Electric bikes are similar to scooters but run on electricity. The popularity has seen an upswing, vouch dealers. Despite awareness being low, enquiries and orders have increased.

When petrol prices touched a new high recently, Srinivasan was unperturbed like many of his colleagues. For someone driving an electric bike for six years, price rice made no difference to his monthly budget. For those looking to combine an economical mode of transport with environment-friendly travel, electric bikes or e-bikes as they're popularly known, are an alternative.

Electric bikes are similar to scooters but run on electricity. The popularity has seen an upswing, vouch dealers. Despite awareness being low, enquiries and orders have increased. According to Rajavel, a dealer of a showroom selling branded electric bikes in Thillai Nagar, they are an ideal way to economise. “Even after spending Rs. 80 on petrol, you get a mileage of 50 to 60 kilometres. By charging the battery for six hours you can get the same mileage. And you spend less than Rs. 5 as it consumes one to one and a half units of electricity only.” These vehicles range between Rs. 32,000 to Rs. 45,000.

E-bikes are the best bet for underage drivers as most models notch up 25 to 30 km speed and do not require registration or a driving licence, points out Mohamed Hasin, a college student. “I was 16 when I got e-bike and it was a better option than procuring a driver's license. The e-bike is ideal for high school students looking for their first vehicle too. They can use it for two to four years in a row without much hassle.” Though Hasin switched to a petrol version when he joined college, he admits, “It was easier to plug in the bike, charge it and go. With spiralling petrol prices, I am thinking of walking instead of using my bike!”

Safety and environmental consciousness are the chief reasons why second year college student Sahanaa has stuck on with her e-bike for four years. “I bought the bike in the middle of class XI when I had to make it around to tuitions before and after school. Being a time of petrol hikes, my family was looking for something energy efficient and safe.” That e-bikes are not petrol guzzlers has her recommending them to friends.

The prominent chink in the armour is the battery life, feels Hasin. The battery used to slow down nearing 40 km and there is a danger of it draining up completely. Unlike petrol bikes, you cannot rush to the nearest pump or you'll have to carry your charger around.” Yet, despite power cuts, the vehicle can be left to charge overnight.

Public perception of e-bikes is skewed, notes Mr. Rajavel. “E-bikes picked up five years ago when they were introduced in the market, but most of them were fitted with cheap China batteries . With no long-term service support, these bikes became unusable. Many still bring them to us, asking if we could repair them. However the scenario is different today with branded e-bikes in the market.”

Speed is the main deterrent, explains Rajavel. Though models that require driving licence can go up to 45 kms, people desiring a higher speed to drive on the outskirts, stay away from e-bikes. “Most of our clients are school students, ladies and senior citizens. It is apt for driving within the city where the speed limit is 30 km.”