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Photo: Samuel de Roman/Getty Images

Electric bikes are seeing a major spike in sales that began even before the coronavirus pandemic but has sharply accelerated since March.

Why it matters: E-bike manufacturers are racing to keep up with the newfound demand as people, wary of crowded public transit and facing less congestion from commuting cars, adopt new ways of getting around.

Sales of e-bikes in the U.S. increased 190% in June compared to June 2019, according to new research from The NDP Group. (E-bikes add an electric motor to traditional bicycles, making it easier for riders to pedal up steep hills and extend their rides.)

  • Yes, but: Ridership of shared e-bikes (such as those owned by Lime and city bike-share companies) has gone down during the pandemic. Those sectors are "still recovering" from a lack of commuters and tourists, Matt Brezina, a tech investor and pedestrian and cyclist advocate in San Francisco, told Axios.

The big picture: Many U.S. cities, including New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have been closing certain streets to traffic, lowering speed limits and adding protected bike lanes, all key factors in helping people feel more comfortable on bikes and less threatened by cars.

  • Some cities were far along in enhancing bicycle infrastructure prior to the pandemic, while others snapped into action when COVID-19 hit.
  • "A car-free space that would have taken 10 years and 100 community meetings to implement has instead been rolled out in weeks because of the COVID emergency," Brezina said.

Be smart: Smart urban design is necessary to get and keep people comfortable using bikes and e-bikes in dense areas, Jennifer Toole, president of urban planning and engineering firm Toole Design, told Axios.

  • Slowing automotive traffic and maintaining dedicated, separated bike lanes make the biggest difference, Toole said. That can be a tough transition for many cities where getting through the streets by car as fast as is feasible is the norm.
  • But change is coming. "The pandemic has opened us up to some options that were much more difficult before," said Toole. "People are willing to think outside the box about the way we use our streets."
  • E-bikes were growing more popular even before the pandemic, as prices sank and designs improved, Toole noted.

What they're saying: VanMoof, an e-bike company based in the Netherlands, nearly quadrupled its e-bike sales year over year in the second quarter of 2020. In the U.S. alone, VanMoof's e-bike sales nearly doubled in the first half of 2020 compared to the first half of 2019.

  • VanMoof CEO Taco Carlier told Axios his team is struggling to keep up with customer demand, especially as they work from home, but he's not surprised. "The breakthrough was going to happen for years," he said.

What's next: It's hard to predict how sustained newly adopted pandemic-era habits will be. But e-bike use has skyrocketed and may not go down even after people return to their regular routines, as they get used to pedaling around their cities, which in turn are changing to become more bike-friendly.

Go deeper

Aug 28, 2020 - Economy & Business

It's a great time to be a car dealer — but not so hot for buyers

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Anyone looking to buy a car right now is likely to find fewer choices and higher prices — with very little room to negotiate.

The big picture: The pandemic has thrown off the natural balance between supply and demand for new and used cars, driving up vehicle prices and putting all the bargaining power into the hands of car dealers, who are enjoying fatter-than-normal profits.

Cold December as safety nets expire

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Safety nets are likely to be yanked from underneath millions of vulnerable Americans in December, as the coronavirus surges.

Why it matters: Those most at risk are depending on one or more relief programs that are set to expire, right as the economic recovery becomes more fragile than it's been in months.

14 hours ago - Health

Food banks feel the strain without holiday volunteers

People wait in line at Food Bank Community Kitchen on Nov. 25 in New York City. Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Food Bank For New York City

America's food banks are sounding the alarm during this unprecedented holiday season.

The big picture: Soup kitchens and charities, usually brimming with holiday volunteers, are getting far less help.