Learning About the Impact of E-bikes with Lilley Fellow Elizabeth Boruff '23

Electric bikes have taken off as a popular mode of transportation worldwide.

"After purchasing my first Populo E-bike in 2015, I was instantly captivated by the speed and technology of this form of transportation," explained Elizabeth Boruff '23. Why an e-bike instead of a traditional bike? "It's just more fun."

Elizabeth's interests in e-bikes and sustainability proved to be the perfect combination for her 2022-2023 Lilley Fellowship. "As e-bikes have continued to emerge as a more sustainable option, I chose to focus my Lilley Fellowship on the sustainability of e-bikes and a few large share programs where I researched the factors that contribute to their viability as a mode of transportation in urban areas," shared Elizabeth during her Lilley Fellow presentation on Friday, Jan. 20.

She began riding her e-bike to school in 2018. "I fell in love with biking to school and found biking as an outlet, giving me time to think and get fresh air. I felt like my best self when I was biking. Today, I bike four times a day, and have biked over 32,000 miles," said Elizabeth. 

The focus of Elizabeth research centered on several questions. 

  • What circumstances make e-bikes a realistic choice?
  • What distances make sense for an e-bike?
  • Is the expense of an e-bike membership more economical in comparison with a bus ticket?
  • Are there a few similar goals and qualities that e-bike riders share?

Curious about data linked to e-bike usage, Elizabeth connected with Dr. Chris Cherry at The University of Tennessee and began interning with his ME-Bike Study that is funded by the National Science Foundation. The study tracks e-bike travel patterns using a dongle that is connected to the Kiox and Intuitiva systems of various e-bikes.

"The information from this NSF project supports the claim that e-bikes are more frequently used in urban environments as transportation from one place to another, while in suburban environments they are used for more recreational use," said Elizabeth. She also visited the MIT Bike Lab to learn more about emerging technologies like autonomous e-bikes that can "pick-up" a rider and even make a weekly trash pickup.

Elizabeth researched rideshare programs in Philadelphia, New York, and Portland, Oregon, to see how companies get funding, utilize smart payment interfaces, GPS technology, and deal with vandalism.

It's estimated (University of Portland study) that if e-bikes replaced car-trips 15 percent of the time, carbon emissions could be cut by 12 percent.

"The bottom line is, e-bikes can easily offer a cheaper alternative to automobiles, especially in urban areas with bike lanes or sidewalks," explained Elizabeth. "Additionally, riding an e-bike is not only fun, but it is freeing for users with limited mobility. E-bikes can also encourage riders to cycle farther than they normally would on a conventional bike, multiplying the benefits of traditional travel options."

Elizabeth is hoping e-bikes will soon be offered in the community where she lives and a local coffee shop.

"Today, 17 of the 25 largest cities in the U.S. feature an electric or traditional bicycle share program, and I’m hoping to continue helping grow the use of e-bikes next year in college," she remarked.

Upper School Science Teacher George Lorsenson was Elizabeth's fellowship advisor.

The four other 2022-2023 Lilley Fellows presented their projects in September and October respectively.