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The Environmental Impact of E-Bikes: Why Going Electric Matters

Man riding e-bike on grass

It’s no secret that electric bikes have become a popular alternative to cars, motorcycles or trucks. They offer a convenient, easy-to-use way to get around the city, commute to work or travel during weekend trips.

More importantly, they are zero-emission vehicles. Riding an e-bike doesn’t burn gasoline or emit greenhouse gases, making them an eco-friendly transportation option. Understanding the sustainability and environmental impact of e-bikes can help you make an informed purchase.

The Lifecycle of an E-Bike: A Look at Sustainability

E-bikes typically have an average lifecycle ranging from three to five years. However, these values don’t tell the full story. The lifecycle of your e-bike varies depending on several factors:

- The make, model and overall quality

- The care and maintenance it received throughout its life

- The number of miles it has been ridden

You can prolong your electric bike’s lifespan and sustainability far beyond the average by taking proper care of its most critical component: the battery. 

Why Battery Care Matters

While each model is fitted with different types of electric bike batteries, proper battery care is the most important contributor to any e-bike’s overall lifespan. Your e-bike’s battery powers the motor and allows its electric assistance features to function, such as the pedal assist system (PAS) or throttle. Without the battery, your e-bike would be no different than a heavy bicycle.

Whether your e-bike is a Blix city commuter or an Urban Arrow heavy-duty cargo transporter, it will likely be powered by a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. Li-ion batteries for e-bikes use the same basic chemistry as the rechargeable batteries in your smartphone, tablet or laptop. 

Battery lifespan is primarily determined by the number of times it has been charged or discharged. A battery completes a charging cycle when it has discharged and been recharged with a quantity of energy equivalent to 100% of its capacity, whether in a single charge or over multiple ones. Other factors influencing your battery’s lifespan include the state of charge and the ambient temperature.

Reducing, Reusing and Recycling: The E-Bike Edition

You can care for your e-bike battery and improve its lifespan and sustainability with the following actions:

Avoid overcharging your battery. Overcharging occurs when a rechargeable battery is left plugged into a charger for extended periods after reaching 100% charge. Once the charging indicator shows your e-bike’s battery is full, unplug it and reinstall it. 

If you’re wondering, “How long does it take to charge an electric bike?” the answer varies from model to model. Charging times are usually between three and six hours, depending on your battery’s capacity, the charger’s output and your e-bike’s battery management software.

Mind the temperature: Extreme temperatures are harmful to your e-bike’s battery. According to a 2018 study on lithium-ion battery chemistry, the operating temperature range is between 32°F and 113°F, with ideal performance achieved between 59°F and 95°F. 

If you store your e-bike in an environment outside of these temperatures, consider disconnecting the battery and storing it elsewhere. Keep your batteries stored in a cool place, preferably around 60°F.

Don’t store a fully charged or depleted battery: Check the charge percentage if you plan to disconnect and store your battery for extended periods (e.g., over one week). In storage, a Li-ion battery’s ideal state of charge (SoC) is around 50-80%. 

Keeping an e-bike battery fully depleted or charged for extended periods can damage them and lower their maximum capacity. Some batteries feature built-in protection circuits designed to prevent recharging if the state of charge has been left to 0% for too long.

Remember the cycles: On average, a lithium-ion battery can withstand 500 full charging cycles before it begins losing capacity. If your e-bike’s range is shorter than advertised, even after a full charge, it may indicate your battery has lost some capacity. This can be especially important with used electric bikes. The higher the e-bike’s mileage, the more charging cycles the battery has already undergone, placing it closer to the end of its useful life.

Recycle, recycle, recycle: You can continue safely using your e-bike even after the battery has exceeded 500 full charging cycles. However, if it no longer provides an acceptable range, it may be time to replace your battery with a new one of the same type. 

Don’t dispose of it in the trash. Instead, deliver it to a recycling center that accepts batteries. Recycling the old battery allows it to gain a new lease on life by ensuring its materials can be reused, contributing to its overall sustainability.

How E-Bikes Contribute to Reducing Carbon Footprint

Many newcomers to the world of eco-friendly transport ask: “Should I get an electric bike? Are they really eco-friendly? Would riding one help me protect the environment?”The answer to all of these questions is yes!

When considering the entire lifecycle, from materials mining to selling to the consumer, the carbon footprint of an e-bike is among the lowest of any vehicle.

The lifetime carbon footprint of a vehicle is measured in carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂e). This value estimates the quantity of CO₂ released by every process associated with making, delivering, and using a vehicle. 

Table of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent 

According to data compiled by The Guardian, here is a breakdown of the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂e) for various types of vehicles:


These figures show that an electric bike is responsible for approximately 10 times less CO₂ emissions throughout its lifespan than a gasoline vehicle. They also demonstrate that electric bikes can reach a carbon dioxide equivalent even lower than conventional, non-electric bicycles. 

This phenomenon can be explained by usage costs: while a regular bicycle requires fewer resources to manufacture than an e-bike, a rider can spend less energy and, in turn, expend less CO₂ riding an e-bike.

E-Bike Batteries: Exploring their Environmental Impact

The Li-ion battery is one of the most complex elements of an electric bike and has the highest individual environmental impact.

Elements of a Lithium-Ion Battery

A lithium-ion battery can be identified by labels or recycling symbols with the words “Li-ion.” A typical Li-ion e-bike battery uses a housing made of plastic, a charging port, electrical wiring and an array of lithium cells designed to hold an electrical charge.

Each cell in a Li-ion battery contains three primary elements:

- A cathode made of lithium metal oxide, such as lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) or lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4)

- An anode made of a carbon-based element, such as graphite

- An electrolyte solution made of lithium salts and solvents

Environmental Impact of Li-Ion Battery Elements

https://gem-3910432.netThe elements of an e-bike battery with the most significant environmental impact are lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite. The raw materials required to manufacture lithium-ion cells primarily come from mining, a heavily polluting industry.

Additionally, they can cause significant pollution when improperly disposed of. Throwing a li-ion battery into regular garbage will send it to a landfill, which poses environmental risks: it can contaminate water and soil and start landfill fires, creating air pollution and releasing toxins into the air.

Recycling is a viable solution to alleviate the environmental costs of an e-bike battery. The EPA recommends recycling as the standard disposal method because it provides the following benefits for environmental protection:

Resource conservation: Elements such as lithium, cobalt and nickel are relatively rare in the Earth’s crust. Recycling an e-bike battery allows the raw materials to be reused to manufacture new batteries or other items needing these elements. It also ensures waste compactors or incinerators do not permanently destroy them.

Limits air and water pollution: Throwing a Li-ion e-bike battery into the trash increases the risk of water, soil and air pollution. Sending it to a recycling facility equipped to handle batteries ensures the battery is handled safely, limiting the impact of a used battery on the environment.

Creates a more sustainable supply chain: Recycling e-bike batteries after they have reached the end of their lifespan ensures they are not treated as standard waste. Instead, they become a new source of raw materials, reducing the industry’s dependence on mining.

Supports job creation: Recycling your e-bike’s battery supports numerous jobs and industries attached to the recycling chain, creating sustainable economic opportunities.

The Role of E-Bikes in Urban Mobility and Climate Change Mitigation

While e-Bikes can be ridden anywhere, they have become a popular and eco-friendly alternative to traditional transportation methods in cities and urban areas. Three primary factors drive the impact of e-bikes on urban mobility and climate change mitigation: speed, air pollution and cost of ownership.

Speed and Convenience

The top speed of an electric bike ranges from 20 to 28 mph, depending on its class and types of electric assistance systems. 

These top speeds allow an e-bike rider to approach the speed limit in various urban areas, such as residential neighborhoods, secondary roads and streets, some commercial areas and most school zones. 

A commuter on an e-bike can be as fast or faster than commuters in cars or trucks, especially during peak traffic hours. Electric assistance systems also allow riders to spend less effort and energy than on a standard bicycle, ensuring an easy and comfortable ride.

Air Pollution

As with other types of electric vehicles, e-bikes produce zero tailpipe emissions, meaning they don’t generate harmful gases such as CO₂, nitrogen oxide (NOx) or carbon monoxide (CO). 

When combined with the low carbon footprint of the manufacturing processes, e-bikes are among the least polluting vehicles available, beating traditional cars, trucks and motorcycles. They are also less polluting than many forms of public transportation, such as buses, subways, trams, ferries or diesel passenger trains.

Cost of Ownership

While an electric bike can be a significant upfront investment, it offers a much lower cost of ownership than other individual transportation vehicles. E-bikes are cheaper, require much less upkeep than cars, trucks or motorcycles and fewer fluids. Basic e-bike maintenance is also less expensive and can be done entirely at home.

The average cost of a brand-new commuter electric bike ranges from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the manufacturer, model, features and retailer. In contrast, the average cost of a used car is over $26,500, whereas used motorcycles cost $4,000 to $10,000. 

The cost of ownership of a car is nearly $900 a month, which includes expenses such as fuel, fluid changes, routine maintenance, insurance and other fees. The upkeep costs of an e-bike are much lower. 

Electricity costs: You won’t pay more than a few cents to recharge your e-bike, even if you own an e-bike with a very large battery. For example, if you own the Riese and Müller load 75 Vario HS, recharging its long-range 1,000 Wh battery pack would cost $0.23 on average.

Maintenance costs: Yearly servicing costs $100 to $150, assuming you bring your e-bike for a check-up twice a year. If you are technically skilled, you can conduct many repairs and maintenance tasks yourself, further bringing the costs down. New tires cost about $60 per pair, replacement brake pads cost $20 to $60 apiece and a new battery costs $500 to $1,000.

Extra fees: Electric bikes typically do not require a title, registration or insurance, further reducing the costs of ownership.

You can also reduce the cost of ownership by opting for a used, affordable electric bike instead of a brand-new model. A reputable used e-bike retailer such as Upway sells a wide range of certified pre-owned electric bikes, allowing you to purchase a quality electric bike for a fraction of its new price.

Find The Perfect Used E-Bike at Upway 

Upway carries an extensive selection of used electric bikes of all types. We offer certified pre-owned e-bikes from over 50 manufacturers, including standard city commuters, rugged electric mountain bikes, heavy-duty cargo e-bikes and convenient folding models. 

Buying an e-bike from Upway is an excellent way to join the e-bike revolution. Our certified pre-owned models are available at up to 60% off their brand-new price and we stand by all our e-bikes with a 1-year warranty

Explore our complete range to give a pre-owned e-bike a new life and make an eco-friendly purchase. Contact us for any questions or inquiries regarding our products.

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Upway offers the widest range of certified pre-owned electric bikes, reconditioned by professional mechanics. Thanks to Upway, you'll get a great electric bike at a price that's 20-60% off retail, with a one-year warranty!