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Finance & Innovation

This Company Will Give You an Electric Bike if You Trade in Your Car

One of the limiting factors of biking in San Francisco is its topography. The city is known for its rolling hills (74, to be exact) and beautiful views, but when it comes to tackling those hills by bike, it can put a real strain on the calves and the lungs. 

For commuters who want to stay active, but also want to avoid leg cramps and fatigue at work, one solution to this problem is to invest in an electric bike, though they can be an expensive initial investment, running anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000. 

That’s why one company, The New Wheel in San Francisco, is offering an incentive that’s good for you and for the environment. The New Wheel will buy your old car and give you an electric bike instead.  

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“The whole reason we started the shop was to offer solutions to get people out of cars,” co-founder of The New Wheel Brett Thurber told Global Citizen. “There are few vehicles as efficient as an electric bike.” 

Teaming up with Roadster.com, an on-demand car-buying service, The New Wheel has completed one car-for-bike trade since launching the initiative last week. 

If this sort of trade-in program were to be adopted on a larger scale, it could have a big impact on the environment, but for now the electric bike market is largely untapped in the US. 

While the overall environmental impact of electric bikes is still being researched, some things are clear. For one, electric bikes, Conservation Magazine wrote, “will reduce emissions if people use them instead of driving their cars,” but are no more economical than regular bikes when it comes to overall CO2 emissions (well, duh!).  

But one way electric bikes could further reduce emissions is by encouraging people to get out and bike more frequently. One study from Norway found that e-bikes led to a nearly 50% increase in the number of bike rides taken per day. 

Read more: Oslo Is Subsidizing Electric Bikes for All of Its Residents, Because Of Course 

Electric bikes work by propelling riders with a pedal assistance function, allowing them to maintain a steady heart-rate while biking. 

“You potentially can get higher-quality exercise, because you’re staying in your target heart rate zone,” Thurber said. 

Along with not releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, bike adoption can clear up public space in big cities, reducing the need for parking lots and garages and leading to economic revitalization

In some European cities, like Copenhagen, bikes outnumber cars in the center of town. Others, like Oslo, have subsidized electric bikes in an effort to increase e-bike adoption.  

San Francisco, while not on the same level as these cities, is a prime candidate to lead the US into an electric bike future. But bike commuters would need help at the local level in order for the market to really expand. 

Read more: This Teacher Is Raising $80,000 to Buy a New Bike For Every Kid at School

“In a place like San Francisco, civic leaders need to understand that cycling will be different than it was in the past and you need to build the infrastructure for that,” Thurber said. 

For a perfect example of how not to regulate electric bikes, city planners could be well-served to look across the country, to New York City. In New York, electric bike commuters are subjected to a bizarre double standard, in which, “e-bikes are legal to sell as bikes anywhere in the U.S. but effectively illegal to ride in New York,” CityLab reported

The question comes down to whether riding an electric bike is more akin to riding a regular bike, which is not regulated, or a motorcycle, which is. 

Furthermore, for electric bikes to be adopted on a wide enough scale to eventually reduce car usage in cities, it will require a change in how electric bikes are perceived. Individual commuters need to begin to think of bikes not as recreational objects, but as a viable transportation alternative. 

Car-for-electric-bike trade-ins, like the one in San Francisco, could make an impact, both environmentally and economically, but they are just one small piece to a much larger puzzle of making transportation greener and safer in the US.