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E-bikes slowly gaining traction in Finland as gov't considers subsidies

Electric bikes are becoming more popular across Europe, but Finland has lagged behind the trend. That could change if proposed subsidies are introduced.

Puheenjohtaja Pasi Haapakorva, Oulun polkupyöräilijät ry.
Image: Paulus Markkula / Yle

A two hundred watt electric motor, electronics, a detachable battery: cycling equipment like this is becoming ever more common on the city streets of Finland.

Hardcore winter cyclist Pasi Haapakorpi, of Oulu, says that even cold weather e-bike usage is easy enough.

"In the winters cycling can be a little harder," said Haapakorpi. "Then there's nothing for it but to turn on the power and get moving."

Haapakorpi cycles several kilometres each day, and says that winter use of an electric bike doesn't cause any more hassle than use of a normal bike in the city. The most important factors are to change to winter tyres and to keep and de-ice the bike indoors when it's very cold.

Only the battery demands extra care when it gets below freezing point, as it gets much less effective in the colder temperatures.

"It's important to remember to take it inside when it's cold," said Haapakorpi. "The cold can run down the battery when its running too, but especially if it's left outside."

Puheenjohtaja Pasi Haapakorva, Oulun polkupyöräilijät ry.
Pasi Haapakorpi of Oulu uses his e-bike every day. Image: Paulus Markkula / Yle

Haapakorpi therefore recommends testing the battery to see how easily it can be detached from the frame of the bike, as some mountain bike models don't have easily detachable batteries.

Batteries are the most expensive part of an electric bike, and depending on capacity can cost from a few hundred to more than a thousand euros.

Haapakorpi says his battery cost around 700 euros, with the motor coming in at 700 euros on top of that.

"If you want a good bike as well, you should invest another 600-700 euros on top," said Haapakorpi.

That price issue is a key factor in the relatively slow adoption of electric bikes in Finland. Whereas in Germany e-bikes make up 15 percent of bike sales, in Finland the figure for 2016 was less than one percent.

According to Matti Koistinen of the Finnish cycling association, e-bikes are slowly becoming more common.

"We are reaching a point where everyone will know somebody with an e-bike," said Koistinen. "When you can ask an acquaintance for tips, and there are more e-bikes about, the market will take off."

Ministry plans subsidies

There could also be state support on the way, with the government considering similar subsidies to those on offer for electric cars.

The Transport Ministry has a proposal on the advancement of walking and cycling which is currently out for consultation. The proposal recommends subsidies totalling some three million euros to be introduced by 2019.

Koistinen would like to see Finland follow the example of Sweden, where some 35 million euros has been allocated to help consumers buy electric bikes. Keen cyclists there can get up to 25 percent of the cost of a new electric-power assisted bicycle.

The amount proposed by Finland is, according to the cycling lobby, too small.

"There won't be enough money for everyone," said Koistinen. "In practice only the quickest would get it, the rest would be left without."

Even so, Koistinen says it's probably not worth delaying the investment in the hope of bigger subsidies. A 250 watt motor is a durable and practical purchase that could be a good alternative to buying a second car, for example.

"This kind of cycle doesn't require insurance and maintenance is a lot cheaper than for a car," said Koistinen. "In addition, e-bikes are quicker in urban settings when there's a lot of traffic."

According to Koistinen, widespread e-bike adoption would have other important benefits, including to public health and the fight against climate change, as well as making road maintenance cheaper and easier.

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