Electric bicycles are only as sustainable as they are repairable

880,000 e-bikes were purchased in the U.S. last year. Let’s make sure we can fix them.

e-bike being fixed
GoodTurn Cycle | CC-BY-4.0
An e-bike being repaired by GoodTurn Cycle, an e-bike repair shop in Colorado
Madison Dennis

Former New Economy, Associate, PIRG

If we hope to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, we need to tackle our transportation problem. Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, accounting for 27% of all climate-harming emissions

Luckily, green transportation options are on the rise. The rise of electric bicycles is one of the most promising trends for lowering carbon emissions from the transportation sector. In 2021, 880,000 e-bikes were purchased in the U.S., nearly doubling sales from 2020, and exceeding total electric vehicle sales for the year. Swapping your gas guzzler for an e-bike offers a greener way to get around with the added benefits of getting us outside and moving. A recent study by The Bike Adviser found replacing your car with an e-bike on short trips could cut emissions by as much as 50%. If Americans used e-bikes for just half of their short distance trips, we could have the same climate impact as planting 4.5 million trees grown for 10 years

However, for electric bicycles to truly be climate friendly, they need to be repairable. PIRG has long championed “Right to Repair” reforms that increase our repair access, and extend the longevity of our devices. The Right to Repair our e-bikes could help future-proof this industry and ensure a sustainable transportation alternative doesn’t turn into more waste down the line. 

E-bike repair shops lack access to basic repair materials

We sat down with Neal Heitmann, the shop manager for GoodTurn Cycle, an e-bike repair shop in Colorado, to discuss the barriers keeping us from fixing our e-bikes. GoodTurn Cycles is one of the few shops in the Denver area that will even consider repairing an e-bike. Heitmann says this is largely because of three issues: restricted repair information, lack of industry standardization and an inability to access parts.

When you take your car into the shop, mechanics have access to a plethora of repair materials, manuals, schematics and training courses. So, when you look under the hood, you have a pretty good idea of where to start. However, e-bikes lack the repair resources needed to quickly identify and address a problem. Instead Heitmann’s shops must strip the e-bike down to its parts, and rely on their intuition to perform the repair. The process of “learning by doing” is incredibly time consuming and restricts repair access to a small handful of shops. 

If Heitmann’s shop is able to identify the problem, they still have to find the parts. Heitmann said specific parts are often challenging to source. “I can’t buy it from the normal e-bike distributors, so I am often on Amazon or other third party websites trying to get the right component.”

The inability to access information and parts is further compounded by a lack of standardization between e-bike manufacturers. Companies use different components, sizing and mechanisms, each of which require unique parts, tools and repair knowledge. 

“You could have four bikes and they would have very, very few parts that would actually be compatible with each other,” said Heitmann. “To make e-bike repair accessible, we need to establish clear standards across the industry so that repair shops and independent fixers only need to learn two or three models, not hundreds.”

Consumers are frustrated with the lack of repair options for e-bikes

Many consumers are speaking out against the anti-repair practices they are seeing in their own e-bikes. They are taking to social media to find community-sourced solutions, and to advocate for increased repair options.

collage of social media users posting about e-bike repair
Staff | TPIN

In a developing industry, Right to Repair rules for e-bikes could fix the problem before it spreads

Electric bicycles are a developing industry, with many purchases yet to come. Before the problem of repairing an e-bike becomes more ubiquitous, we need to advance Right to Repair reforms that ensure our climate-saving technology is repairable, and not a new waste stream.

The sooner we pass the Right to Repair for all of our products — whether e-bikes, cellphones or even tractors — the better chance we have of creating a truly sustainable society for consumers and the environment.



Madison Dennis

Former New Economy, Associate, PIRG

Nathan Proctor

Senior Director, Campaign for the Right to Repair, PIRG

Nathan leads U.S. PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign, working to pass legislation that will prevent companies from blocking consumers’ ability to fix their own electronics. Nathan lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.

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