As the commute returns, city workers jump on electric bikes
ity commuters are tossing away their mykis and jumping on electric bikes, as people continue to turn away from public transport during the coronavirus pandemic.
Office workers returned to Melbourne's CBD this week for the first time after the COVID-19 lockdown, with 25 per cent of staff allowed back to the workplace under the current restrictions.
After a sustained break from the daily commute, city workers are now contemplating whether they are happy to get back on a train, tram or bus during the morning and afternoon peaks.
Cycling has always been there for people who want to ride to work. But the electric bike is quickly gaining favour among those who don't to pedal up hills and into headwinds, or arrive at the office needing a shower.
"There are certainly commuters who don't want to go on public transport, some people are not keen on crowded trams," said Gordon Watt, co-owner of Electric Bikes Superstore in Malvern East.
"E-bikes were up before COVID but during lockdown people couldn't go on holidays so they had a bit of spare money."
The surge in interest has left some stores battling to meet demand in the lead-up to Christmas. Contributing to the shortage is a difficulty getting parts from overseas, as COVID-19 affects shipping times.
With a battery-powered motor up to 250 watts, e-bikes offer pedalling assistance to a maximum speed of 25 km/h. At that point, the motor cuts out and the cyclist is on their own. The price tag for an e-bike typically starts at around $1500, however some of the fancier options sell for much more.
Adding to the commuter appeal, Mr Watt said e-bikes were typically built for comfort rather than rolling resistance. The need to reduce weight was less of a factor due to the built-in motor.
"I think a lot of the new people wouldn't really be considered hardcore riders. It's not the Lycra people who are getting into electric bikes, it's more normal people," he said.
Peter Bourke, general manager at Bicycle Industries Australia, said that e-bike sales were rising by more than 50 per cent each year as technology improved.
"E-bikes are the fastest-growing segment in the bike market without a doubt," he said.
With all these new bikes on Melbourne's streets, governments are recognising that improved cycling infrastructure will be needed to make room for them.
The City of Melbourne has fast-tracked 40 kilometres of new bike lanes in anticipation of the post-pandemic cycling boom, with hundreds of car parks making way. The lanes will be separated from cars to make cyclists feel safer on the road.
Exhibition Street between Flinders and Bourke streets, and Rathdowne Street between Victoria and Faraday streets, are the first to be upgraded.
E-bike advocates are pushing for the legal speed limit to be raised to 32 km/h to make them even more attractive as a transport alternative.
Public transport use increased this week as office workers returned to the CBD, however, the number of people using the network was just 37 per cent of pre-COVID levels.
Monash University research has found that public transport use is set to decline by 20 per cent from its normal level after the pandemic subsides.
The survey of more than 2000 people found that one in five will stop travelling into the CBD, while 9 per cent of the state’s public transport commutes would switch to car trips.
Researchers said crowding and infection were a major new worry for public transport users.