Colorado’s second-largest city is picking up speed when it comes to electric bikes, and a new program will allow 50 families unfettered access to them for less than a dollar a day.
In Colorado Springs, there is only one organization, the nonprofit PikeRide, that offers electric bike rentals for urban use, at affordable rates and for short distances. The city, close to mountains prized by cyclists, has several businesses that offer rentals for tourists. But to get around the city, PikeRide is the only option.
Jolie NeSmith, PikeRide’s interim CEO, said that in 2018, the year the company’s bikes arrived in the Springs, people used to complain a lot more when bike paths opened up and took space from motor vehicles. But as Coloradans learn to share the roads, electric transportation usage numbers continue to climb in the Springs and other cities across the state. Today, PikeRide has about 400 bikes available in Colorado Springs, and in 2021, it experienced 60% ridership growth from the previous year. In 2022, there was a further 48% increase over 2021.
This year, the Colorado Energy Office provided funding for a low-cost e-bike leasing program to PikeRide. For $25 per month, 50 people in Colorado Springs will have access to a bike, charger, accessories and maintenance and community support from PikeRide. In 2022, nearly 20% of all the PikeRide users had a household income of less than $15,000.
When the program launches in July, users will have the bike at all times and can store it at home. Under the lease, riders keep the bike for as long as they are signed up and will not be limited to the regular program’s loaner hours or areas. If someone decides to stop using the service, the bike is returned to the fleet that’s available for public use. Users will be able to renew the lease every month for one year, which is the duration of the project.
“They will be able to go wherever they want. It’s essentially their bike while they’re leasing it,” NeSmith said.
The program will be focused on the city’s southeast side, which struggles with a shortage of housing and a lack of investment, but is also home to a strong community that is continually finding new ways to empower itself, she said.
“Electric mobility is important here because of our hills. An electric bike is a good option so you don’t arrive sweaty to a meeting,” NeSmith said. “Plus, it’s faster and you have to pedal to activate the motor, so it’s also a healthy option.”
In 2022, PikeRide had 1,124 users across the city, who averaged 15 minutes per ride. The bikes were most popular with riders ages 16 to 24, who accounted for 30% of all users. Last year, PikeRide claimed to have prevented 46,800 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions — the amount that would have been released by motor vehicles — with more than 53,000 miles ridden, saving the equivalent of 2,127 trees.
Promoting decarbonization of transportation
The program coming to Colorado Springs is part of a statewide push to decarbonize transportation. In addition, the federal government has promoted other policies in this area like the infrastructure law that will give funding and more options to communities that provide micro mobility transportation. According to the Department of Energy, 60% of household motor vehicle trips in the country in 2017 were 6 miles or less.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory claims that transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions. But NREL sees opportunities to reduce emissions from transportation under the Biden administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
So far, the initiative has already awarded funding to more than 32,000 projects in different areas of national energy renovation to renew connectivity in the country’s infrastructure with sustainable energy.
In June 2020, the Gov. Jared Polis administration launched the Can Do Colorado Community Challenge, an initiative to revive the economy in the midst of the COVID pandemic. As part of the program, the Colorado Energy Office earmarked $500,000 for a pilot program specifically for e-bikes.
In 2022, Denver launched a program that offered rebates for people who bought e-bikes, and the initiative overflowed with demand. In early 2023, Denver’s electric bike voucher program was relaunched, with rebates of $500 and up to $1,000 for low-income individuals. Due to high demand, the new credits will not have as high rebate values as the initial phase, and competition has reduced the price of bicycles.
The Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency has placed more than 5,000 electric bicycles in the city of Denver since the rebate program was launched in 2022. The office confirmed that Denverites can save about $300 per bike and low-income residents up to $1,200. The city has six dates to launch new rebates in 2023, three of which have already passed, and claims that slots are filled within 30 minutes of launch. Funding for this initiative comes from the taxpayer-approved Climate Protection Fund, which seeks to reduce greenhouse emissions.
In 2023, the State of Colorado passed a new law on decarbonization and will extend credits for retail sales of electric bicycles, in addition to credits for other transportation sectors. “Allowing tax credits for electric vehicles, trucks, and bicycles to be claimed at the point of sale will ensure fairness by improving access to these technologies for Coloradans who cannot afford to pay full price without the credit or discount provided to a retailer claiming the credit,” the law states.
The Springs, a place for bikes
At the PikeRide facility near downtown, Doug Ryden, the nonprofit’s operations manager, Kevin Hughes, its assistant manager, and Craig Ianicone, a mechanic, chat as they check on the bikes they have in storage and make repairs as necessary. Doug says they try to be environmentally conscious, so they reuse as many materials as possible.
All three workers do some form of cycling outside of work hours. “It definitely helps in your interview!” Kevin says with a chuckle.
While the mechanics provide maintenance, they show off a GPS tracking unit, which they use to track the bikes and prevent them from being stolen. “Earlier this year we had a couple of cases where bikes were taken and the GPS was removed,” Ryden said. However, the staff assures that community support in the city is present. “One user came to our office and advised us that he had found one of the bikes near a ravine.”
A regular PikeRide user, Michelle Winchell, praised the service as a cheap, reliable way to get around town.
She works downtown, which is the busiest area for Springs rentals, and uses the service on a “pay as you go” basis for commuting to work and for recreation. Her main advantage is not getting to work sweaty. In Colorado Springs, a city full of ups and downs, the one to four hours of battery life helps users get around comfortably and avoid the stress of parking a vehicle.
The battery range depends on the weight the bike carries and the irregularity of the route in terms of uphill and downhill climbs. The bike has a top speed of 15 mph, and on flat terrain, about 60 miles could be covered at that speed. Winchell has been a user of the electric bikes for over three years and says it is a “joyful experience.”
She works at the Downtown Partnership as Creative District Manager. Part of her job is to do sight measurements and make appointments with stakeholders around the city. She assures that there are many strategic hubs that help her navigate the city in a practical and fast way.
Colorado Springs allows Class 1 e-bikes, which are bicycles that only provide assistance when the rider pedals and do not exceed 20 mph. E-bikes are allowed on 15 trails that connect much of the city, although a pilot program to expand bike access on city-owned and maintained trails has been postponed until further notice.