Why 2023 was the year of the e-bike and not the self-driving car

Eleven months ago, as calendars flipped to 2023, self-driving cars and e-bikes both had momentum on their side—especially in San Francisco. Fleets of robotaxis from Cruise and Waymo were whisking travelers along the city’s streets, while a growing number of bicyclists were using battery power to conquer its famous hills. “San Franciscans Are Buying E-Bikes Like Never Before,” declared a January headline in the local Streetsblog website.

What a difference a year makes. The self-driving car companies that once seemed ready to conquer San Francisco—followed by the rest of urban America—now face headwinds from impatient investors, skeptical residents, and wary regulators who have suspended Cruise’s driverless permit in California after a horrific crash (and an alleged coverup).

Compared to self-driving cars, and just about any other mobility mode, e-bikes have flourished in 2023, posting strong sales despite a slowdown in the overall bike industry. Many governments now provide a tailwind, with states and cities launching new rebate programs, opening parks to e-bike riders, and even establishing “e-bike libraries” where curious residents can try one out.

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