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2000 Miles of Justice: My Year of Riding Electric Bikes

My 500 watt rear wheel from EbikeKit.com

My 500 watt rear wheel from EbikeKit.com

Almost one full year ago, I built myself an experimental electric bike to see what all the hype was about. As a profanely vocal proponent of muscle-only transportation, I was skeptical of the idea at first. But in the spirit of a good experiment, I decided to just add the thing to my bike fleet and see how it went for a year.

As the months and seasons have rolled past, I have found myself blazing around town more frequently, with greater speeds and heavier loads than I ever thought possible, which has turned me into an unapologetic convert. The electric bike combines some of the distance-devouring advantages of a car, with the city-friendly flexibility of a bike (you can bypass all traffic jams and jump freely between roads, bike paths and even dirt and unpaved areas to find the most direct route, and park for free right at your destination).

This is why electric bikes give me the feeling of Justice. You are riding a bike like you should be, creating virtually no pollution or noise, but you have a tireless olympic sprinter in your back pocket that you can unleash at the twist of a throttle. You can EAT gigantic hills for breakfast and DUST entire pelotons of spandex-riders from the comfort of your flipflops and flannel shirt. These things could have a revolutionary impact on the lazy modern lifestyle and make cities of all sizes vastly more livable places. So my official position on the matter is now that Electric Bikes are Awesome.

But Isn’t this Just Modern Lithium-Ion Laziness?

After that first article, several Mustachians questioned my sanity. Had I sold out to the forces of convenience and comfort? My answer was that time would tell and I’d do my best to use the power responsibly. I figured that for any given longer-than-walking-distance trip, there are two categories of people:

  1. Those who use a bike, and
  2. Those who do not use a bike

Since I was already in category “1” for at least 95% of my 1-10 mile trips, you’d think that I would have nothing to gain and everything to lose from juicing my bike. And indeed, it could have gone this way: Over the past year the technology has caught on rapidly and I now see plenty of e-bike riders out on the streets just coasting while the motor does all the work.

But when I look in the mirror, I notice that I have no desire to be any less fit. In fact, more fitness would be quite welcome, which means I need to pack more effort into each day. This is just basic muscle math, the kind that should be part of the driver’s exam before you’re allowed to operate your first car. So anyway, I chose to do things a bit differently, setting up a few ground rules for my use of electric boost:

  • For casual trips like riding downtown to meet someone for lunch, I don’t even use the e-bike. I take my nice low, slow, inefficient cruiser bike instead.
  • When riding the e-bike, I try to leave the motor off whenever possible. So it functions like a super-heavy (60 pound) city bike that provides more exercise than normal.
  • Before turning on the motor, I give it all I’ve got, sprinting to fight the bike (and usually a trailer full of tools or groceries) up to at least 20 MPH on leg power alone. Once I run low on steam, I twist the throttle and feel the electric joyride take over as we blast up to much higher levels of speed. It feels like taking off in an airplane. I keep pedaling the whole time.
  • Since this could still steal away some of my exercise, I resolved to do more biking than before. Running out to get some last-minute cilantro halfway through salad construction, or missing supplies halfway through a a day of house construction, and so on.

In other words, I chose to use the power of electricity as an extension of my biking abilities rather than a replacement. And so far, so good: I haven’t lost any biking condition over the last year, but I have felt an increase in freedom and productivity as I can get around town more quickly, even when I’d normally feel too busy or tired to embark on a bike errand.

The other bonus is that my bike can now hang with standard city traffic on 25-30 MPH roads. I can safely* take a full lane just like a motorcycle without slowing anyone else down, which provides an adrenaline-filled shortcut through certain parts of the city I had previously avoided due to lack of bike friendliness.

A Secret Superpower Against Heat, Heavy Loads, Hills, and Time Itself

Many Mustachians are fairly young and fit, already have bikes which serve them well, and are still ‘stashing cash vigorously for financial independence. For these people, an electric bike is probably an unnecessary luxury.

But for another large group, they could be just the thing. The lawyer who lives in a hot, humid climate and is currently afraid to bike the 4 miles to the office for fear of arriving sweaty. The beginner cyclist in Seattle or San Francisco who lives at the top of a perilously steep hill (especially if combined with kids or groceries in a bike trailer). Even the Longmont, Colorado tech worker who would love to bike to work in Boulder more often but could swing it more often if only that 1-hour ride time could be cut in half. If you have a reasonable surplus of money and feel there’s a shortage of biking in your life, an e-bike could be just the ticket.

The Expensive E-Bike Conspiracy and My Prodeco Storm 500 Experiment

Testing the Optibike R-8, a $10,000 electric mountain bike.

December: Testing the Optibike R-8, a $11,000 electric mountain bike.

As part of this yearlong experiment, I decided to check out more of the electric bike scene. I tested more kit-built bikes from friends, shopped more e-bike shops, and visited the headquarters of high-end manufacturer Optibike, testing out everything they make.

This proved to be a fun visit, as founder Jim Turner has been making ebikes since the late 1990s and seems to care about nothing besides quality. From the custom frame with a motorized crank that drives the chain out to the top-line individual components, these bikes are for wealthy no-compromise buyers. They’re also for record setters, as an Optibike R-11 set the world record for climbing the 14,000 foot Pike’s Peak highway.

My take on Optibikes? Beautiful and without compromise, but I noticed that my homemade high-power conversion based on a cheap city bike was just as fast, at close to 40 MPH**. For real speed in this price range, I’d personally go for the 50MPH 4500 watt Steath Bomber or the highly German Motostrano Spitzing.

riide

June: a visit from the Riide electric Bike

I also enjoyed a visit from Amber Wason, co-founder of Riide, who brought me her low-weight, high-style take on the concept. This thing was a joy to ride, because it behaves like a normal bike. You can barely tell it’s electric.

I noticed a bit of a pattern: the more expensive a bike company’s product, the more they tend to speak critically of cheaper competitors. I would often ask what they thought about the Prodeco Phantom, which you can buy on Amazon for under $1700. “Oh, you do NOT want a Prodeco! Cheap Chinese crap that’ll fall apart!” Yet when I looked at reviews of that same bike on Amazon, they were generally quite positive. Who should I believe?

I decided that the only way to resolve the dispute was to buy one myself. So I forked over the dough and received the shipment a few days later. Since it was mid-winter, I spent the first month testing the bike out both on and off-road during snowfalls.

February: some high-speed snow testing with a Prodeco bike on the local golf course

It was a surprisingly solid bike with good components, smooth shifting and really great disc brakes. It had plenty of power to peg the needle at its safety-limited 20 MPH speed, even when ascending steep hills. Range seemed pretty good as well, at over 20 miles when combining reasonable speed with pedaling.

Since I was already fully loaded with bikes myself, I decided to use friends and family as longer-term test subjects for this bike after the initial month. It has made the rounds and is still performing well for a friend of mine. Just one caution if you’re interested in this particular model – it is very tall, so if you’re shopping for someone under about 5’9″, you might check out the models with step-through frames instead.

So Should you Buy One Yourself?

Maybe. While cheaper than a car or motorcycle, these things are still much more expensive than great conventional bikes, which can be had for under $500 these days.  Many normal people ride a single, basic bike for much greater annual distances than I ride all of my bikes, including the electric ones, combined.

On top of this, the prices on electric bikes will probably continue dropping for the next few years. I wouldn’t buy one if I was in debt for anything besides a mortgage. In fact, I wouldn’t have even bought one (yet) for myself if I didn’t have this blog as an excuse to test it out and report back to you, because I don’t commute to work.

But if it will genuinely replace some of your car use, which costs you about 50 cents a mile, the economic case may be a good one. And if it will entice you to spend more time pumping your muscles out in the real world than you currently do, the case is much stronger. It is hard to overstate the benefit of just getting out there. So if you’re sure you are ready and you can easily afford it, I think it’s a winning invention.

List of Good Mid-priced Ebikes:
(I have no affiliation with these bike companies, just happy to support the growth of this good technology. Please suggest more in the comments and I can add them to this list)

Kits:

My 500 watt Ebike Kit
(^^^ watch for their occasional 15% sales and use coupon code MMM for 6% anytime)
A promising looking cheaper kit on Amazon
Possible Battery for Above
The Hill Topper Kit (clean Republic)

Full Bikes:

Riide

RadWagon (just found this Aug 2016) – looks great for the price
Bikes from Evelo (note the Omni wheel)
Stromer ST1 (expensive but you could try a nationwide Craigslist search)
Prodeco Phantom
The Copenhagen Wheel (available someday)

Honorable Mention:
Jason Kraft from EbikeKit has a neat side project in development for those not looking for 2-wheelers, the Liberty Trike is a 7.5MPH adult mobility machine that seems much more capable than similar stuff on the market. A huge advantage for those currently car-dependent for medium-length neighborhood trips.

* Safety tip:
As a frequent rider on city streets, I have always found that oncoming cars tend to turn left and cut me off dangerously, even when I have the right of way.  The extra speed of the e-bike made this problem even worse. But by adding really bright LED front and rear lights and leaving them flashing at all times while riding in the city, this problem was virtually eliminated overnight. It tells the drivers that you mean business and they treat you more like a motorcycle and less like a bike. You still need to be on guard at all times though, ready to hit the brakes and hurl a few Driver-Educating Expletives just for good measure. 

** A word on speed:
Commercial e-bikes for on-road use are generally limited to 20MPH (throttle) or 25MPH (pedal assist). This is a fine rule and beginner cyclists will find this to be plenty of speed.

Kits have no such limitation, which is why my bike goes much faster, which technically may make it slightly illegal. However, this is a rule I don’t mind breaking with caution: on bike paths, I keep the speed down as they tend to be curvy and narrow. And of course I slow right down if other people are present on the path. On the other hand, on the open road the speed is very welcome.

If phone-wielding teenagers are allowed to legally drive 3-ton 300 horsepower pickup trucks on residential streets, then surely it is acceptable for a 185 pound man with a motorcycle license and some basic motocross training to enjoy his 0.6 horsepower electric motor without a speed limiter installed. But I am definitely increasing my risk by riding at higher speeds!

  • Professor Else September 1, 2015, 11:58 am

    Such a great post. Behavior change happens only when barriers of entry to new behaviors are lowered sufficiently enough. And sustained behavior change happens more easily when barriers are eliminated all together. Excess time and effort required for commuting can be HUGE barriers for a lot of people to think about biking for utilitarian purposes. Ebikes definitely have the potential to ease more people into active commuting and well worth promoting.

    Reply
  • Heath September 1, 2015, 12:31 pm

    I currently commute 3 to 4 times a week on my 6 speed, 20 inch wheeled, fold up bike (Citizen Miami for the curious). It’s fairly inefficient, but I only ride about 7 miles round trip (here in flat-and-hot-as-fuck Tempe, AZ), so I’ve been fine sticking it out. I also really appreciate the folding capacity for getting rides home in special circumstances.

    My company will be moving in about 2 months, which will upgrade me to an 11 mile round trip. Still not excessive, but I think I’ll swap out my folding for a larger wheeled hybrid/comfort bike. Going to miss the convenience of folding though :(

    E-bikes look totally sweet! But it seems like overkill in my case, and their cost is a big turn-off. Especially when I can find a solid hybrid/comfort bike on craigslist for less than $200. We already drive our car very little (less than 10K miles in over 1.5 years of ownership, most on rare, out-of-town trips), so I don’t see e-bikes dropping it even more. I admit it would be fucking awesome to go completely car free with a nice cargo e-bike … but my wife wouldn’t survive the AZ summer heat.

    If commuting the 11 miles per day in the summer starts to get to me, I’ll consider an e-bike, but for now I’ll just drop a couple hundred to upgrade my efficiency and stick with muscle power :)

    Reply
    • PatrickGSR94 September 1, 2015, 12:37 pm

      If my commute were *only* 11 miles round trip, I would do it every single day in this hilly and humid as hell Mississippi. Right now it’s 31 miles round trip, which I do twice a week or sometimes 3 times a week, on a regular road bike. And I have a hereditary heart condition that keeps me from getting very fast (usually 12-14 mph average).

      I’ve seen folding bikes that look pretty much like a standard size hybrid, maybe with 26″ wheels. Have you thought about looking into that?

      Reply
      • Katrina September 1, 2015, 3:23 pm

        You, sir, have humbled me. I used to commute 10 miles round trip to my old job, and now at my new job it would be 15 miles round trip, mostly on back country roads, with some that have a bike lane.. I’ve been hesitating and being an anxious crazy person about it.

        Reply
      • Heath September 1, 2015, 6:09 pm

        Yes, I’ve looked at other, more efficient folding bikes. I’m just not sure that the folding feature is really worth the extra cost/weight in the equation. I think I’ll just by a common non-folding bike, and commit myself to riding home every time I ride to work. Going to need to upgrade my weather riding gear, though. I basically do not ride when it rains, because it does so infrequently. But that’s just me being a complainypants.

        Any thoughts on some lightweight rain gear I can always take with me in case I need to ride home in the rain?

        Reply
        • plam September 2, 2015, 5:11 pm

          Shorts and no shirt? That’s what I do if there’s unexpected rain. Skin doesn’t stay wet that long. 5.5 miles is moderately uncomfortable but it is one option.

          Reply
          • Heath September 2, 2015, 5:33 pm

            Hmm, never thought about the semi-bared option. But I’m sure that it would be strongly frowned upon if I were to even partially de-robe outside my office or in the lobby. Shirtless seems like an even more difficult idea if it’s raining and cold (rare here, but still happens).

            I do go to work in exercise clothes, change into work clothes, and then change back into exercise clothes at the end of the day. And I’m fine with those getting soaked (again, not so great if cold, but maybe better than bare-skinned?). Maybe it’s just a matter of me carrying some kind of collapsed waterproof bag to put my backpack into. I have a rear basket that I use to carry my backpack, so I don’t need to worry about keeping it dry while I’m wearing it. That may be the simplest solution if I’m caught at work while it’s raining.

            But it wouldn’t be something I’d like to do on the WAY to work. I suppose I could still take the clown-mobile in that case :-P

            Reply
  • Mickyle September 1, 2015, 12:42 pm

    First time comment; follow you on Twitter, and am PSYCHED about the game-changing power of ebikes as well as cargo bikes. I have both in what I call my cargo/electric bike. It’s another Yuba Mundo, with a mid-drive motor kit and a 48v LiPo battery, and I’ve been using it and loving it for all my solo transport for about three years.

    Ebikes and cargo bikes both can offer some sticker shock upfront, but of course as many here know firsthand, when your bike is your car then even going full retail, say, close to $6k for Extracycle’s latest mid-drive Edgerunner 10E, is cheap by comparison plus having quality of life benefits that are off the charts.

    Wanted to plug Endless Sphere as THE place online for DIY ebike knowledge and help. Doing your own conversion can dramatically improve the cost/performance ratio, and you will find all the help you could ever want there.

    Reply
  • Aperture September 1, 2015, 12:52 pm

    Thanks for the article. I am probably a great candidate for an e-bike. I work 4 miles away down a long hill. Getting to work in the AM is not a problem, but getting home in the evening means a 4 mile uphill slope I have tackled exactly twice in my life. I used to be a biker in my youth – spent years without a car, but here I am mid 50’s, trying to lose an extra 40 pounds of fat and feeling pretty ambivalent about getting started on a bike again. Love the site, the forum and the great insights. Please keep it coming. Would love to hear something on planning for college from a parent’s perspective. Thanks, -a.

    Reply
  • Allan September 1, 2015, 1:01 pm

    I cycle commute 10km to work (one way) everyday, in Edmonton, Alberta Canada. During the winter season (about 5 months of the year), I use a “Winter bike” which is just an old mountain bike outfitted with studded tires. Due to all the salt\sand\snow\ice that gets thrown into the drivetrain and brakes, I usually get about 2 years out of a winter bike before it needs replacing. That’s ok though, as I just watch garage sales in the summer and usually find a replacement for under $30.

    The thing is with those tires, and frozen bearings, and pushing through snow, and wearing lots of clothing to fight the cold, my commute time can sometimes double, based on the conditions, and I get far more sweaty, from working harder, for longer periods, and wearing more clothing.

    To help deal with this, I bought a 250W front wheel for the bike a couple of years ago. I have used it through a winter and a half and am very happy with the results. I get to work faster, and drier than before.

    I specifically chose the lower power wheel for 2 reasons:
    *they are cheaper
    *I only use it in the winter
    I was afraid that with a higher powered wheel, I would ride faster than the conditions allowed, and my chances of spinning out the front wheel would be higher.

    In my commute, I run it the entire way, but I work hard pedaling the whole way also. It has some nice advantages that I had not considered when I bought it.

    *Bike Drivetrains tend to get locked up in the winter and shift very sluggishly if at all. With the motor, I can just find a decent gear that allows me to contribute at top speed and leave it there. The motor will help me get up to speed after a stopping, so I don’t need to downshift.

    *When running through fresh snow, a front tire tends to plow and slide a bit and you end up zig zagging back and forth trying to stay upright. Having power on the front wheel makes a HUGE difference here, it pulls through the snow and helps keep the speed up, resulting in a straighter line.

    *When encountering known slippery sections, or corners, my riding technique has always been to stop pedaling, take my feet off the pedals, and hover my feet about an inch off the ground, so that they are already in place to catch me should a tire slip. In these instances, I can now keep from losing too much speed by running the motor as needed while I am coasting through these sections.

    There are more advantages as well, but I’m having a hard time remembering them, as it has been about 6 months since I was on my winter bike. I used to dread switching from my Summer bike to my Winter bike, as it felt like I was driving a tank after driving a sports car. Now, the transition is not so tough, and is more enjoyable.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache September 1, 2015, 1:27 pm

      NICE ALLAN!!

      .. and for the rest of you non-winter-riding wussies here in the balmy ‘states, LISTEN to what this badass Canadian has to say about riding in winter. Listen and learn.

      Then go look up the winter climate of Edmonton, and then re-read his paragraphs ten more times. Actually, I’ll look it up for you right here: https://weatherspark.com/averages/28417/Edmonton-Alberta-Canada

      Reply
    • PatrickGSR94 September 1, 2015, 5:40 pm

      What you describe is why FWD cars are better than RWD in winter conditions.

      Reply
  • Dr. John September 1, 2015, 1:22 pm

    Has anyone tried the AOSOM electric kits from Amazon? I am curious what other quality alternatives exist for the kit-builder. I live in Anchorage, Alaska, so any comments regarding cold weather performance would be welcome, too.

    Reply
  • Seattle Scrooge September 1, 2015, 1:23 pm

    Very timeless. I just purchased a gently used izip e3 dash off craiglist last night! I’ve been riding my girlfriend’s scooter but the efficiency of the ebike is even greater– looking forward to it. Thanks MMM!

    Reply
  • DCResident September 1, 2015, 1:23 pm

    I’m thinking about the e-bike because of the challenge of getting to work when it’s hot and humid and, frankly, because I don’t enjoy biking in the city for any length of time. Despite having bikes adjusted and tweaked I’ve just never found it as pleasant as traveling on foot (in a city, that is–I really enjoy biking in the country and mountain biking). I appreciate biking as being more efficient than walking, but I prefer to walk or run if I am going to get sweaty combining transportation and fitness. I’m hoping the e-bike would be my go-to transit when I can’t take the time to cover the required distance on foot, which is at least twice a day, most days of the week. Does anyone here share my lukewarm feelings about city biking with a traditional bike, but enjoy e-biking? I’m hoping the decreased travel time will mitigate some of the discomforts what keep me from biking regularly now.

    Reply
    • Seattle Scrooge September 1, 2015, 1:25 pm

      I feel the same– love to walk, Meh on biking– but I just moved to a new neighborhood that isn’t as close to my tribe and gym as my previous place, and bought an ebike last night to bridge the gap. Will let you know how if goes!

      Reply
    • Rob September 1, 2015, 3:15 pm

      It’s a game changer. At my old job I had limited options for changing clothes. I often just rode my e-bike in my dress shoes, dress pants, and button down shirt. In the summer in PA. No sweat. Not that that’s really necessary to do, but no way I could have done that under human power alone, I would have ruined my clothes. And that was over a trip of 15 miles. And I actually look forward to hopping on the bike, rather than the sense of dread. It’s fun. Seems frivolous to drop a grand on something ‘fun’, but I don’t think the fun factor should be understated honestly given the other benefits.

      For me the big thing was time. I work a university. In the Fall, if I drive, I often have to park in the farthest lot and walk ten minutes to my office, or leave a half hour earlier than I would otherwise in order to get a spot at a closer lot. It is 13.5 miles one way, and I can drive it in about 26 minutes, not including parking and walking time. Over that same distance, I get to work door to door via ebike in 42 minutes. Using muscle alone it’s over an hour. So that saves me a few hours a week, more time with my kids. So, door to door, we’re maybe talking 10 minutes longer by e-bike. I get a decent work out in (without being sweaty), so no need for a gym after work. Reduced wear and tear on car. Free endorphins. I have fenders on the bike so could ride in rain too if I wanted to (though I usually don’t)

      Really, I don’t see many downsides besides maybe initial cost.

      Reply
  • Steve Miller September 1, 2015, 1:55 pm

    Seems a bit expensive and I love getting the exercise, but who knows, maybe I’ll give it a shot one day.

    Reply
  • Ted September 1, 2015, 2:16 pm

    I was wondering why nobody is saying anything about mid drive bikes?
    http://electricbikereport.com/electric-bike-motor-comparison/
    The quick research I’ve done tells me that is the way to go. Watch out putting a
    Rear electric hub on a cheaply built bike! I would put on a BBS02 with a triangle battery
    On a sweet hybrid. $1500 is a lot for an Ebike conversion. Maybe when I’m older
    And need the extra push.
    http://em3ev.com/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=166

    Reply
    • Ted September 1, 2015, 2:24 pm

      Also this is the Ebike that I would scoop up if I wanted to live on credit.
      http://www.haibike.de/produkte_detail_en,,22649,detail.html

      Reply
    • Rob September 1, 2015, 3:17 pm

      I’m a fan of the BBS02, if anything because the motor is mounted low near the bottom bracket (low center of gravity) and the controller is built in. It’s also really quiet. That and a downtube Li Ion battery and you have a very stable, efficient, multi-speed ride. Got my kit for less than a grand on ebay.

      Reply
  • KeninNZ September 1, 2015, 2:32 pm

    eBikes enabled my Dad to continue his passion for cycling until just 6 weeks before he died. As his health deteriorated and the distance of his rides on a regular bike dropped to a few km, an eBike meant he could get out for 40-50km again. This meant we enjoyed many more rides together that would have otherwise been beyond him.

    Reply
  • Sameer September 1, 2015, 2:43 pm

    Great follow-up article to the original one on E-bikes!

    On my recent trip to Israel, I saw these (link below) electric folding bikes all over the place. And the best part was seeing burly shirtless guys riding these on a trail next to a beach, they didn’t seem compelled to put themselves in polluting behemoths which generate a lot of noise. On a related note, that country is also much better at enabling trips by foot.

    http://lvneng.gmc.globalmarket.com/products/details/foldable-electric-bicycle-en15194-approved-suitable-for-israel-market-479136.html

    I have a question though: You seem to suggest that you are able to do 40 mph on a modified version of your normal bike without spinning out. The engineer in me wants to understand how that’s possible with normal gearing ratios available on a regular city bike. Is the kit wheel enabled with extra low gear ratio sprockets or does the kit wheel have internal gears aside from the ones the chain sits on?

    What are the number of teeth on the lowest sprocket available on your kit wheel?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache September 1, 2015, 4:12 pm

      Yeah, that was actually a problem at first and I had to change to a rear sprocket with an 11-tooth smallest chainring (eBikeKit had thoughtfully provided one for me). My biggest front ring has 48 teeth so I’m getting about 10 meters of ground travel for each crank of the front pedals with 700C wheels.

      At 40MPH this is a cadence of just over 100 which is pretty fast, but this is the absolute TOP speed of the bike and is pretty dangerous. At a more reasonable 30, the pedaling is casual and easy.

      Reply
      • Sameer September 1, 2015, 5:07 pm

        Cool! Yeah, I don’t intend on travelling at 40 mph on a bicycle (lest a pebble spells doom on me).

        I’d like to try out one of the electric assist bicycles but I’m definitely far from buying one myself. I’ve acquired two used bicycles for my household in the past 8 months and each purchase was $100 or less. There was definitely extra money/effort spent on making each bicycle roadworthy and ready for roadside emergency (frame pump, saddle pouch with multi-tool, tube and patch kit), but spending $1000+ on a bicycle is something I cannot imagine doing for now.

        In addition to purchasing the aforementioned bicycles, we’re also in the process of getting rid of one of our vehicles (total 2) in true MMM fashion! That car was anyways not being driven much with us using the bicycle to go pretty much everywhere. It also helps that we live in the mild climate of the pacific northwest. A lot of the inspiration comes from reading this blog, so a big thank you for your writing! :)
        Today was the first time I commented on this blog and I’m sure that I’ll keep the interaction going.

        Reply
  • Samuel Mandell September 1, 2015, 3:35 pm

    Nice write-up. My buddy just showed me this bike (http://www.starmarinedepot.com/prodecotech-ebike-outlaw-ss-v3.5-9ah.html?gclid=CJ6mzoXl1scCFcdhfgodIwgJ9A) that he had purchased. He uses it to commute back/forth to his job which is 17 miles away. I think by FAR what is cool about it is eliminating the hassle of hills, which mentally can be a big barrier to getting into bike commuting.

    I used to hate these things because last year when my wife and I were bike touring we got passed up a steep hill by an out of shape couple on e-bikes with their top in a front basket. I was shaking my fists at them for a few minutes :)

    Reply
  • Dave Sipe September 1, 2015, 5:31 pm

    One thing many forget when making an E bike conversion is brakes.
    Wile a kit can get a Wal-Mart special beach comer bike up to 30+ the coaster brake isn’t the best at stopping.
    And it gets worse the more weight you load it down with at speed.
    Just something to think about when selecting a kit.

    Reply
    • Joe Average September 8, 2015, 8:23 am

      Even the caliper brakes that clamp against the rim are questionable on budget bikes. I once bought a $175 WalMart mtn bike years ago. It had center pull brake calipers – a design which has been good to me on other bikes.

      I put an odometer on it at the same time. About 65 miles and months later it was toast. Did not use it off road any amount. Mostly bouncing it around the neighborhood and towing our baby trailer. I really liked the mtn bike granny gear for towing up hilly streets. Suspension creaked, wheels warped, indexed shifters needed constant fiddling, etc.

      The brakes were okay but not as effective as on other bikes I’ve owned or ridden. Once was towing our baby trailer (toddler inside) down a hilly road and the brakes just would stop us. I was able to slow us enough to make the turn at the bottom without disaster. Stretched the brake cables in the process.

      I once flipped the bike upside down to tighten the crank bearings and found a sticker on the bottom that said the bike was not intended for tricks or (I think I recall) off-road use. ?!?!?! Its a mtn bike…

      Moved up to a $300 Trek mtn bike and have ridden it much the same and it’s lasted maybe 15 years now. Everything is good and works as intended. I think of it not as much as a mtn bike but as a heavy duty cruiser. Its the bike I will eventually electrify when I’m ready to spend that much cash.

      Reply
  • Pete September 1, 2015, 5:35 pm

    Hi MMM, long time follower, first time commenter! My dad lives in Longmont (near the rec center) and owns a bike shop in Boulder (near Valmont and 28th). For years he sold only e-bikes but has recently shifted his focus to folding bikes. I think he logged something crazy like 30k miles on his e-bike in the last few years commuting to and from Boulder, so he’s not joking around! Anyway, if you find yourself in the area and are interested in learning more about e-bikes (or folding bikes) and the rapidly changing technology you should stop by and chat with him! He has been in the industry for years and has a lot of experience building them and working with the many different systems out there. He is also an engineer and loves talking to like-minded people about the bike industry and what the future holds. I always have a great time testing out all the new stuff when I make the trek from MN, and I think you would have a blast checking it out. His shop is called Freedom Folding Bikes, ask for Chuck! Thanks for taking the time to write all these great posts, I love reading them!

    Reply
  • Esther Paris September 1, 2015, 6:38 pm

    Your blog post made my day yesterday. I got an electric bike on June 6. I use NuRide.Com to keep track of my real money $avings, miles, reduced carbon output, gallons of gasoline not bought, and calories burned. I count ALL my NuRides towards my ROI on my e-bike. Since 6/6 I have NuRide-logged more than 500 miles not driven. (Some of these NuRides were other green modes of transport such as walking, public transport, and car-pooling). I’ve already saved more than $300. I bike commute to work every chance I get. (And the BEST part of the day is the bike ride home.)

    Now here’s something that didn’t get mentioned in your post. For me, the electric bike makes biking POSSIBLE. I’m old, not fit, and achy. Very achy. Without the electric bike I can do neither the distance nor the hills demanded by my commute. (7.3 miles each way, 300 foot climb of 8% grade). So the electric bike not only allows me to save money on gas, wear & tear, it also helps me to travel green, and allows me to ride PERIOD.

    I’m not affiliated with the company where I bought my very affordable bike, but I’m mentioning it here merely because I love my bike and would be thrilled if a comments reader considered shopping for an electric bike at this vendor. I got my bike from Aviva Bikes in Johnston, RI. One of their models is available on Amazon. All of their models are available on their web site (AvivaBikes.Com). If a reader happens to be in the RI, Massacbusetts or Connecticut area, call Mike and make an appointment for a test ride. It’s really a beautiful thing. I let every co-worker or friend who is curious try my bike. To a one they love it.

    Like you I try to minimize my electric use. (Besides, I have to ensure that I have enough power to get up that last, long, steep, brutal hill near my home. Otherwise I’ll be WALKING a 60-pound bike up that last, long, steep, brutal hill near my home.) I mostly ride with the power off. I use the power for hills, going through intersections on streets, and when I am particularly achy. I can easily get 28 miles from a few pennies’ worth of electricity. That’s two round trips to work. There’s NO WAY I could do two rounds trips to work for a dollar in a car.

    Today I went to work in one building and was surprised to learn I’d have to go to another building, miles away. No problem. I actually arrived on the heels of a co-worker with a car! Tomorrow, when today’s NuRide stats are published, I’m going to take particular delight in my mileage and savings. I’d never be able to walk all those miles! Carpooling was an option, but the weather was super-fine. I was grateful to bike commute this 3-part day’s ride!

    Thanks for your post.

    Esther in Rhode Island

    Reply
  • Matt September 1, 2015, 6:45 pm

    A recent e-bike convert here.

    I used to ride a 250cc scooter into work but got stressed about trying to find a park, damage to the scooter and – most importantly – the safety risks posed by drivers not being aware of you. Since getting the e-bike (a mid-drive Bosch setup which is pedal-assist – or known as a pedelec), I now ride in everyday rain, hail or shine, have guaranteed secure parking for the bike. I am selling the scooter now giving me an extra $1k to invest plus will be saving a further $1k per annum with the change (avoiding registration, insurance, servicing, depreciation and fuel costs). On top of this of course is the increased well-being and fitness that a pedelec (you need to pedal to get motor assist) delivers. I would encourage anyone in a similar situation to explore an e-bike as an alternative to a motorbike/scooter.

    Reply
  • Jessica S September 1, 2015, 7:45 pm

    Have you seen these? http://www.madsencycles.com/ I bike my kids around in a Madsen–seats up to four kids. The price tag may cause some Mustachians to balk (full price=$1875, but $275 off sales happen a few times a year). Some people add an electric assist kit to these and then–waaalaaah–you have a minivan bike that can go the distance. I bike both kids (7 and 3) to school and then head to work. You can also haul a serious amount of groceries, even with the kids strapped in.

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  • Cyclone September 1, 2015, 8:02 pm

    Finally convinced my wife to go with an e-bike. We bought her a 350W Bionx kit and had her women’s Trek retrofitted. She absolutely loves it! You couldn’t get her to give it up now, if you tried!

    Reply
  • Whybe September 1, 2015, 9:12 pm

    The one thing that is bothering me about getting a bike or an e-bike is i’d be pretty bummed out when (not if) it got stolen. Bike theft is very common in my country and e-bikes are an even hotter item than regular bikes, for obvious reasons. my mother had her e-bike stolen (was locked to the staircase railing in her apartment building, the guy just yanked out the metal bar from the railing and slipped the lock & chain up…) and hadn’t replaced hers yet. I personally currently do not own a car and would definitely love to keep it that way.

    *** complainypants section ***
    in addition, road conditions and motorist behavior do not factor in cyclists. there are very few bike paths in most cities. Cyclists themselves do not respect traffic laws, often pedaling through a red light or ride on the crosswalk when convenient. They also ride on the sidewalk (e bikes included) which had resulted in fatalities among pedestrians and cyclists. and the situation’s gotten so much worse, ebikes are now a status symbol among the young urbanites – you ain’t got it, you ain’t cool… so obviously anyone who is anyone has one, and they are reckless as PHUK using them. adults too.

    Reply
  • rafe husain September 2, 2015, 2:07 am

    I built the worlds most efficient transportation system. a 40lb ebike that goes 40 mph and has range of 40 miles.
    most ebikes are either ehogs (55-65 lbs) or edogs (20 mph). I wanted to optomize the design so i get a bike which is fast and has range but is pedalable. I call me bike 40c3 (40 cubed). I sold my car and use it for daily work commute.

    google 40c3 or try http://www.hybridandelectriccarnews.net/blog/2015/04/30/rafe-husain-40c3-q-ebike-transportation-innovator/ for more on the build.

    Reply
  • Chris D September 2, 2015, 7:40 am

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  • Bill Cummings September 2, 2015, 11:49 am

    Hello, my name is Bill Cummings and I am the Director of Customer Service at EVELO Electric Bicycles (www.evelo.com). First, thanks for mentioning us! This is a great article and does a fine job of addressing a topic near and dear to me: bikes as everyday transportation. One aspect of this conversation that I didn’t see above is the utility for folks whose body’s aren’ t quite up to the task of riding a traditional bike, but still want to be active. Many of our customers are baby-boomers with some limiting physical issue, often accompanied by a large hill– the two factors prevent them from riding– until they discover electric bikes.

    I had the pleasure of riding with Gary Fisher a few years ago in San Francisco– he mentioned another aspect of e-bikes, calling them “the great equalizer” for couples of un-matched ability. A pair of electric bikes can allow couples to go on a bike ride TOGETHER– each person gets the workout they want, and they can really share the experience.

    Thanks for your time and a great article! Write and Ride-On!

    Reply
  • C.R.E.A.M. September 2, 2015, 12:24 pm

    Nice Wheelie! & good safety advice about the flashing lights. As a Police officer the number one excuse I hear from car drivers after running over a cyclist is that they didn’t see them. No issues with the speed but please wear a cycle helmet. Not expensive to buy & could save your life.

    Reply
  • davo September 2, 2015, 12:42 pm

    I too have ventured into the e bike revolution with the same findings as the article. I now do more klms on bikes than in cars every year.

    One item the auther forgot was that riding a ebike is natrually more curtious than a normal bike as it is not such a physical issue to slow down for pedestrians.

    1000w 48volt papa motor kit in Australia operationg 8000klms per year for 5 years now!

    Reply
  • Spencer September 2, 2015, 1:11 pm

    Ebikes sound amazing! Does this trend spell doom for the lowly moped?

    Reply
  • Jo September 2, 2015, 3:30 pm

    Has anyone tried issuing an e-bike to a child? 10, 11 12 years old? I would prefer this to driving the kid half way across the city to attend a specialized school. (Plans to move fell through)

    Reply
  • Frugal Bazooka September 2, 2015, 4:57 pm

    I feel the need…for (electric) speed

    Reply
  • Stacey September 2, 2015, 6:11 pm

    Great info shared here both by MMM and the reader’s comments. The wife an I recently received two Sondors “fat tire” e-bikes for $499 each (plus shipping) and are enjoying the freedom (and fun) they provide as we rediscover the many bike paths, beaches and trails around our Orange County CA home. As we approached our 50’s our mountain bikes got less and less use so this has spurred us to get out and go further that ever before. The practical side is the cherry on top as the wife can now easily cycle to work without arriving tired and sweaty.

    Reply
  • FreddieP September 2, 2015, 8:33 pm

    MMM,

    As mentioned by Hope and Gina above, the Hill Topper is a very bare bones kit to turn any bike into an e-bike. You should add them to your list of options: http://www.electric-bike-kit.com/hill-topper.aspx. I’ve used mine on and off for years (my habits are quite similar to yours) on my preferred early 90s “Mountain” bikes. Find one of those on Craigslist for less than $200 and add the Hill Topper for $~600 and you have great e-bike for well under $1000! (Note: I have no affiliation with them other than we both reside in Seattle. You gotta love their “You are the alternative energy” tagline).

    Reply
  • Michael September 2, 2015, 10:35 pm

    What is the general consensus on some of the cheaper e-bikes that have come up on Indiegogo/Kickstarter? $600-$800 for an e-bike is more in the range I’d be willing to pay, but if there’s concern about avoid cheap bikes like the Prodeco at $1500…

    Reply
  • David C September 3, 2015, 12:29 pm

    An Ebike sounds like a gas. I just wish my suburban city was a lot more bike friendly. As a suburb of Tulsa, OK, it is growing at a prodigious rate and the infrastructure is not keeping up. The roads are crowded and too may idiots who drive distracted make cycling almost a death wish at times. I cannot count how many times my now ex-wife was nearly hit, and that was in a quiet neighborhood.

    Enough bitching. I need something to tinker on and this may be a good project to consider.

    Reply
  • Ingrid September 3, 2015, 1:44 pm

    Does anyone have experience/advice about the Diamonback Lindau bike? It’s in my price range and I’m ready to get one, just wanted to find out how it holds up and performs, since it’s one of the “cheaper” bikes.

    Reply
  • Elanor September 3, 2015, 9:16 pm

    Please include avivabikes.com in your list of available e-bikes. They have three models which include a nifty folding version for public transportation commuters, a three wheeled version and a standard bike. The bikes are made in Rhode Island. Go Rhody! And yes, Rhode Island is a state, it is not an island off the coast of NY (no kidding, when I went to school in Oregon I had three people ask me that).

    Reply
  • Lauren September 4, 2015, 7:14 am

    Another electric “bike” to add to the honorable mention list is this funny looking contraption that is manufactured right in my hometown of Durham, NC! It’s called the ELF made by Organic Transit and comes fully encased with a solar panel on the roof. The standard version goes for about $5500. I always get a little bit of a chuckle when I see those big colorful blobs making their way through traffic, but I do have to say they are pretty neat.

    http://www.organictransit.com/

    Reply
  • Chris September 4, 2015, 12:11 pm

    See also:

    FlyKly Smartwheel — like Copenhagen Wheel except slightly less powerful, less conspicuous, and actually available for purchase today.
    Organic Transit ELF – enclosed upright velomobile built in Raleigh, NC
    FAW+ velomobile w/electric assist – + other electric assist velomobiles

    Reply
  • Davi_C September 4, 2015, 5:01 pm

    I am one of those Seattleites on top of a big hill and have been considering an ebike for awhile. My biggest issue is that no one wants to give me a straight answer about how they fair in the rain! All the salesmen I’ve talk to will say something like, “Well, they’re weather resistant, not weather proof.” But what does that even mean? Can I ride these to work and back in the rain or not?? Thanks in advance if you have any input or advice!

    Reply
  • mefla September 5, 2015, 6:29 pm

    I love his blog posting: I’m in total, 100% agreement with what he writes and I use my ebike the same way he describes using his.

    The “bike” part of it is equally as important as the “e” part. I don’t want an electric scooter. If I wanted one, I’d make one. I want an electric BIKE. Plus, the ebike does NOT replace my non-electric bikes. I gladly use them when time and speed are not as important.

    Reply
  • Karl September 6, 2015, 3:38 am

    Great article and very true.

    Although I haven’t owned an eBike myself – I’ve never had the need for it and my touring/commuting bike gets me everywhere I want to go. My father bought one for himself a few years ago and it made a huge difference.

    He lives in a warm, humid environment where riding anything more than a mile is tough work for anyone not young and fit. With the ebike he was riding everywhere, using extra power assistance on hot days and dialing it back on cooler mornings.

    He also saved a lot of money, as he was using his large, old 4WD vehicle for all trips before that. All of a sudden a tank of fuel was lasting 4x longer! Saving thousands each year and paying off the cost of the ebike within months. a

    Definitely recommend it if you want to ride but are worried about the weather or hills etc.

    Reply
  • Braden, September 6, 2015, 7:38 am

    MMM and fellow Mustachians,

    I have always loved saving money, after someone introduced me to this blog it has made me start to think about future life decisions. Right now I am biking to work and renting an apartment. I would eventually like to buy a place close to work. The issue is that I live in an area where there are a lot of tech companies. So people only stay at a job for 2 to 4 years before looking for another job because you’ve capped out at your current place. So do you try and buy a house in the middle of a bunch of companies or buy a new house every 5 or so years to be close to work?

    Reply
  • Bob Briggs September 6, 2015, 7:14 pm

    Reply
  • AJ Arias September 6, 2015, 8:55 pm

    Just so you know, when I explained to my 8 year old that the government continually spends money it doesn’t have, he said, ” Why don’t they make Mr Money Mustache president? ” Thought you would like that. ;)

    Reply
  • Dillon September 7, 2015, 9:01 am

    I’ve finally made it! My MMM journey begin last May when I was looking up ways young people can cut costs. I stumbled upon some silly eHow article that actually linked me to your classic post called The True Cost of Commuting. Needless to say, my world was rocked. I looked to my wife and said, “Honey, we’re biking tomorrow.” After some initial resistance she agreed and our lives have been forever changed. In June I decided to read every post/comment from the beginning in order to transform my mind from a sucka consumer mentality to that of an empowered Mustachian. All I can say is, thank you.

    Reply
  • ubik September 7, 2015, 5:33 pm

    I’ve been a big fan of electric bikes since I read your first article.

    If you’re interested in real speed, there’s a small one man company near me that will sell you a bicycle with up to 10000 watts. Anything from a complete bike to DIY kit, they ship globally, and prices are way lower than any other maker I’ve seen.

    They have a youtube channel if you google ‘hyena electric bikes’. I have no association with the company (honest!), I just think it’s a cool product, and what I personally intend to buy when my lifestyle suits an e-bike.

    http://hyenaelectricbikes.com/

    Reply
  • Tyler September 8, 2015, 12:42 pm

    Also for those looking for other “Electronic Wheel” style eBike solutions, here’s a few other things to look for. About $1000 and competitors of the Omni Wheel by EVELO that is linked in the ‘Kit’ section of MMM article.

    ZEHUS – http://www.zehus.it/
    FlyKly – http://store.flykly.com/
    Electron Wheel – http://www.electronwheel.com/ (not quite for sale yet, but “soon”, but realistically probably another 12 months)

    Also for those that like eBikes, a local san diego older gentleman, Turbo Bob has done reviews and hands on with pretty much every manufacturer, drive-trail style, model, etc of ebikes and has reviewed / posted all about them on his blog, facebook and youtube:

    https://turbobobbicycleblog.wordpress.com/
    https://www.facebook.com/TurboBobBicycleBlog?fref=ts
    https://www.youtube.com/user/TurboBobsBicycleBlog

    Reply
  • Sumit September 9, 2015, 7:19 am

    I am from India. My brother bought an e bike here, out was great to ride and per mile costs were also very low, but as one pointed out above, he bought the e bike for approx 400 (converted from ₹ to ). His daily commuting distance was 8 km total. For a year everything went fine, and then one day it’s battery just died, he purchased a new one for approx 200. And later we did the math and found it much costly so he sold the e bike and now uses just bike. Recently through an advertisement i came to know that the same manufacturer now offers a scheme for battery, you start paying 80 per month instalment from the purchase date for 10 months and then nothing for 2 months and then you get a new battery, and the instalment starts again for the next battery the same way. It may sound very cheap for you, but in Indian ₹ terms, it is very costly. We are waiting for the battery cost to go down. Hope this Tesla company brings the cost of batteries down…

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  • Velograteful September 15, 2015, 10:07 am

    It’s good to have choices: More and more families with kids are trading in one or two cars or vans with e-cargobikes. I’ve made the switch to e-cargobikes back in 2004 when I wanted to bike ride more than 6 miles each way (with hills) to take my son to school along PCH between Encinitas and Carlsbad,CA. I used the least expensive but heaviest e-kit that had a 500 Watt brushless motor and 36 volts Sealed Lead Acid Battery with a total weight of 50 lbs. It enables us to cruise +20 mph with pedalling. As a result of that, I sold the Yamaha Scooter (even though it cost much less to operate than a small car for the work commute) and decided not to get a used car. When my son got a little older and heavier, we transferred the front wheel assist motor to our Bike Friday tandem so he can pedal as well.

    Whether you live in the flatlands or very hilly neighborhood such as San Francisco or San Diego. It makes hauling kids and groceries possible. One of the cargo-biking parents I met is Nicole and family who made the switch this year. She and her husband both ride e-cargobikes to commute and haul their two daughters and gear. From a Tweet by @Tinyhelmets: Nicole’s cargo bike journey, finding what works best for us! http://www.tinyhelmetsbigbikes.com/1/post/2015/09/guest-post-nicoles-cargo-bike-journey.html … via @weebly

    The Cargobike is very popular in Copenhagen and Amsterdam but it is getting more popular here in the US.
    Xtracycle in SF Bay area; Yuba Cargobikes in Petaluma; Clever Cycles, Metrofiets, and Splendid Cycles in Portland, Flying Pigeon in LA, Metro Cyclery in San Diego are a few but growing companies and stores that support this family and cargobiking trend in the US.

    One of my favorite blogs that I follow are:
    1) Hum Of The City
    2) Tiny Helmets
    3) Less CAR More GO

    Reply
  • Joe Average September 15, 2015, 2:15 pm

    I love to bike but live in a part of the country with massive hills (for someone pedaling). I’ve ridden my mtn bike to work and its just not realistic for me b/c I arrive dripping with sweat (three seasons) or frostbite (winter). ;)

    The other problem is that ~1 mph on hills with cars zooming by at 40 mph is intimidating.

    We bought a bike at an estate sale recently that we already adore. I love old things. Antique vehicles are high on my list. They are just fascinating to learn about and work on and “get right”. We paid $100 for our bike and it needs paint front to back but the mechanical needs are small – tires and cables.

    The bike is a 1973 Velosolex 3800. I am very impressed with it. 49cc and enough umph to haul my rear end around the neighborhood with no smoke and a minimum of noise. Like less than a weed wacker. Top speed is limited to 20 mph with the engine or you could coast at some higher speed if you dared too without the engine.

    I’m doing the fun stuff right now – learning all about it’s history to pass the time in the evenings. In short after WWII Europeans were poor and they needed wheels. Some chose bicycles like these, some could afford real scooters and fewer yet could afford microcars cars. They stuck with these different kinds of cheap wheels until the 60s when people’s standards of living improved and they could afford better things.

    This bike isn’t an ideal foul weather solution – although I think it would slog through the weather just fine. Ride this when the weather is right and drive the car when I need to. No public transport where I live. No insurance or license requirements for this bicycle here. Its a goofy looking thing to the average consumerist but maybe when it is cleaned up they’ll see it’s potential.

    I expect it will take $100 worth of parts to make it right and perhaps $10 worth of paint to pretty it up (enamel paint in a qt can is ~$10 and I can spray it with my paint gun).

    I see that they are still available new and certainly the used market has plenty of examples for sale. Something 8M of them were built and sold over the years.

    FWIW I’m still fascinated by electric bikes but the admission fee into a quality electric bike is pretty high for me. $1000 for a good battery and drive system. A friend pointed out the little Chinese two cycle bike engine kits. $175 or so. I guess there is that too. The only one I saw around here was pretty loud but then maybe he was running a hollow muffler. I want minimum noise. This old Velosolex delivers on that.

    Reply
  • Axel September 16, 2015, 1:05 pm

    What is the benefit of an e-bike kit ($700) vs these kits from amazon that are $250? http://www.ebay.com/itm/48V-1000W-Electric-Bicycle-Cycle-E-Bike-26-Conversion-Kit-Hub-Motor-Rear-Wheel-/221690961896

    Reply
  • Vasile September 16, 2015, 9:15 pm

    Cool blog topic. Does anyone know anything about Fast4ward (F4W) e-bikes? Are they any good? Seem to be an A2B alternate brand.

    Reply

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