Direct Line magazine

The rise of e-bikes: why they're taking over the UK cycling scene

Updated on: 17 December 2021

Middle-aged couple riding electric bikes in the park on a sunny day

It’s no secret that the pandemic boosted cycling levels in Europe. In fact, in March and April 2020, so many people bought new bikes that bicycle shops across the continent ran out of stock.

E-bikes in particular saw a huge increase in demand, taking 23% of the market share of bikes sold in 2020, with even more people expected to buy e-bikes in 2021.

But what exactly is an e-bike?

E-bikes, short for electric bikes, are just like conventional pedal-bikes, except they take the strain out of going uphill. How? With a battery of up to 250W that’s activated by pedalling. It’s called an ‘assist’ and it gives you a little boost when you need it most.

Some e-bikes are powered by a throttle, but these are less common, require a license to operate and are governed by different restrictions in the UK. Generally, when you hear someone talking about an e-bike, they’re talking about the pedal-assist version with a maximum speed of 15.5mph.

Claus Fleischer, CEO of Bosch e-Bike Systems, predicts that half of all bikes sold in Europe will be electric by 2025. He describes the e-bike revolution as crucial, saying, “it enables us to relieve city traffic and reduce the burden on the environment. People reach their destination faster, in a manner that is healthier and more sustainable – all while enjoying the freedom and fun of riding.”

Commuting on an e-bike

The world is still reeling from the after-effects of the pandemic, so it’s no surprise that many commuters are conscious of the health risks associated with travelling on crowded buses and trains. Along with that, many are becoming more environmentally aware and want to find ways to reduce their impact on the planet.

Plus, cycling offers a multitude of mental and physical health benefits such as easing anxiety and depression, while decreasing the likelihood of cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and dementia. What’s more, all of these heath benefits also apply to cyclists who choose e-bikes over conventional bicycles.

When it comes to getting to and from work, there are many reasons why commuters are choosing e-bikes over conventional bicycles:

  • Less effort means less sweating – so you no longer need to carry a change of clothes and a towel to the office.
  • People living in busy cities like London can avoid congestion charges, train delays and enjoy a more socially distanced commute.
  • Riding an e-bike is less physically demanding than a traditional bicycle, so it doesn’t require as much mental commitment.
  • E-bikes are more accessible for older, less able-bodied people, who may find riding a conventional bicycle too challenging.
  • Unlike electric cars, e-bikes don't need specific charging stations, making them super-easy to charge at home or the office.
  • The great thing about e-bikes is, although they’re easier to get around on than standard road bikes or mountain bikes, they’re still an effective way to exercise and increase your general fitness levels.

How much does an e-bike cost?

One of the downsides of electric-bikes is that they tend to come with a higher price tag than standard bikes, with a new, decent quality e-bike setting you back around £600. High-end e-bikes can cost upwards of £5,000, but you’re unlikely to see them on the daily commute. If you’re into racing though, a high-performance e-bike is a total game-changer.

Is an e-bike more likely to get stolen?

We don’t yet have the statistics to know whether e-bikes are more highly targeted by thieves in the UK, but in the Netherlands (where e-bikes were adopted early), e-bikes are three times more likely to get stolen. The problem is so prevalent that some insurers in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague won’t insure e-bikes at all.

Luckily, we’ll cover your e-bike (and cycling accessories) for theft or damage.  

As an optional extra, we can also cover you for public liability and personal injury, if you have an accident while out riding. Our cycling insurance team is full of people who love getting out on their bikes, so we understand just how important your wheels are to you.

Are e-bikes here to stay?

While this trend towards e-bikes was evident before the pandemic, the effect of lockdown has undoubtedly accelerated it – attracting people who perhaps didn’t feel comfortable getting on a bike beforehand, but also earning the respect of seasoned cyclists. Now, some experts predict that bike sales will overtake car sales two-to-one in Europe by 2030. And with e-bikes out-selling conventional bikes, sales could reach 10 million a year by 2024.

Many consider this a welcome change for commuters as well as the planet. Plus, the government is investing £2 billion on its cycling and walking investment strategy, including increased charging infrastructure, bike parking and an e-bike hire scheme that’s been in effect since 2019.

So, whether you’re an e-bike convert or you’re still sceptical, one thing’s for certain: If you aren’t already seeing more of them on the road, you soon will be.

Related articles

Two people smiling as they ride their bikes together on a sunny day.
Lifestyle

Why is cycling good for our mental health?

As we come to the end of a difficult couple of years, it’s more important than ever to look after our mental health. Luckily, there are lots of ways to help keep yourself in a good headspace, and cycling is right up there among the best.
A bike chained to a lamppost.
Lifestyle

How to prevent your bike from being stolen

Thousands of cyclists in the UK have their bikes stolen each year by opportunistic thieves. With even basic bicycles worth considerable money, bike theft is a big business. To keep your bike secure, read our advice and help stop theft happening to you.
a cyclist secures bikes to the roof of a car
Lifestyle

Choosing a bike rack for your car

Getting bicycles from A to B often calls for more than just pedal power, as many people carry bikes on their car roof. We asked the experts to explain the differences between strap-mounted, roof-mounted and tow bar-mounted bike racks.