the needs of their e-bike commuters, several major employers have launched their own e-bike loaner programs, designed to provide employees with free electric bikes to use for their commutes. Unsurprisingly, engagement in these programs has dwindled some due to the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders. But, given the COVID-ignited bike boom and historic levels of electric bike sales, we expect to see more of these programs in the future.

Bicycle loaner programs allow employees to try before they buy. One major corporation in the Pacific Northwest launched an e-bike pilot program for employees at its headquarters and every single participant wanted to keep the bike at the end!

Want to start an e-bike loaner program? Here’s how.

Set Program Goals

An e-bike loaner program can provide transportation, sustainability, and wellness benefits. E-bikes can reduce SOV commuting, which will reduce your carbon footprint and relieve overloaded parking lots. E-bikes also confer individual health benefits. Studies indicate that going on a ride on an e-bike is generally a better workout than walking. Additionally, e-bike riders gain cognitive benefits from getting outside and moving. 

Determine what you’d like your program to accomplish. Decide on what and how to measure, and then set your metrics.

Determine Program Parameters

What do you expect of employees? How many days a week will they be required to use the bikes? How long is the loaner period? Answers to these questions will likely follow company culture and precedents set for other programs. For example, riders may be required to bike three days a week and may keep the bike for one month.

You’ll also want to make sure your riders are covered in the event of a breakdown on the way to or from work. We recommend signing up for corporate bicycle roadside assistance via Better World Club. This way, if riders get a flat on their route, they can call roadside assistance for a lift.

Provide Charging

All bicycles require parking, but e-bikes also need a power supply. This means bike rooms must be equipped with outlets or employees must be able to take e-bikes to their desks. With the increase in usage, it’s important to have enough outlets, such as outlets equal to 20-40% of the parking spots.

Target Your Audience

We suggest targeting employees who currently drive and live within 3-10 miles from the worksite. Although some may be willing to travel a greater distance on an e-bike (like our co-founder, Kurt) we’ve found that 10 miles is a reasonable range for regular commuting.

Select Bikes and Gear

E-bikes come in a wide variety of makes and models, with different features and price tags ranging from about 2-8K. Wired put together a recent best of list that may help you get started, but here are some features that are important to consider:

The bikes:

  • Upright bikes with flat handlebars fit the widest range of riders comfortably.
  • Since e-bikes have more power, they need tires with more shock absorption. Thus, e-bike tires should be wider than the stock tires for the bike.
  • No need for suspension since it requires additional maintenance.
  • For most applications, a 9-speed system (one gear in the front, nine in the back) with a mid-drive assist is sufficient.
  • Riders will likely have things to carry, so the bikes should at least come with rack mounts to support racks.

The electrical system: 

  • Mid-motors are preferable, as they simplify routine maintenance and generally have better efficiency.
  • E-bikes are classed into three primary categories. Class 1 e-bikes are the most approachable for a wide range of people. However, if your riders have long commutes or ride on higher-speed roads, Class 3 e-bikes may be a better fit.

Warranty and support:

  • E-bike systems often include proprietary parts and controls. Enlist a local dealer to support your fleet.
  • Warranty on non-consumable parts, including the battery and other electronics, should be greater than a year.

Supporting gear:

  • Rack – A rear rack will support panniers to haul laptops, a change of clothes, etc. Make sure the rack you choose can support the weight of that gear plus a lock (about 25+ pounds).
  • Bags – Waterproof roll-top panniers are a good option for supporting year round commuting. They’re generally sturdy enough, and can be semi-permanently attached to the rack to prevent theft.
  • Lock – A sturdy U-lock or multibar lock will help prevent theft. There are also app-enabled locks that can simplify fleet management. 
  • Lights – Front and rear lights that easily come on and off the bikes are essential. Built-in lights are even better.
  • Helmets – The best helmet is the one people will wear. Buying employees a helmet or subsidizing a purchase are good ways to encourage helmet use.

Track E-Bike Commutes

We all know that the holy grail of collecting commuter data is being able to track bike commutes, and this is especially important when determining the efficacy of a pilot or new program. 

You’ll need to decide if you want to use a hardware or software-based tracking solution. Hardware solutions, like the DeroZap, are more expensive and labor intensive to set up, but ensure accuracy and don’t require much administrative hand-holding. Software solutions — apps like Lumm or RideAmigos — generally require riders to self-report rides.

For a rundown of tracking options, check out our Bike Tracking Tech blog. 

Plan for Maintenance

If a participant gets a flat tire during their ride, what happens next? And how do you handle routine maintenance? 

One solution is to have a number of bikes waiting in the wings that may be swapped in when others in the fleet break down. Of course, you have to have a number of bikes in a full-size run commensurate with the size of your program, which may be tricky. So, we suggest partnering with a local shop or mobile repair service like velofix for fleet maintenance.

Give Employees Incentives to Buy an E-Bike of Their Own

At some point, employees should roll off the loaner program. Assuming they had a good experience, we suggest supporting  participants in purchasing  an e-bike, so they can continue commuting. Here are some ways employers encourage and incentivize e-bike purchases:

  • Offer a “ride to own” program.
  • For those that roll off the program, provide them an on-ramp to e-bike ownership by offering a bike subsidy.
  • Partner with local e-bike retailers to offer discounts to employees.
  • Buy participants their first helmet, lock, or other bike accessory.

We know that every bicycle loaner program is unique, that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and that e-bike fleets require more care and feeding than regular bike fleets. We really understand e-bikes, fleets, and operations, so if you need help with research and program design, please reach out.

Bikes Make Life Better is dedicated to helping employees at large organizations use bikes for healthy sustainable transportation. Interested in launching an e-bike loaner program at your workplace? Drop us a line!