Biden’s Chinese Tariffs Could Hamper E-Bike Sales in the U.S.

The Biden administration recently announced tariffs on a number of Chinese goods, including EVs. Price hikes could extend to e-bikes, too, experts say.

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Denver has been helping people pay for electric bikes with instant rebate vouchers. Credit: RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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In May, the Biden administration slapped new tariffs on a range of Chinese goods, including a 100 percent levy on electric vehicles. Though few Chinese EVs are sold in the U.S., the decision reflects a tense trade war between the two countries, and the administration’s fear that China will soon bombard the market with cheap electric cars. 

However, a different type of vehicle may be getting caught in the crossfire. On May 19, the Office of the United States Trade Representative announced that e-bike batteries will be subject to new 25 percent tariffs starting in 2026, a jump from the 7.5 percent tax currently levied on these products. At the same time, a provision that allowed Chinese imports of e-bikes and their parts to be excluded, since 2018, from an existing 25 percent tariff is set to expire on June 14—meaning prices could go up much sooner than 2026, reports the Verge

According to experts, these tariffs are coming at an exceptionally bad time: After initially struggling to take off, e-bike sales peaked in 2022, but have fluctuated since then.  

In recent years, government incentive programs have been enacted across the U.S. to help bolster the market, but even these may not be enough to help the average consumer afford an e-bike, which environmentalists have longed hope will help get gas-guzzling cars off the road. 

The E-Bike Boom: After years of false starts over the past few decades, the e-bike industry in the U.S. seemed to hit its stride in 2022, when around 1.1 million e-bikes were sold in the country, almost quadruple the number sold in 2019, according to the Department of Energy. As a former NYC resident, I personally had to learn how to dodge the slew of e-bikes darting across the street while walking in Manhattan. 

Though sales are still relatively high compared with the early days, the e-bike industry in the U.S. and Europe has since faced setbacks, with layoffs and a few major e-bike businesses going bankrupt, including Dutch company VanMoof and U.S. company Bird in 2023. 

One of the biggest barriers e-bikes continue to face is cost. A typical standard bike costs a few hundred to a thousand dollars, and “pedal-assist” e-bikes—in which a rider’s pedaling engages the motor and provides some exercise benefit—can go for as little as a few hundred dollars. However, many e-bikes with more power fall in the thousands of dollars range, with high-end models reaching up to $6,000.  

A number of cities such as Denver, Atlanta and Columbus, have created e-bike incentive programs to help prop up the market—and its potential emissions reductions. Often in the form of cash vouchers or rebates, these programs can bring down the cost of an e-bike anywhere from $250 to $500. (You can explore if your city or state offers one here.) Research finds that these programs do support greenhouse gas emissions reductions. 

However, a recent study found that these incentive programs may not offer cities the best bang for their buck climate-wise. After completing a nationwide survey of e-bike consumers, researchers found that a government using a point-of-purchase discount would have to distribute about $4,000 in incentives to generate one additional e-bike purchase. This isn’t because people are buying insanely expensive bikes, but rather their models showed that more than 80 percent of the people likely would have bought a bike without the discount. 

That being said, the study’s authors emphasized that emissions reductions aren’t the only benefit of e-bikes. 

“The thing about [an electric bike] that’s unique is that it also offers this active mode of transportation that provides health benefits and reduces congestion and reduces local air pollution,” study author Luke Jones, an economics professor at Valdosta State University, told me. “And it also enhances equity. It’s a transportation mode that can provide mobility to sort of a broad swath of members of society.” 

Making e-bikes more affordable can be particularly helpful for low-income families, who may not be able to afford a car but can increase mobility—and promote exercise—with electric-powered bikes, which often exceed 20 miles per hour. 

“When you take those other benefits into account, well, maybe these incentives are very worthwhile,” Jones said. 

Disincentivizing Short-Term Sales: Given that cost is one of the main hurdles in the e-bike market, a 25 percent tariff is no joke. The resulting uptick in cost could make prices unreasonable for the average consumer—even with government incentives. 

“Tariffs just trickle down to consumers,” John MacArthur, a sustainable transportation researcher and civil engineer at Portland State University who also co-authored the incentive study, told me. “You’re basically negating that [incentive].”

Electric cars may not be as hard hit by the tariffs, experts say. Though many raw manufacturing materials are still imported from Asia, the U.S. has been building up its electric car production capacity over the past few years. Companies like Tesla, G.M., Ford and Volkswagen have invested tens of billions of dollars in battery and electric vehicle factories in America, reports The New York Times. The same cannot be said for e-bikes, which could see sharp price increases with the exclusion expiration date coming soon, according to MacArthur. 

So does that mean e-bike sales in the U.S. are poised to plummet? Not necessarily, but the tariffs could certainly slow some of the market’s throttle, Jones said. 

“In the short term, it’s reasonable to expect that that’s going to result in higher e-bike prices,” he said. “In the longer term, e-bike companies are going to diversify their supply chains and they’re going to import from unregulated countries like Taiwan, for example.” 

Jones added that the tariffs on Chinese e-bikes could also “favor an expansion of domestic production.”  However, experts agree it could take a long time to ramp up production given how little bike manufacturing takes place in the U.S. currently. 

Some companies have already diversified their manufacturers. The U.S. industry has also stockpiled a “fair amount of inventory of electric bicycles,” that were imported pre-tariff, Matt Moore, the general and policy council for nonprofit trade organization PeopleForBikes, told me. 

“I think that there’s a range of preparedness. Some companies were not planning on these exclusions lasting as long as they have,” he said. “Other companies are, I think, just waking up to the fact that the exclusion is really ending now and that things are going to cost more.”

PeopleForBikes estimates that the tariff exclusion has saved the bike industry more than $130 million overall since 2018. Now, Levi Conlow, the CEO of e-bike company Lectric, told The Verge that without the exclusion, customers will likely see price increases across the industry and that consumers should be aware that if a company goes under, they may not have access to new parts or repairs if their bike breaks. 

To prevent another future blow in 2026, PeopleForBikes and other organizations are calling for e-bike batteries to be removed from the Biden administration’s tariffs on Chinese electric batteries, and an increase in federal support to beef up domestic production. 

“I would hope that the administration would recognize that e-bikes are … about reducing [driver miles traveled] and outside of the kind of EV war that’s going on,” MacArthur said. “We should be promoting people biking more and riding more than trying to create tariffs that would actually squash the momentum that’s going on there.” 

More Top Climate News

A pair of new studies recently found that extreme heat is keeping wild animals such as boar and deer fawns awake, just like humans. 

For many mammals, heat disrupts the body’s “natural cool-down process” and lowers the quality of sleep, which could weaken an animal’s immune system, writes Benji Jones for Vox. While this could have major impacts on wildlife health, scientists are still learning more about slumber across the animal kingdom. 

Meanwhile, a beachfront home in North Carolina’s Outer Banks collapsed into the ocean last week, marking the sixth incident of its kind in the past four years. Rapid sea-level rise and storm surges are eroding the sand in this region and contributing to these collapses, with some beaches losing as much as 13 feet annually, reports CBS News

Perhaps unsurprisingly given past climate forecasts, scientists confirmed that climate change exacerbated Brazil’s recent flooding, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. Human-caused warming doubled the chances of Brazil’s downpour, which killed at least 172 individuals and has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, reports The New York Times

Breaking: Google searches for “excessive heat warning” surged +2,140 percent over the past day in the U.S., according to the Google Trends report. California was the top area for searches, which makes sense as the West is projected to face its first major heat wave of the summer in the next few days, reports ABC News

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