Have you considered buying an electric bike, scooter or utility task vehicle, but you’re unsure if these new products will match your lifestyle?
Electric transportation may seem like an innovation exclusive to cities with low-mileage commutes and ample charging stations. However, expanding electric modes of transport are creating new options for commutes and recreation in rural and small-town areas.
Research shows the number of electric vehicles on the road continues to grow. This rapid growth in EVs is part of a fundamental shift in transportation, but EV adoption still faces challenges, particularly in more rural areas.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the rate of EV adoption in rural areas is roughly 40% lower than in urban areas. Introducing EVs into daily life can be an intimidating commitment for consumers and electric utilities.
Try starting smaller. Electric bikes, scooters and UTVs are a good introduction to the evolving electric market and might meet your needs. They’re also outpacing EV sales. More than 880,000 e-bikes were imported into the United States in 2021, according to the Light Electric Vehicle Association.
If you’re considering buying or renting an electric bike, scooter or UTV, you should first know some basics.
Electric bicycles don’t look much different from traditional bikes at a glance. If you look closer, you’ll notice a small electric motor, battery and control panel on the frame. E-bikes can be as much as 20 pounds heavier than regular bicycles, though weights continue to drop with improvements.
The industry has three standard classes of e-bikes. Class 1 has a motor that can gently assist as you pedal. It maxes out at 20 miles per hour. Class 1 e-bikes are the most commonly available for rent or bike-sharing. Class 2 bikes also reach 20 mph but have a throttle-powered mode that does not require pedaling. Class 3 bikes are pedal-assist only, but they can reach 28 mph. Batteries, riding ranges and features vary among brands and models.
Decide in what situations you plan to use an e-bike. Electric bikes can offer a boost on hills and when off-roading or enable you to commute longer distances without breaking a sweat. Assess your ability and the type of ride you’re planning to determine which level of assistance is best suited for your needs.
Follow the same safety precautions as with a traditional bicycle. Be aware that with increased speeds comes increased precaution.
You’ll need to research where you’re allowed to ride an e-bike. Regulations vary in every state. Keep in mind the rules are regularly changing as more e-bikes enter the market.
Entry-level e-bikes start at around $1,000. While upfront costs can be two to three times the price of a traditional bike, e-bikes can save on gas when used for commutes.
E-bikes run on batteries, typically reaching full charge within a few hours. A well-maintained e-bike battery lasts three to five years.
Think of the electric scooter as the younger sibling to e-bikes. Electric scooters offer many of the same benefits as e-bikes. They allow you to cut down on expenses, be more environmentally conscious, improve fitness and assist in your daily commute. What sets scooters apart, however, is their portability.
While e-bikes weigh as much as 20 pounds heavier than regular bicycles, the average electric scooter weighs 25 to 40 pounds. Consider lighter-weight, folding scooters made of carbon fiber, and you have handheld, portable transportation.
One side effect of increased portability is decreased performance. Scooters aren’t always built to handle rough terrain. If you plan to take a scooter off-road or uphill, you’ll need a model with a powerful battery and motor.
Electric scooters average $300 to $500 for budget-friendly, mid-range performance options.
Perhaps a more popular and practical electric choice for large properties and recreation is the electric utility vehicle. Electric UTVs bring to life many of the same features as gas-powered UTVs—without the noise or emissions.
E-UTVs have a level of versatility that e-bikes and scooters don’t offer. Their distinct advantages include the ability to carry passengers; handle rough terrain, including snow; and assist in farm work and hunting.
Electrified, the e-UTV adds to those advantages. Gone are oil changes, gas fill-ups and cost-heavy maintenance. For the popular Polaris Ranger XP Kinetic, maintenance costs are estimated to be 70% less than those of gas UTVs.
With an e-UTV, riders have a more cost-effective experience, but e-UTVs still have performance setbacks. Gas UTVs are praised for their steady level of performance. With e-UTVs, the battery drains the longer you drive it, reducing the torque and horsepower it produces before its next full charge. E-UTVs can take six to 12 hours to charge fully, so plan accordingly.
Electric UTVs have a higher upfront price tag than e-bikes and e-scooters, so if you can, consider renting before buying.
E-bikes, scooters and UTVs are available at local retailers and online.
If you’re looking for an alternative to your usual commute and recreation vehicles, electric bikes, scooters and UTVs offer new possibilities.
Electric School Buses Are ‘Intro to Electrification’
Alma, Kansas, population 800, recently became the first city in the state to have an electric school bus in operation.
“For many rural towns like Alma, electric school buses are going to be an introduction to electrification,” says Keith Dennis, Beneficial Electrification League president.
Beneficial Electrification League is a nonprofit organization that promotes electrification projects that benefit local economies. In 2022, BEL’s five-year electric school bus program started. It follows funding passed by Congress to pay for new electric school buses, known as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program.
BEL’s program aims to bring together school districts and electric utilities in rural and small-town communities to access funding for electric school buses and infrastructure.
“We asked cooperatives and public power utilities if they would be willing or interested in assisting schools,” Keith says. “Within a few weeks, we had participation from utilities that collectively represent over 350 distribution cooperatives across more than 32 states.”
Electric school buses can perform better on rural roads, especially mountain roads, because of their torque. They have a smoother, quieter ride, which bus drivers say makes them safer. They don’t emit fumes as they’re idling or moving.
They are also cheaper to operate.
One disadvantage is the higher upfront cost, which range from $236,000 to $371,000. Research from June 2022 also shows the cost over the lifetime of an electric school bus is $121,000 more than for a diesel equivalent—a gap easily covered by the EPA rebate. BEL has advocated that the EPA allow additional grant funding for electric infrastructure upgrades needed to support the buses.
The next round of grant funding for electric school buses will be available later this spring. Anyone interested in BEL’s Electric School Bus initiative can visit
be-league.org/buses or contact Tracy Warren at Tracy@be-league.org.