• The hottest electric vehicles at New York’s auto show have two wheels
  • Newsletter
  • Donate
Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

The hottest electric vehicles at New York’s auto show have two wheels

Buzzy e-bikes and scooters boost micromobility’s profile at an expo that used to be all about sports cars and SUVs.
By Maria Gallucci

  • Link copied to clipboard
A man, a woman, and two children ride on a park bike trail on electric bikes
Wagon-maker Radio Flyer is showcasing its cargo-carrying electric bikes at this month's New York International Auto Show. (Radio Flyer)

A staggering number of electric vehicles are projected to hit roads worldwide this year as automakers launch new plug-in models and drivers ditch their oil-guzzling engines. But another mode of electrified transportation is booming and, in the United States, even outpacing sales of battery-powered cars: bicycles.

E-bikes are becoming increasingly popular among urban commuters and leisurely cruisers alike — so much so that they earned a coveted spot at the New York International Auto Show, one of the biggest car events in North America, which is taking place now through April 24. For the first time, e-bikes and their two- and three-wheeled cousins are joining the rows of shiny passenger vehicles that throngs of people come to gawk over and test-drive throughout the week.

The Micro Mobility Expo is located on the bottom level of the cavernous Javits Center in Manhattan, past an outdoor driving course for Jeeps that resembles a roller coaster, and to the right of an indoor test track for battery-powered cars. The circuit is so quiet and free of tailpipe fumes that visitors might not even notice when a 2023 Kia Niro EV or an SUV by startup VinFast loops around.

The booths for electric bikes and scooters are humble by comparison. Still, just like their four-wheeled peers, these lightweight vehicles are expected to play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and tailpipe pollution from the transportation sector — and in breaking America’s dependency on personal cars. Roughly half of U.S. car trips are 5 miles or less and taken by a single person, contributing about a quarter of urban-transport-related carbon emissions, according to micromobility firm Electric Avenue.

Subscribe to receive Canary's latest news

City leaders and policymakers nationwide are still working to build infrastructure and write policies and traffic laws to safely accommodate what have become millions of fast-moving e-bikes and scooters on streets and sidewalks.

In the meantime, the New York auto show offers a glimpse of the latest trends in this burgeoning transportation market.

Designing bikes and scooters to be safer and more accessible

To boost bicycle and scooter adoption, startups are designing models to be more physically accessible to a wider range of users, and to include features that keep riders — and everyone else — safer while in transit.

Veo, a shared-micromobility company, makes an amply sized seated scooter with a cargo basket, and a single-wheeled scooter-like device that attaches to manual wheelchairs and provides an electric assist. The Chicago-based company operates bike- and scooter-share programs in 35 markets nationwide, including in New York City’s Bronx borough. Customers can unlock Veo’s scooters and e-bikes — which are typically parked on sidewalks or designated corrals — through an app on their phones. Or they can reserve Veo’s wheelchair attachment ahead of time.

Several turquoise and black electric scooters in a row with the word "VEO" emblazoned on them
Veo's seated electric scooter is designed to be accessible to a wider group of riders. (Maria Gallucci/Canary Media)
An electric scooter device is attached to the front of a wheelchair
Veo's single-wheeled device gives manual wheelchairs an electric assist. (Maria Gallucci/Canary Media)

Alex Keating, Veo’s director of public policy and partnerships, said the startup aims to replace taxi rides and personal car trips by providing the first-mile, last-mile” service with vehicles that can reach up to 15 miles per hour. Doing so means offering models to people who aren’t able to push pedals or stand for extended periods, and to those lugging bags and boxes.

Our goal is to provide mobility options that work for as many folks as possible,” Keating told Canary Media at the expo, flanked by Veo’s black-and-turquoise fleet.

Veo’s seated scooter is quiet thanks to its electric motor, but the newest version mimics the sound of a revving gas engine as the e-scooter accelerates so as to alert pedestrians, particularly people who are visually impaired. New scooters also beam blue light below the scooter deck and have turn signals to give the microvehicles more visibility at night.

Bulking up e-bikes to carry cargo and kids

Another way to make micromobility a meaningful alternative to cars is to recreate the back seat.

Radio Flyer, which makes the iconic red wagon, recently launched a line of heavy-duty bikes for adults that are designed to comfortably carry one or two children in rear bike seats. Sturdy frames connect to fat tires to provide a smoother ride over potholes or crumbling sidewalks. The largest bike model can carry up to 400 pounds of payload, be that people or packages that might otherwise go in the trunk.

We’re seeing a lot of parents using e-bikes to skip the carpool line and drop kids off right at school, then maybe hit the grocery store after converting to cargo mode,” said Mindy Stumpf, a spokesperson for Radio Flyer and its Flyer e-bike line. We’re trying to provide appropriate solutions for families.”

A black electric bike with a large seat and cargo basket emblazoned with the brand  Flyer
Wagon-maker Radio Flyer now offers electric bikes to carry kids and cargo. (Maria Gallucci/Canary Media)

The Chicago-based wagon maker started selling electric models nationwide last fall through its website. The bikes can reach from 6 miles per hour with pedal-assist — which involves a motor that kicks in when a rider pedals — to up to 20 miles per hour using the throttle lever. When asked whether Radio Flyer engages with policymakers on road-safety issues, Stumpf said the company encourages its customers to check the local guidelines about how and where they should ride the cargo bikes.

Micromobility operators offering shared vehicles often participate in (or are roped into) public discussions about road safety and rider-friendly infrastructure, but direct-to-consumer brands aren’t necessarily part of that broader conversation — even though their customers would undoubtedly benefit from having protected bike routes or painted buffer lanes as they zip around their cities.

Folding bikes help riders get a grip

While some e-bike companies are building bulkier, sturdier models, others are working to make their two-wheelers even more compact. Two vendors at the expo, Jupiter Bike and Jetson, showcased folding battery-powered bikes.

Jupiter Bike, based in Tampa, Florida, offers electric models that can collapse into a cube. Bikes by Brooklyn-based Jetson have a tall handlebar post that folds down and a carrying handle in the center frame. The idea is to make it easier to haul bikes up staircases and store them in narrow apartment closets or to stash them in car trunks on the way to bike paths or mountain trails.

A man in jeans and a black shirt holds a black foldable bicycle
Ryan McNamara of Jetson holds a semi-folded electric bike by its handle. (Maria Gallucci/Canary Media)

Executives from both companies said they saw their sales soar at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic as people looked to escape their homes and find safer ways to exercise or unwind outside. In the ensuing two years, e-bike demand has continued to grow as the price of e-bikes comes down, owing largely to the plunging average price of lithium-ion batteries in recent years.

A lot of people think of this category as just for commuters,” said Ryan McNamara, Jetson’s vice president of sales. Yet the company’s customers include everyone from teenagers to riders who are 65 or older; the latter group makes up about 10 percent of Jetson’s e-bike sales.

We’ve found that it’s actually a much wider audience that’s using these [electric] models,” he said, noting that Jetson sells its folding e-bikes in giant retail outlets such as Target and Costco, with the lowest-priced model selling for $399. It’s become affordable to the masses, and they’ve responded well.”

Maria Gallucci is a senior reporter at Canary Media. She covers emerging clean energy technologies and efforts to electrify transportation and decarbonize heavy industry.