Electric Bikes: Gateway Drug to Bike Commuting?

st1_b_m_e_c_ckeWhat would the world be like if almost anybody could ride a bike effortlessly, at any speed they choose, regardless of physical fitness, hills, headwinds, or drag from the bike trailer full of kids and groceries?  What if even those of us who are not athletes could get all the glorious benefits of cycling including invincible health, complete freedom from traffic jams, free Rockstar Parking everywhere, and Zero Dollar Gasoline, forever?

This is the promise of the Electric Bicycle, a trend that has become enormous in Asia and Europe and is finally making its way here to North America.

The basic idea is that you take a regular bike but swap out one of the wheels for a different one with an electric motor built into the hub. Add a battery, basic control electronics, and a motorcycle-style twist throttle, and you have created an astonishing Frankenbike that allows you to perform like Lance Armstrong at Maximum Sprint, without even breaking a sweat. Depending on the model and style, Ebikes can attain top speeds anywhere between 15 and 50 MPH, with ranges from 10-50 miles.

To put the value proposition into the simplest form possible, this is why I am excited about this invention:

Convenient range for various cyclists

Convenient range for various cyclists

This table is obviously just an approximation. Steep hills or humid summers may reduce a beginner cyclist’s range even further, and meanwhile some readers can crank out 15 miles before the first bead of sweat forms upon their brow. But the bottom line is that these things get you further and faster, with the option of little or no sweat.

At this point I need to admit that I’m personally not the ideal electric bike customer. I live in a town that is 5 x 5 miles and I rarely leave here except to go to the airport. Standard leg-powered bikes have been getting me around this place easily for 9 years and they allow me to carry everything from groceries and kids right up to major appliances. With my 40th birthday coming up next month, I don’t need to be getting any less exercise. And while we do also have a car and a minivan, both are still sipping on the tanks of gas I bought them in April 2014.

But hey, I like speed at least as much as the next guy, and I’ve been known to own a fast motorcycle or two in earlier years and also perilously approach highway speeds on a snowboard. On top of that, electric propulsion is absolutely the future of personal transport – chant out the usual oil exec slogans all you like, but electric cars are already here and they make their gas counterparts look like tragic clown dinosaurs by comparison. I’ve been researching electric vehicles for years now, and looking forward to the day when we can all make the switch.

I test drove a 2015 Nissan Leaf over the summer and was floored by its lightning acceleration, solid handling, silky silence even at 90 MPH, and general 5-door practicality. If we could take the benefits of that, and scale them down to bicycle size so we could still get some fresh air and exercise (and spend a lot less than the price of a new car), it would be even better.

So I built myself an electric bike recently, with the goal of evaluating long-term performance and reporting it back to you. It is a hell of a lot of fun, and I’ve been blasting around town (and country) on it for several days now. But before we get into the details of my setup, let’s take a look at the whole ebike scene to see where everything fits in.

In my mind, it breaks down to three categories, which will appeal to different people:

Off-the-Shelf Electric Bikes ($600 – $10,000)

The Stromer Sport (image credit nycewheels.com)

The Stromer Sport, with battery compartment shown open (image credit nycewheels.com)

These are the easiest (but generally most expensive) option. Last year, I toured the inventory at Small Planet E-vehicles here in my own town, and test rode some very fancy bikes. My favorite was the $2800 Stromer Sport, which senses your pedaling effort and adds the proportional boost of your choosing, which feels exactly like being a bionically enhanced superhero. However, the bionic boost gets you no faster than about 25MPH, as the pre-made bikes must comply with federal e-bike speed limits.

Pros: Ready to go immediately. Sit on it and start riding. Just plug it in every now and then to recharge. This is the option for people with more money than mechanical skill, and a desire to get out into the fresh air immediately.

Cons: More expensive, top speed (while still swift) will not appease speed demons like myself.

Examples: Stromer, Prodeco, and Pedego are some of the leaders in this field. Some car manufacturers are offering their own take on E-bikes including the SMART (owned by Mercedes), BMW, Audi (prototype only), and KIA.

 Complete Conversion Kits ($800-$2000)

Here's the kit I used, from ebikekit.com

Here’s the kit I used, from ebikekit.com

Several companies are now putting together kits that allow you to take almost any existing bike and convert it to electric drive. The motor, battery, controller, and any accessories are all designed to work together with matching plugs, voltages, etc.

This is the option I chose for myself, because I wanted to profile something within the technical skill of the average bike owner. If  you can change the back tire on a bike and install a bike speedometer, you can install this kit. On top of that, I was able to get advice from Ebikekit* founder Jason Kraft about exactly what setup would best fit my existing bike and align with the way I use it.

I ended up with a 500 watt direct drive motorized rear wheel, a 13 amp-hour lithium battery, plus everything required to use it and charge it at home. The total list price of my setup with shipping was about $1600, although with strategic use of discounts, this can be had for about $300 less. We’ll get into how well this system works at the end of the article.

Pros: Top e-bike quality at lower cost. Unrestricted speed. Flexibility in choosing your own bike and exactly how you want things installed. Easy to upgrade battery later.

Cons: A bit of work to install (mine took 1 hour). A slightly more homemade look to your bike.

Honorable Mention: Although it is not yet available for general delivery (release date seems to bump out another three months every time it gets close), the Copenhagen Wheel is a $700 (update: looks like they just raised it to $950) conversion that has everything – battery, motor, and control electronics – packed seamlessly inside the wheel itself. It senses and boosts your pedaling effort and links with your smartphone to present an incredibly fancy yet simple user interface. Because of the splendid ease of use, this will probably change the face of electric cycling forever. But it’s still not as fast as the full kit above.

Fully Customized Systems for Hackers:

reader kit

This is the full setup of a monsterbike built by an MMM reader who helped me when researching this article.

Just as it works with home renovation, auto maintenance and most other practical fields, if you bring more knowledge and effort to the table, you can build a system to your own specifications and potentially save quite a few dollars in the process.

For example, if you search Ebay for “electric bike kit“, you’ll find basic straight-from-China front wheel kits for about $260, then you’d add a 48V Lithium Ion battery for about $400 – $600 with shipping, depending on capacity. The downside is the risk of part failure (and I wouldn’t expect the greatest support if anything breaks), and the need to splice and solder a few wires here and there to get everything to work together.

Or instead of cheap, you could go for high-end. At the forum called Endless Sphere, enthusiasts spend hours doing detailed reviews and extensive discussion. One MMM reader sent me a full description of the $3400 ebike he built from the ground up that easily does 35MPH and regularly rocks a 42 mile roundtrip commute in a hilly area with high winds.

A Quick Primer on Terminology:

If you are going to look into one of these yourself, here are the basic things to know:

The Motor: 250 watts, 500 watts, or more?

Think of it this way: a fit cyclist can put out about 150 watts for an extended period of time. If you combine this with a fairly streamlined bike, you’ll end up zooming along at about 20MPH. During a quick sprint of acceleration, the same cyclist can put out over 745 watts (1 horsepower) for short periods of time. So even a 250 watt motor can beat you in a long race, and 500 watts is almost like sprinting at full speed. Sure enough, my 500 watt motor tops out at just over 30MPH if you are letting it do all the work, which is about the fastest I can pedal a conventional bike for short sprints without assistance. When I set my own legs and the motor to maximum output, we can achieve over 35MPH together.

Voltage: 36 or 48 volts? This doesn’t strictly matter, although you will generally find 48 volt batteries and motors in the higher-powered systems.

Lithium or Lead Acid Batteries? In my opinion, Lithium batteries are the only way to go. The older technology Lead-acid batteries are heavy and bulky, which are both properties you want to minimize in a bike. On a trike or golf cart, however, Lead batteries are fine.

What are Amp Hours and How Many Do I need? To understand battery capacity, multiply the “Amp hours” by the “Volts”.  My new system is 13Ah x 48 volts, which gives us 624 watt hours (also known as 0.624 Kilowatt Hours, to put things in the context of my old Electricity article.) To put this simply, the battery holds energy equal to about four hours of intense cycling. The neat part is that charging it only requires about seven cents of electricity, which is way less than the cost of the enormous meal I devour after returning from a 4 hour ride!

So what is the range of these things?

Just as with a car, that depends on how fast you drive it. On a recent outing to the far side of Boulder (a 30 mile roundtrip), I rode my own bike at a swift 28-30MPH speed the entire time, pedaling along at my own normal energy level. This used up about 75% of my battery pack, which means the total range with this fairly intense use is about 40 miles. Just like an electric or hybrid car, you get better mileage in the city than on the highway, and my trip was mostly highway.

So tell me about the Mr. Money Mustache E-bike!

This post has grown quite long, so we’ll save the detailed analysis and testing for my second article in this series, which will come after I get some more miles on the clock . I’ve also recruited a friend to build one of those Customized Hacker Systems in order to compare his results with my own with the premade kit.

Here’s what my bike looks like so far. It is a fairly incognito setup, and the battery bag is simply held on with bungee cords at the moment. But so far, so good. The added speed of this thing has expanded my options for speedy errands around town, and it just might prove to be a revolution even for me. Tune in next time to learn more.


Here’s my regular city bike, now enhanced with Electricity. 100 miles into the test, it is already lots of fun, but more development is still in the works.


*Coupon code for EbikeKit – I have no affiliation with the company and don’t get commissions, but Jason did set up a coupon code for Mustachians – use “MMM” in the box if you are placing an order with them. The code can even be combined with any of their regular 15% off sales events which occur several times each year.

  • josh September 30, 2014, 6:18 pm

    I’m looking forward to article 2, I hope with care taken to analyze how it affects your effort and how it performs when hauling. I’ve done a lot of research on e-bikes with the hope that a conversion of my surly LHT would turn me from an 18mph stud into a 36mph road monster. I’ve never executed the plans because of the fear that instead of a road monster I become a lazy git.

    • Money Saving October 3, 2014, 12:59 pm

      I wonder if you could create a “battery backpack” and plug it up when you get on the bike. If they didn’t get too hot, you really could get that extra boost of power that you’ve been looking for :-)

      • Striider June 30, 2015, 12:42 am

        Yes, you CAN create a battery backpack but usually it’s to add capacity (range), not speed. The motors are made to operate within a certain voltage range, but that range does not include doubling your voltage for a “turbo” effect. At high discharge rates, these lithium batteries get warm, but not what I would call hot. The main issue is that 10-15 lbs on your back on a bike starts to suck a bit after awhile, and if you are carrying that capacity (battery on bike PLUS backpack battery), chances are you are going to be riding pretty far. I commute 14 miles each way to the Denver tech center each day at almost full speed (15-32mph) with some moderate hills on a 48v 1000 watt conversion kit with a 20AH Lithium, and I still have 30% or so left upon arrival. Also worth mentioning is that battery placement in the triangle is the right place for that weight, or it throws off the balance of the bike. Get a triangle bag that fits your battery.

  • Trevis Kelley September 30, 2014, 6:32 pm

    I just bought an ebike from Amazon just about a week ago. I haven’t received it yet (should be here Friday), but I have read many great things. Mine was $550 (including shipping) and had some great reviews, just the usual complaints. I cannot wait to get it and start riding instead of walking! It will definitely prevent those times when I want to be lazy and take the car! Anyone who wants to know more, just look for Watseka bikes. It is a lead-acid battery, but for the price, it can’t be beat (at least that’s my opinion). Thank you, MMM, for another great article. I always look forward to your posts.

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 30, 2014, 9:06 pm

      Keep us posted on how well it performs, Trevis! That’s a pretty rock bottom price for a powered bike, and it would appeal to some if it actually works well.

    • Mini Mustache October 2, 2014, 11:09 am

      What was the exact model? I can only find a $600 (+$50 for shipping) one on Amazon. Could you provide the link (or if that’s against the blog’s rules, at least the model to look up). I’m very interested in this kind of thing. Thanks!

    • Matt G October 3, 2014, 4:56 pm

      Trevis, You’ll love your electric bike but one thing you’ll give up when you go with a bike that cheap is the battery. The higher priced bikes have lithium batteries. Lithium batteries have 1000+ charge cycles so they will last years instead of 200-300 charge cycles on the lower end batteries. The cheaper bikes also have less range, lower speeds, and less power. The good thing is that after a year you can replace the battery, sell it, and upgrade to a better bike, with a better battery and motor.

      • Trevis Kelley October 7, 2014, 3:39 pm

        I received the bike and have tried it out for a couple of days. It needs a good charge when it gets here and the battery indicator is not the most accurate. I took it out for a spin without the motor, and it definitely requires some good leg power due to it’s heavier battery. Not a bad bike, though. Comes with a head and tailight for night riding, a horn, and a front basket. Good stuff. It is definitely not a high-end bike, but for someone just getting back into biking, it’s a good start. It has enough power to move this 280 lb guy around, so it should handle most people here. Only real complaint I have so far is the seat is hard as a rock. It hurts pretty good after even a minute of riding. Range is also somewhat shorter than what I would expect the higher-end ones to have, but is less than a third of the price.

        I am sure that you found the one. Maybe mine was on a sale, though it wasn’t listed that way. I don’t think Watseka makes another bike (yet). I guess I got lucky getting it when I did. $650 still isn’t bad in the world of ebikes.

        Yeah, I know I am. I am saving close to $2000/yr by switching my phones to Republic – guess where that first year’s savings are going! I am considering using the frame of this bike and getting a FlyKly, which would save me a bunch of money. It would also allow me to start customizing the seat and other things right away. I don’t know what makes a great frame, so I am still researching. I am definitely open to any and all advice out there!

        Just wanted to let everyone know that the bike does work and, while I wouldn’t call it amazing, it is a very solid ebike for such a low price. I recommend you at least keep it in mind when you are shopping.

        • mschaus October 23, 2014, 9:19 am

          Trevis, fear not regarding the hard seat! All new cyclists think that the saddles suck but it is just a matter getting used to riding a bike. They key is to start with short trips and do them regularly. A little bit of voluntary discomfort and badassity is involved, but will help prevent buying extra saddles you don’t really need. Sheldon Brown is a top resource on bicycle info and has a more elaborate article on this subject:

          That said, some saddles are truly shitty but this is very uncommon. Give it some time.

  • ocean September 30, 2014, 6:36 pm

    I clicked on the snowboard link, and almost and was about to call absolute BS on the speed…But I realized it was 93.9 km/h not mph, lol. 93 mph would be extraordinary. Still 93.9 km/h / 58.3 mph is real fast on a snowboard and beats my top speed ever, well done!
    Love the blog!

  • Nick September 30, 2014, 6:43 pm

    Another self-contained wheel solution I’ve been salivating over for awhile, and it’s actually shipping in October! I have no affiliation with this company, just found it to be a really great idea when I saw them on Kickstarter. http://www.flykly.com

  • LeisureFreak Tommy September 30, 2014, 6:51 pm

    Awesome post! I have looked into this option from time to time and even though where I live there are a lot of bicyclist, no one has ever done a conversion, know someone who has done it, or even looked into it. I look forward to post #2 on this and if you can, please offer any information regarding the front wheel vs. rear wheel E-Bike application options.
    Thanks again.

  • Steve September 30, 2014, 6:54 pm

    Love it – bike on steroids!!! But what kind of looks did you get riding on a highway at 28 mph? Here in the northeast, I likely would have been flipped the bird every second of the trip.

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 30, 2014, 9:06 pm

      I don’t ride in the highway traffic lane, silly – the bike lane or shoulder is where you go when you’re below traffic speed. The “highway” in this case is just the Diagonal / 119 road between Longmont and Boulder. Speed limit is 50-65, so it still functions as a highway for cars.

      • J October 1, 2014, 12:09 pm

        This is a great resource for how to ride safely with traffic:


      • Candice brasington April 11, 2015, 10:05 am

        I have read that it is not as safe riding on the shoulder as it is “claiming your rightful lane” the reason being drivers behind the car that is behind you cannot see you and you all of a sudden pop up out of nowhere when passed. As a driver, I have had to suddenly swerve to avoid hitting a cyclist that was on the shoulder that was just passed by a big truck and I almost hit oncoming traffic. It is much safer for both drivers and cyclists when cyclists claim their lane forcing drivers to properly and safely pass them. A cyclist is more visible in the middle of the lane as opposed to hugging the shoulder.

        • Foobard May 6, 2015, 12:45 pm

          Candice, In his area of Colorado, the shoulders of the highways are huge! They were fully intended to accomodate bike riders.

          On roads with tiny or non-existant shoulders, then you are correct, taking the lane seems to be safest.

  • ogie September 30, 2014, 7:03 pm

    I was actually searching for an electric bike since I bike more than half the time commuting to work (thanks MMM) I stumbled at ELEVO bike, searched craigslist if there is a used one and there was nothing. Then there is this post! thanks MMM!

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods September 30, 2014, 7:09 pm

    Interesting! I can’t say we’ve considered getting an Ebike, but it could be a good option at some point in the future. For now, Mr. Frugalwoods conducts his daily commute on a regular ol’ leg-powered bike and I scrabble along on my Girls’ Huffy bike (in magenta & teal no less). I really should get a proper adult bike, but, you go to town with the bike you have. Or at least I do for now.

  • Leo September 30, 2014, 7:09 pm

    Oh good, something I can contribute to.

    First of all, never buy a commercial e-bike. Aside from the expense, there are essentially no standards so every company has their own proprietary crappy components. Also the market hasn’t shaken out yet so half of the companies might not even exist anymore if something breaks two years down the line.

    My brother has been into electric bikes for years and has this one: http://clevercycles.com/blog/2012/10/30/xtracycle-reinvents-its-own-with-edgerunner-and-some-backstory/
    Rides everywhere with his two kids in the back and put 10,000km on it in the first year of ownership.

    My wife has a ~13km commute to work. When she went back to work after mat leave I converted her bike to electric to give her the push to switch from the bus to biking to work. She started with the electric but in the summer she removed the battery and just rides it as a normal bike to get the extra exercise. Great success at making the transition to biking.

    I ride a normal bike to work and take our daughter in the bike trailer, but to replace my motorcycle I built a powered BOB trailer for hauling gear. So huge reduction in costs by getting ride of the motorbike and it’s awesome fun to burn around with the trailer pushing you, you don’t have to modify your bike at all, and I can load on $100 of groceries and still power up the steepest hill at 25km/h. I found for errands that I used to drive to I now take the bike with power trailer and get there just as fast or faster, so my riding increased.
    It looks like this: http://imgur.com/fizj2Wm

    All parts from ebikes.ca They’re an amazing group of guys dedicated to producing open and replaceable parts and furthering quality e-bike parts.

    • tallgirl1204 October 1, 2014, 1:13 pm

      This– what you said about your wife needing a ‘boost’ to get started. Three years ago, when I started trying diligently to ride to work, it was really hard to get my butt in gear, up a couple of big hills, etc. Now I wouldn’t want an e-bike– the main reason I bicycle is to get in a little bit of cardio thumping before and after work– without the exercise benefit it’s not worth the anxiety of being in traffic to me.

    • Heath October 1, 2014, 1:47 pm

      That BOB trailer idea is fantastic. The Mustachian community is really bringing it today!

      I’m curious how you handle breaking with the powered BOB trailer pushing you. Is there something wired to your handlebars which lets you kill the motor?

      • Leo October 1, 2014, 8:28 pm

        I have a twist throttle on the handlebar so I have full control. When it’s set to cruise control technically I should have a brake cutoff switch to make the whole thing legal but it works without.

    • JC October 3, 2014, 9:48 am

      I have to disagree with the “never buy a commercial e-bike” sentiment. While there are certainly some dodgy e-bike manufacturers out there, there are also plenty of established players in the market. I own a Stromer ST1 Elite and the Stromer brand is a subsidiary of BMC…not exactly a lightweight in the bicycle field. I’m willing to bet they’ll be around in the years to come. While there are many proprietary components on the bike (namely the controller and battery tech), pretty much everything else is quality off the shelf, including the motor which is found on several other competing e-bike brands. So I think I’d rephrase it to “don’t buy a complete bike unless it’s from a reputable company” and I’m with you 100%.

      I certainly thought about the build it yourself route, but the reviews of the Stromer were just so good and the complete package is so well put together that I couldn’t argue, even with the high price. Since buying it my 1:50 minute round-trip commute by bus dropped to 50 minutes total and just in terms of time regained it’s already paid for itself twice over in a little more than a year of ownership!

      • effigy98 October 6, 2014, 4:39 pm

        I have the Stromer ST1 Platinum (no speed limit but pretty much tops at 30) that I commute 16 miles each way to work because housing prices near work are nearly double (and I can’t justify that). It is an amazing bike. It has good speed, I really like how the battery is hidden in the tube, it feels like a normal bike in every way except it’s heavier (about 60 pounds), but small price to pay for how fun it is and how fast I can get to work.

        I usually get home about the same time it took to drive (sometimes faster) without having to be frustrated I am wasting time on the parking lot er… freeway. You still get a good workout but it makes going up hills much faster and easier plus maintaining top speed on flat areas is a lot easier. It will still pay for itself over time vs car commuting and I bike a lot more now than before when I had a regular bike. It also increases your confidence because you feel like you can ride anywhere as long as the battery doesn’t die, but for the Stromer it has so many gears that if it did die, it’s not a huge deal, you can still make it home, but I have only had that happen once on a 50 mile leisure ride.

        Negotiate with the bike shop you can get significant discounts. Mine was about 3k for the top model which was well worth it to me as it made the 32 miles a day not so “scary” and is actually really fun.

        I do get a few “damn ebikes” in jest as I pass normal bikes up the big hills which is pretty fun and have noticed a large uptick in ebikes around here.

        Highly recommend it especially if you are not too excited to ditch the car yet and commute to work, this is a good middle ground.

    • BW April 14, 2015, 7:59 pm

      Wow can you please post some more info on that trailer? How do you convert one and where do you get the parts? How is it controlled? I am a pretty serious cyclist, but also don’t own a car. I think ebikes are interesting (and potentially revolutionary for cities) but don’t need one, but an ebike trailer – please tell me more!

  • Dan B. September 30, 2014, 7:10 pm


    I’ve considered doing more biking vs. driving my car for commuting but safety concerns are what has prevented me from doing so. With all the distracted drivers out there (texting, etc.), it seems very dangerous to be sharing the road on an unprotected bike. I also lost someone very close to me in a motorcycle accident, which I’m sure weighs heavily on my aversion to bicycles on the open roads. I live in Florida and always cringe when I see bicyclists on roads with heavy car traffic.

    I realize cars are also very dangerous and car accidents occur all the time but I would be interested to see a comparison of biking injuries / deaths vs. cars on a normalized basis for the number of users. In other words, per 1,000 car drivers how many are injured or killed per year? Likewise for every 1,000 bike riders how many are injured or killed per year?

    If we only consider cost savings and leave out the safety aspect we may be encouraging people to take on more risk in order to save money. This may not be the case but again looking at the hard data would help people decide if is right for them. If anyone has something they could share relating to data on this subject I would appreciate it.


    • Mr. Money Mustache September 30, 2014, 9:03 pm

      Don’t fall for the myth! Cycling is the safest form of transportation: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/06/13/bicycling-the-safest-form-of-transportation/

      Switching from driving to cycling is not about saving money. It’s about gaining a life.

      • virginiabob October 1, 2014, 3:07 am

        I think he was referring to electric bike safety. 3 % of all China’s vehicle deaths involve electric bikes. The higher speeds = more chance of death.

      • Hannah October 1, 2014, 6:28 am

        Do you have any safety concerns going 30MPH on a bike? I’ve flipped over my handlebars twice going maybe 15MPH, and both times took me out of the biking game for at least two weeks (plus required a new helmet).

        I think I will stay on a manual bike until I’m old and can’t hit 15MPH w/o an electric bike.

        • KruidigMeisje October 1, 2014, 9:07 am

          in NL you need to don a motor helmet for these ebikes (or buy an ebike restricted to 25 km/h=15 mph).

        • Jennifer October 1, 2014, 10:52 am

          I would be worried about this too. I had a bad accident on a scooter and broke several bones. I was an experienced driver, and it wasn’t my fault. It would be great to be able to have the boost on a bike as I now have a permanent ankle and shoulder injury. But my ride would take me down the same road I was hit on (with bike lane), so I am not sure the extra speed would be a great plan. Having health insurance and long and short term disability is important if you are the victim of this kind of car accident in my experience, as I did lose my job, and the medical bills were over $300,000. Luckily, those were in place and I am working to get my career back.

      • WageSlave October 1, 2014, 12:34 pm

        MMM, I keep hoping someday you’ll write a “Bike Safety Part 2” post. I know your original article had a lot of complainypants responses (even my own, I admit), but I think there were at least a few legitimate points that should be addressed.

        My own gut feel of the bike safety situation is that it will improve as more people are biking. I’m encouraged by things like these electric bikes, which just might help turn the tide in favor of a better biking experience.

        • George October 2, 2014, 9:21 pm

          The “Bike Safety” article is the by far the worst article ever written on this blog. If my memory serves me correctly, your own statistics show that travel by car is about 6 times safer than by bicycle on a straight mile-by-mile comparison.

          I don’t even like driving a car, in fact I hate driving in general and try bike as much as I can if I not traveling with my son. But the article is BS because of the way you contort and twist around the statistics to try to support your view. It is so fake.

          It is absurd to assume the average driving speed of a car is 75 mph when most of driving in America is for daily commuting and waiting at traffic lights and, thus, what commute are you thinking of exactly where average speed of the whole trip is 75 mph for an hour? In fact the only reason you choose that speed is because if you do the math and the car is assumed to be less than 70 mph, i.e. say a more reasonable 30 mph, then the car ends up being safer. In fact, the average driving experience or commute in America is more accurately represented in the first 20 seconds in this video:

          That’s my 3 cents about the bicycle safety article.

          • Patrick October 4, 2014, 2:15 pm

            When you build cities around the car, those cities are really good at smashing cars into eachother (and into other road users).

            That’s why the normalized death toll in cars in Orlando is like 10x higher than NYC.

            The death toll for bicycles is similar, it drops in walkable, bikeable cities. It’s just another argument in favor of choosing where you live carefully.

          • Dan October 6, 2014, 1:19 pm

            George, everyone where I work tells me cycling to work is dangerous, yet I do it daily, without incidence or near misses on my less thank bike friendly suburb. Also, growing up, riding on the shoulder in traffic was how I learned, at age 10, and rode my paper route at age 12, in the dark, at 4.30am in the morning. Try it, you’ll see it’s not nearly as dangerous as your inexperienced self thinks it is. Also, you sound mad, chill out. You’d be so much happier on a bike with all the exercise and fresh air you get.

      • Sachmo October 2, 2014, 12:36 am

        I read this original post, but I think cycling stats are *vastly* under-reported. I was hit by a car on two separate occasions in 2012 while on a bike.

        On one of those two, I was completely fine, got right back up – but the car sped off, and my front wheel was busted. Could have been much worse, I’m fairly certain driver was either drunk or texting or something.

        Second time, got slightly bumped at a stop sign again due to a careless driver looking at cellphone.

        Neither of my two incidents were reported to the police or would appear in the stats. There’s a huge biking community here down in South Florida, and every so often, I hear about a friend of a friend who had a terrible accident (i.e. life changing injury or death) from a bike. It’s enough that I think there must be a few dozen situations in South Florida alone per year. I really don’t buy the national stats, I think injuries on bicycles are much higher than reported.

        • Dan October 6, 2014, 1:22 pm

          I have been “rear ended” in my car twice, and never once reported either accident. What’s your point? Minor car accidents aren’t reported either, so by your logic, car accidents are grossly under reported, which I am sure they are. I have yet to be hit on my bicycle.

    • Ari September 30, 2014, 9:32 pm

      One thing to consider is that the more bikes on the road/cycleway the more drivers get used to it or know someone who rides. Behaviour is better from drivers in areas with lots of bikes – purely my opinion, but if you have lots of kids on foot and on bikes in a suburb, 99% of cars go slower. More bikes = less cars eventually too.
      As a (kind of) bike rider who has had an accident, I would hope that people with electric bikes capable of faster speeds are buying helmets to go with them.

      The whole concept is pretty awesome and new tech that makes it easier and cheaper is going to get more bikes out there. It’s a good thing for overall health, not just your wallets’.

      • Kristina October 1, 2014, 3:30 pm

        It has definitely been noted that as the # of cyclist goes up so does cyclist safety. There are also movements afoot to reduce the ‘normal’ speed limit on residential/urban roads from 50km/h to 30km/h (30mph to 20mph). Mostly to increase the percieved as well as actual safety of cyclists and get the women/children/older people feeling comfortable enough to bike again… and it really reduces the risk of death/injury if you are hit by a car going 30km/h instead of 5o…

        • me October 6, 2014, 11:15 am

          Or as the number of cyclists goes up on small roads without shoulders so does the frustration level of drivers. Especially if the fast bikers are passing the slow bikers. You will get more car/bike accidents. The only way to stop the problem is to speed up the bikes or make the cars go very slow. I don’t see them reducing the speeds in town from 35mph to 15mph (or slower).

          Has anyone tried to figure out how much car efficiency is reduced by needing to break a lot due to slow bikers?

          • Mr. Money Mustache October 7, 2014, 12:23 pm

            I think any loss of car efficiency would be offset by the decrease in the number of people choosing to drive within congested areas, as it becomes less convenient ;-)

    • Mark October 1, 2014, 5:47 am

      Im 6 weeks into owning my first e bike. Got a Gazelle with Bosch motor made in Netherlands. Its a quality build and will last well into my bike future. First time commuter as well. I love going to work on the bike it makes me feel like a kid going to school even though I’m 53. Im starting to feel the power in my legs but I think its just an illusion as the battery kicks in only when you peddle only. My main issue with the bike commute has always been the perceived danger of getting cleaned up by a car or truck however after 6 weeks I feel very safe I hope thats not an illusion as well.
      On a bike you get to hear the traffic around you and you are a bit higher than a car which gives you very good visibility and peripheral vision comes into play.
      The beloved wife got a Pedago for our weekend commutes and its getting plenty of road time.
      Im starting to look for a bit more speed but I think thats would spoil most of the reasons on started on the blke in the first place.

    • Scott October 2, 2014, 10:14 am

      I was concerned about this too… and then I actually became a bike rider. I was astonished by just how much cars would go out of their way to avoid me. There’s this very narrow, somewhat hilly, two lane road I have to ride on all the time, and I stay as far to the right as I can to give cars as much room as possible. And yet, cars will go COMPLETELY ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD to avoid me. If there’s oncoming traffic, they’ll slow to my speed instead of trying to squeeze by, until there’s enough space to give me a wide berth. And here I thought people would be doing their damnest to run me off the road… nope. I think one of the reasons for this is despite what the media says, most people actually pay attention when they’re driving, and even if they glance down at their phones occasionally, that still doesn’t equal instant death for anyone in the vicinity. It really doesn’t take much effort to drive competently. Remember, the media picks up on unusual circumstances and hypes them up to make them sound common and exceedingly dangerous– that’s their job. Accidents involving distracted texters running over hapless cyclists is rarer than you’ve been led to believe.

      All that said, I typically ride on the sidewalk when possible, even though this is statistically LESS SAFE than riding in the street. In fact, I have been hit while riding on the sidewalk once, but I have never had an accident in the street. But I choose to ride on the sidewalk for the same reason some people choose to pay off debt with the snowball method instead of the avalanche method– while yes, the avalanche method will save you the most money overall, the snowball method is psychologically better for some people, and that can actually mean more to those people than the *real* impact of saving more money. So it is with me and riding on the sidewalk– I know it’s less safe, but psychologically, it *feels* safer to me, and that’s the difference between having a relaxing 26 mile RT commute versus a harrowing one. I consciously trade safety for peace of mind.

  • kbindrim September 30, 2014, 7:10 pm

    I’ve been looking into electric bikes and thinking of building one from scratch. I live about ten miles from work all highway. I know it’s not ideal but I bought the house last year much cheaper than anything in town with bigger lot and garage. I’ve been more interested in building a custom reverse trike than the e bike. I might suck it up now and go for the e bike. Look forward to your follow up article!

    • L October 1, 2014, 4:33 pm

      I would love to see an electric trike or reverse trike! I’ve wanted a regular tricycle for a long time. It might look strange going down the road, but it would make getting groceries more manageable. And I think they look like a lot of fun to ride!

    • TomTrottier May 5, 2015, 1:25 am

      The province of Ontario did a study recently of cycling deaths. About 1/3 happened in rural areas., but there is far more cycling in urban areas. Highway accidents are fatally dangerous to cyclists.

      If the route is busy and narrow, get a motorcycle instead. Or map out a quieter route.

  • Peter September 30, 2014, 7:16 pm

    Very interesting. So I assume that you still peddle and the motor is just boosting your power to increase speed and reduce the effort required by the rider. But do these systems come with an option that you can take over and provide all the power via the pedals and recharge the batteries as you ride?

    • Leo September 30, 2014, 9:44 pm

      >> So I assume that you still peddle and the motor is just boosting your power to increase speed and reduce the effort required by the rider

      Yes, or you get a simple twist throttle like on a motorcycle.

      >> But do these systems come with an option that you can take over and provide all the power via the pedals and recharge the batteries as you ride?

      No that would defeat the purpose of an assist, if you had to work harder the rest of the time. However the more advanced controllers support regenerative braking, so it uses the motor to brake and recharges the battery while braking just like a Prius.

      • Garrett September 30, 2014, 11:54 pm

        To clarify, you can turn off the e-assist and pedal the bike by yourself but you cannot pedal the bike to charge the battery. At least, that’s how it was on the ebike that I tried out.

    • RubeRad October 1, 2014, 8:31 am

      Doing the reverse and charging the battery by your pedaling would be unnecessarily difficult, like riding while squeezing the brakes. (Which is why e-cars use “regenerative braking” — if you’re desiring to brake anyways, might as well capture the energy. Perhaps bikes could use this too, but probably wouldn’t gain enough charge to make it worth it)

      ebikes are heavy enough that they are (reportedly) difficult to ride when the battery runs out, especially uphill. So consider total final weight into any ebike solution, because you don’t want to get stranded somewhere with a spent battery.

      Although that’s probably complainypants thinking… sure bad things happen occasionally, the point is most of the time, you’ll have your battery well charged and experience a speed benefit!

      • M October 1, 2014, 9:26 am

        I’ve had an ebike for two years now and I’m a total convert! The original owner modified it so I can go top speed of 50 kph. I usually pedal somewhere around 24 kph. I get about 100 km per charge. I worried too about being stranded if I ran out the battery. I did, and pedaling a heavier beast (<5km) is really not that bad.
        I felt like I'd finally arrived when a racer pulled up to me and we had a nice conversation about ebikes.
        And yes, I pretend I'm Lance Armstrong but it's my bike that's juiced.

      • Leo October 1, 2014, 8:42 pm

        >> Perhaps bikes could use this too, but probably wouldn’t gain enough charge to make it worth it)

        They can you just need a controller that supports it. You gain about 15% range in the city, depending on riding style.

    • Innkeeper77 October 1, 2014, 11:37 am

      Only direct drive motors can do this, and only some controllers are set up to do it. It doesn’t help range much.. but it is nice to do on downhills. One system, the BionX, can be set up to be in constant regen mode, and different levels. If you are on a long downhill, or want some extra exercise, it can recharge! It would take MANY MANY miles to fully recharge a battery though, which is why many systems ignore this feature. My bike isn’t set up for it, because it is a mid drive, but is more efficient in general with careful usage, so it’s somewhat of a wash.

  • interestingreadinglist September 30, 2014, 7:17 pm

    The electric bike looks great and like a very excitkng prospect. I think I’m going to stick with my pedal power fir the minute though, for two reasons:

    Still being a way off financial independence it is the cheaper and more badass options, although if you could use the electric bike to replace further motorised commutes there could be an argument for this!

    The electric bike is far more fancy and thus a more exciting prospect for theives in big cities such as the one I live in.

    many thanks for the post they look very exciting and thus looking forward to possibly justifying owning one in the near future :)

    • Beric01 October 1, 2014, 11:38 am

      Agreed, these are my concerns as well.

      Currently, for distances long than 10-15 miles, I just use public transportation. As I don’t have a lot of these trips, It’s a lot cheaper for me than getting an electric bicycle. However, I’m still carfree!

  • Ken September 30, 2014, 7:20 pm

    Best youtube electric bike review site

    This company is one of the gold standards and long time proven players in Electric bikes

  • Andy C September 30, 2014, 7:29 pm

    Currently still in the planning stages of moving to within biking distance of work in the next year or so. I’ve followed ebikes (and electric cars) for years and its pretty cool that you’re also an electric geek. I just want to say that delaying gratification for this long for a self described car lover/speed freak in possession of a large stache is pretty impressive. In your shoes I probably would have done this (purely for research of course) a long time ago.

  • Eric Hansen September 30, 2014, 7:29 pm

    Personally, I’m waiting on this piece of engineering excellence: http://www.flykly.com/

    I think it will beat the ever-delayed Copenhagen Wheel to market.

    • Heath October 1, 2014, 1:40 pm

      That looks AWESOME! I’m not so sure I need it hooked up to my smartphone, though. What if I locked it, and then my cell phone ran out of juice. Granted, that almost never happens, so it would probably be cool. Also, I’m not sure how the regenerative breaking would work, if it doesn’t somehow hook up to your breaks to know when you want to slow down. I tried checking out their FAQ, but they just wanted me to email them questions.

      I’m looking forward to this being release and tested by a bunch of consumers before I consider it.

      • RandomDoctor November 28, 2014, 2:35 pm

        That’s a fair point. If I was designing such a system, I would want to add as USB outlet on the battery pack to charge a mobile phone (and maybe power a GPS).

  • Diana September 30, 2014, 7:32 pm

    I have been wondering for a long time if ebikes are considered mustachian! So glad the verdict is yes! Right now I have a 1.3 mile bike commute down a calm residential street, but I would consider switching to an electric bike if I took a commute much longer than 4 miles. Don’t judge me, the wind and these hills are no joke in San Francisco!! I get passed by electric bike commuters all the time cruising up crazy hills looking like they’re putting about as much effort as most people would riding barefoot on a beach cruiser with an ice cream cone in one hand. I am jealous. And sweaty.

  • Lance September 30, 2014, 8:07 pm

    I wonder if it will catch on here. A guy I went to college with dropped out and started up an electric bike company and rode it all over campus to try and get business, but it may have just been ahead of its time 14 years ago and in the wrong city. We all thought “why would you want a motor on your bike, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the bike?” He may have failed back then but all I know is that dude sits on the front row of NBA games now so he made it. People with great ideas and motivation always make it, just maybe not the first time.

  • mike September 30, 2014, 8:07 pm

    I hope the brakes are upgraded.

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 30, 2014, 9:40 pm

      My bike stops just fine with its original brakes, but I can tell I’m going to go through brake shoes a lot faster now.

      • Leo September 30, 2014, 9:52 pm

        I upgraded to discs at the same time, which is really nice. Next option: buy a controller that supports re-gen braking. You can get them hooked up to the brake levers so it’s almost seamless and you gain about 15% range around town. Also quite a bit of braking power with the new controllers (14A).

    • Matt G October 7, 2014, 2:55 pm

      One reason to buy an actual e-bike over a kit is the upgraded components. My electric bike has thicker spokes and front fork. My brakes are also heavy duty disc brakes. After riding 2k miles and two years commuting I’m very happy with this bike. The biggest downside to this bike is the weight. This bike is on the heavy side but there are trade offs with everything.

      I ordered my bike off Amazon.com. It’s the Predeco V3 ($1,499). From what I could tell, this is a great deal for the type of battery, motor, and upgraded components it comes with.

  • Cecile September 30, 2014, 8:16 pm

    I think that in terms of footprint on earth etc… the electric bike is a big YES if it is going to replace a car, and a big NO if it is going to replace a bike.
    But yes, better than a car, big time.

    • Andres September 30, 2014, 11:52 pm

      I have a hard time imagining it ever replacing a bike. People who already bike tend to be perfectly happy doing it. It’s in situations where a car might normally be used (longer distances, hauling heavy cargo/kids, etc) that people tend to look to ebikes.

      I can, however, see it replacing public transit. That extended range that used to be done with a 1.5hr long bus ride is now done with an ebike. The formly multi-modal trip (bike to the bus/train) now being done exclusively with an ebike.

      • CheapMom October 1, 2014, 8:06 am

        I’m having a hard time figuring out how we could use this too. We live in a suburb where everything is in biking distance. The city is far but we have a pretty good bus system to get to the core. You still get some exercise walking around, get to read and don’t have to worry about the bus getting stolen. The ebike would be more convenient because there would be no waiting around and it would take you door to door. But, I can’t see the payoff being there for us unless it gets the hubby onboard to go car free. I think he’d still be complainy about hockey gear…

      • KruidigMeisje October 1, 2014, 8:52 am

        Here in NL a lot of people switch to ebikes. Most of them were before using bikes. Some of these might have gone to car otherwise (because of age, a lot of ebike buyers are >50. Some buyers switch from car to ebike though.

      • CTY October 2, 2014, 12:25 am

        Andres I do not think the e bike would replace public transit–but rather have the opposite effect. As I read the article & comments I could not help but think that the e bike could be used in conjunction with public transit. The buses here in Calif. have bike racks on the front of them. So– one could peddle bike or e bike to that distant bus stop and take the bus the rest of the way. Or–one could pick up the bus just to avoid heavy traffic/dangerous highways segments of the trip. The e bike would also make commuting by train easier because one could ride the e bike to the station, skip paying for parking, take the bike on the train and use the bike to finish the commute.

    • Druid October 7, 2014, 9:41 am

      I am considering replacing my V8 car with something. I would love to bike to the ferry(about 6 miles from my house). I would go with a regular bike, but I am concerned about body odor at work. I think the electric bike might become an option for me. I can sell my $8000 dollar car and buy a $1500 bike. For me the carbon footprint difference would be huge.

      • Trifele October 7, 2014, 12:14 pm

        Go for it, Druid! My husband is also currently shopping e-bikes because of the sweat issue.

  • Michelle September 30, 2014, 8:31 pm

    Very interesting! We were looking at a magazine yesterday and they had a whole section dedicated to electric bikes. I’m not sure if we’d ever get one (we have a moped already), but it definitely seems like electric bikes would help increase bike commuting.

  • Eric September 30, 2014, 8:34 pm

    This is my favorite article in a while! I had no clue that ebikes even existed, and am excited about the possibilities given all the hills near where I live.

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 30, 2014, 9:39 pm

      Yeah! Then this article has just served its purpose. I am hoping this amazingly useful new invention is news to quite a few people.

      • Lucas October 6, 2016, 11:25 am

        Chiming in two years later. I had heard of e-bikes before, but had never really considered one. After reading both this article and your follow-up a year later, I installed a 500W conversion kit and traded my 30 mile round trip car commute for a 20 mile round trip e-bike commute 3-4 days/week. 5 months in and 1000+ e-bike miles later, I’m loving it! Thanks for writing about e-bikes (and bikes in general); it’s had a great impact on me.

        • Mr. Money Mustache October 7, 2016, 9:15 am

          AWESOME LUCAS!!! Thanks so much for sharing that story – I get great happiness imagining you enjoying that bike commute. Cheers!

  • writing2reality September 30, 2014, 8:35 pm

    I think one of the biggest advantages of these is the ability for those who live in area’s without a solid biking culture or roads that are safe/adequate for commuting can consistently maintain a speed that flows closer to that of traffic. I know where I live it is fairly hilly, with narrow roads and an unfriendly set of drivers, so avoiding slowing them up while going uphill would be a huge boost.

    Looking forward to reading more in part two!

  • Jen G September 30, 2014, 8:46 pm

    So tempting as I live in Seattle surrounded by hills and riding my bike is my primary transportation. I have to get over the feeling that I’m cheating…..

  • JoeSolar September 30, 2014, 9:04 pm

    How about electrifying the Xtracycle?

    I started with a Go-Hub 48V on a Sun beach cruiser, with rear rack paniers on the side, which does about 25mph. Battery on the top rack, and 2 grocery bags on the side. http://largoscooters.com/go-hubkits.html Didn’t pay attention to wheel nut tightness on the fork, and had to get fork replaced after spinning out the drop-outs. Now you can get torque arms. http://www.ebikes.ca/shop/ebike-parts/torque-arms.html Fun cruising bike, shy of a 35mph moped. Not recommended/sealed for rain, like the eZee kit is.

    I also have a manual Xtracycle with thin tires, disc brakes and more than 7 speeds, and carries a ton more(a figurative ton)… But I don’t go to work with it, like with the electric bike. I’d like to add the eZee kit or a StokeMonkey, but since I’m not giving up the car, can’t justify it…

  • insourcelife September 30, 2014, 9:05 pm

    I wonder if this is the answer to my 40 mile round-trip daily commute… looking forward to your real life experience with your new toy.

    • Leo September 30, 2014, 9:56 pm

      Can you charge at work? 40mile is a bit of a stretch. I get just shy of 30 miles out of a good quality lithium battery (10Ah 48V). Of course you can always get another battery, but that’s the most expensive component.

      However if you commute in rush hour traffic the bike might even be faster than the car.

      • Heath October 1, 2014, 10:31 am

        I think he meant 20 miles each way, which should potentially be doable with a similar setup to what MMM built (depending on terrain and rider experience, of course).

        EDIT: I just realized that I was assuming he could recharge at work, and you actually asked about it :-P

      • insourcelife October 1, 2014, 12:26 pm

        Yes it’s 20 miles to work and 20 miles back home. I could probably bring the bike inside and charge in my cube. I always wanted to try commuting on a regular bike, but 20 miles each way seems a bit of a stretch even though I’m in good shape. Lack of any bike infrastructure and no showers at work are the other two major issues. Ebike could help with not getting too sweaty though.

        • Tanner October 1, 2014, 1:42 pm

          I commute 20 miles each way to work – no showers. It is a stretch but totally doable. I just bring work clothes to change into, wash my hair in the bathroom sink, cool off for 5 min in the bathroom, put on some deodorant change and good to go. It’s harder when it’s 110 outside but now that highs are in the 90s (only in the 70s in the morning) I’m golden. A full shower when I get home.

          We do have decent bike infrastructure but I always recommend people ride through neighborhoods which should be doable as long as you are not going through an industrial complex.Probably 80% of my commute is through neighborhoods or smaller side streets

          • insourcelife October 2, 2014, 9:52 am

            Are you doing it on a regular bike or an ebike? How long does it take you on average to go 20 miles to work and what kind of a cyclist are you? For example, I can ride a couple of hours on my regular bike at a moderate pace without feeling sore but I never ride competitively like the spandex guys you see on the street. Just trying to ballpark the time it would take me to go 20 miles on my hybrid street bike without e-assist (i.e. all muscles, no motor). For example, Google Maps is telling me that my one way trip would be 19 miles and it would take 1 hour and 40 minutes by bike. If that’s true, there is no way I’m ditching my car where it takes me 30-40 minutes door to door. I guess I should just try it one day and see, huh?

            • Tanner October 2, 2014, 10:07 am

              Regular Bike – on Average it takes about an hour 20 minutes to an hour and 30 minutes. Some it has to do with waiting at stop lights and such. I recommend everyone try it at least once. 20 Miles commute definitely doesn’t happen daily overnight (depending on your fitness).

              I had to take a 3 week break because of hours at my job this summer and the fist time commuting again I was sore and tired (but in a rewarding way). But that goes away after a couple rides. Your body adjusts. I build up 2 days a week, then 3, etc you get home and you aren’t as tired.

              I always recommend ride it on the weekend when you aren’t dealing with rush hour traffic or time restraints to get a feel if it is doable or not.

              It definitely takes more time out of my day, but it is worth it for me for many of the reasons others have said.

        • Leo October 1, 2014, 8:47 pm

          Basically your range would depend hugely on how fast you want to go. I get about 30 miles max at about 20MPH. If I slowed down a bit I could go further. Definitely the sweat factor is a big bonus. If you can’t charge at work you could ride in taking it easy and using more power so as not to get sweaty, and then pedal harder on the way back when it doesn’t matter.

    • pce October 1, 2014, 8:57 am

      Started doing this a month ago w/ a 40 mile round trip commute. I would do it a couple of times a month on my road bike, but now ride every day with the electric bike. It’s pedal assist, so still a workout, but not so much that you can’t do it every day.

      • pce October 1, 2014, 9:00 am

        one more note on the battery range: It’s possible to squeak out a 40 mile round trip w/ mine, but more typical use is 60%+ of the battery for each 20 mile leg. Don’t get a second battery though, just get a second charger. I keep one at work, one at home and just charge on both ends.

  • Steve September 30, 2014, 9:24 pm

    I have a few issues with these. Probably biggest is the weight: for the direct drive I was looking at, the motor alone weighed 14 pounds. Add that to a 20 pound bike and that’s 34 pounds — you’ll likely be using the motor where you used to pedal just due to the weight! Next is the weight limit requiring direct drive. 200 pounds for ride + bike isn’t much to need to go to direct drive. Plus, a 7 gear limit pretty much limits you to bikes from a few years ago — 9 and 11 speeds seem to be the standard these days. Personally, I’d rather buy a used low end Vespa/Vespa-like vehicle — seem much more practical to me, and a bigger step from a regular bike.

    • Mr. Money Mustache September 30, 2014, 9:38 pm

      It is true, the bike is heavier now.. but I still find myself riding it without assist sometimes just for the challenge. The effort that used to get me to 20MPH is now good for perhaps 18. No big deal. My strategy has always been “put as much energy as I can handle into the pedals, whenever possible”. Add in electric boost, and you just cover more ground.

      You can use a 9-speed transmission too – it just might require a slight spreading of the front or rear fork area, which you can do easily with a small car jack.

      I thought about the scooter comparison too – used scooters are almost free. But the difference is CYCLING versus sitting passively on one’s ass for transport and losing all the benefit. This is a night and day difference and affects the course of your whole day.

    • Leo September 30, 2014, 10:00 pm

      >> Plus, a 7 gear limit pretty much limits you to bikes from a few years ago

      You can also put the motor in the front: http://www.ebikes.ca/shop/conversion-kits/direct-drive/crystalyte-front-hs-kit-basic-throttle.html
      That’s how I set up my wife’s bike. Works fine and much easier to install.

      >> Personally, I’d rather buy a used low end Vespa/Vespa-like vehicle — seem much more practical to me, and a bigger step from a regular bike.

      But no exercise, no ability to take bike paths, no ability to pass rush hour traffic on the shoulder (depending on your state laws), costs gas, costs insurance. It’s a bit faster, but quite a few downsides.

      • Shane October 3, 2014, 12:31 pm

        Are their any cons to buying the front wheel option compared to the rear as MMM has done?

        • Leo October 21, 2014, 9:49 pm

          Some people don’t like the weight of the motor up front as it makes hopping obstacles harder. Wiring is a bit longer to get from the batter which is usually at the back to the back. On the plus side the bike is more balanced and it has two wheel drive!

    • LennStar October 1, 2014, 2:00 am

      The weight certainly is a problem if you have to carry your bike up and down steps.

      While driving the difference is not so big, and with active motor you are better – if you start the motor gives you help, you are actually a lot faster accelerating (depending on setting). When driving at “normal” speed, the wind force is already starting to be the main factor. There is a reason fast drivers like to kiss the wheel ;) Its because the resistance is squared the speed – you double your speed, (additional) resistance 4-folds! So driving at speed 30 takes 5 times the power of speed 15 (+ tire resistance, which means probably #2 at speed 15 and #6 at speed 30).
      And if you have ever seen an electric bicycle going uphills with speed 20+ when you breathless go at under 10, the weight gets pretty ignorable ;)

    • Druid October 7, 2014, 9:59 am

      I am not sure if my masculinity will allow me on a Vespa, but it is an interesting option. It looks like used ones will be $1500 more than the electric bike option. A Vespa will be less likely to be stolen so it has that going in its favor.

    • Druid October 7, 2014, 10:28 am

      I would be concerned about the electric bike parts being stolen. This article got me excited about potentially buying an electric bike. I found that they have gps services(bike spike) for stolen bikes so this could potentially limit the theft concern, but I am wondering if a person could easily pop off the battery of an unsupervised electric bike?

  • Sergey September 30, 2014, 9:34 pm

    How much extra weight does the battery add?

    • Mr. Money Mustache October 1, 2014, 3:49 pm

      My 13Ah battery is about 8 pounds, and the wheel is maybe 10 pounds heavier than a normal wheel (will put more details and weights into next article).

      So including other parts, the bike went from 30 up to 50 lbs – not too big of a deal, since towing 100 pounds of groceries in a 20 lb trailer was already quite practical.

  • Ricky September 30, 2014, 10:05 pm

    I think you have your city/hwy MPG backwards. You get better MPG on the highway and worse in city stop-and-go situations.

    This whole post is very anti-mustachian in my opinion. Why spend the extra money on more parts to go wrong and electricity when one can easily power oneself? It’s definitely a giant leap from an SUV,and arguably not as big of a jump to a regular bike, but still.

    • Leo October 1, 2014, 8:36 am

      Depends what you are replacing. If you are taking the electric bike instead of a regular bike it’s a step backwards. If you are replacing car trips because now it’s feasible to take the bike because of range/gear hauling, then it’s a step forward.

    • LoneStarStateWorkerBee October 1, 2014, 9:23 am

      Ricky – what if one can’t easily power oneself? I live about 11 miles from work, in the house my fiancee bought before we met. Endurance-wise, I can make the 22 mile round trip commute on my bicycle just fine. Problem is, doing so with any regularity causes me significant pain in one knee. Electric bikes might be the thing to alleviate this problem, so I can alleviate the financial problem of driving my Honda to work!

      I really appreciated this article and will be looking into getting one of these soon.

      • Andreas October 4, 2014, 12:36 am

        Lool up cleats and high cadence. Pedalling with less force but faster and using pull force in addition to push force has helped a lot of people with knee problems.

    • Juan October 1, 2014, 9:26 am

      MPG is the other way around for electric vehicles. You get better mileage in the stop-and-go city than you do on the highway. Ask a Prius owner the next time you see one.

      I believe his point is to get people who would not normally ride, to hop on and leave the car behind. Yes, if you already cycle, this may seem like a step back, but not everyone is willing to ride 15-20 miles to work. A small investment in an E-bike would pay for itself in a very short time. I just hope he wears his helmet more now and I’ll be looking for him on the Diagonal ;-)

      • Scott October 2, 2014, 10:23 am

        I’m not a Prius owner, but my dad is, and I’ve driven his a number of times. I could get 50 MPG in the city just fine– but when I pushed it, I got 63.2 on a long road trip from southern Jersey to northern VA. Funny enough, the Prius actually gets its best mileage in heavy (but not stop-and go) traffic– the situation where most cars get their worst mileage. This is because you can use the electric motor and regen a lot of the time, and you’re rarely coming to a full stop, which requires a lot of energy to get back up to speed from.

    • Grant October 1, 2014, 9:38 pm

      The benefit I see is extending the use of a bicycle. I have a bakfiets, and am considering an electric assist conversion to extend my area of use – when loaded it really doesn’t like hills. Even with just 2 4yo kids in it, going over the train bridge to preschool is an effort. With electric assist, I could get almost everywhere I travel on a weekly basis.

  • Birddog September 30, 2014, 10:08 pm

    Interesting post! Thanks to MMM I have been bike commuting to work for a couple of months. It is a hilly 8.5 mile ride. The folks I work with think I have lost my mind ;-) It has been enjoyable overall with some comedy along the way (thunderstorms, rattlesnakes, attack dog, etc…). I like the idea of an electric assist primarily due to cutting down on travel time. It currently takes me 32-40 mins one way. I look forward to the next Ebike article! In the mean time, I will be researching to learn more. Thanks for getting the wheels turning with this post.

  • Ron from Coarsegold September 30, 2014, 10:20 pm

    My parents have two of the Prodeco electrics, one is more of mountain bike, the other more of a cruiser and they’re both awesome. 25 can feel show at times, and unassisted riding is more difficult than a standard bike but they jam up step hills with my 215 pound butt on then. They go a long ways on a charge and its amazing how effortless it is to cover a tremendous amount of road. The beauty is you are still working out a lot but because it’s not over strenuous to climb hills you’re happy to do it. Love them.

  • Lyckliga Fiskaren September 30, 2014, 11:00 pm

    I built my own electric bike some months ago and am extremely happy with the performance. I used the BBS01 (a mid-drive) which I ordered from greenbikekit.com. I’ve got lots of hills around where I live here in Sweden, and thats why I chose a mid-drive, since they are way more effective climbers. 350w is enough for me, although I did some custom programming back at home to give the drive a slightly better performance than stock settings. I even sold my car because of this thing since I only used the car for getting groceries earlier. Now I use a bike trailer. Tons of money saved, me like.

    Looking forward to next post!

  • Rob September 30, 2014, 11:51 pm

    I have a 350w (650w peak) electric mid-drive for my three speed gentleman’s bike with a 36v 10ah lithium battery from (Allcell, based in Chicago). My commute is 35 mi round trip over rolling hills and I do it in dress clothes, even in summer, with no sweat. It automatically senses when you pedal and simply makes you bionic. The system is stealth (aprox 28mph top speed with pedaling) and super efficient (though maybe not as much brute power as a hub motor)–40 mi range. Battery will last 30,000mi or more. It’s been a great set up for me. I purchased the kit from Lectric Cycles, based in Arizona. Support is good, LeGrand Crewse is the guy’s name. If I had a shorter commute I might not have considered it, but it sure makes the longer commute more enjoyable, esp in summer. It also gets me to work in less time than riding under human power alone. I can drive the route in 40min, and it takes about an hr to bike it. I would take the electric bike over a moped any day.

    A note: a lot of those kits on eBay are junk. Find a reputable company with good support. And get a well-made battery, as this is often the weak link. Sometimes you do get what you pay for.

  • Garrett October 1, 2014, 12:03 am

    I saw my dream bike today outside a deli.

    It was a bright orange Yuba long-tail cargo bike with the electric assist kit. On the back, they’d mounted the padded seat and extra handlebars for a passenger. They also had massive panniers on the rear rack.

    It looked so sweet I stopped my friends’ conversation to point it out to them.

    • Amber October 1, 2014, 5:46 am

      Garrett, we just got that same bike but blue off Craig’s list for $1300, including the seat pad, stoker bar, and one pannier bag. It is seriously awesome and has been life changing! I bought it partially as a proof of concept to try to convince my hubs that we would benefit from an electric assist bucket bike of some sort (bakfiets, madsen, kr8, bullitt, etc.) to replace one car and still haul kids and stuff regardless of weather, hills, and/or humidity. However, I love this bike so much I keep thinking of ways to try to weather proof it for the kids (I ride with two) and not bothering to get a bucket bike.

  • Eric October 1, 2014, 12:20 am

    For those interested in DIY conversions on the cheap, lead acid batteries can be trailer mounted to provide inexpensive capacity while eliminating the concern of added weight (it takes energy to move the batteries around, of course, but you can load up without affecting your bike’s balance).

    • Russ Graves October 1, 2014, 11:31 am

      Lead acid batteries are a false savings over a lithium pack. When used under normal commuting loads (which is to say, discharging the batteries greater than 50% somewhat regularly), pack life is normally measured in months. Also, due to the chemistry, you get out a lot less than you put in energy-wise. A lithium pack (I prefer LiFePO4 due to the 1000+ cycles to 80% capacity and lower tendency of catching on fire) is lighter, more powerful, more efficient, and will save you money in the long run, as well as making your bike more enjoyable to ride.

  • Sandy October 1, 2014, 1:06 am

    I have an e-bike. Of course I live in the Netherlands and the speed of those baby’s is definitely limited here. Once you hit 25 k/h (16 m/h) you’re working on just muscle power.

    My husband wanted e-bikes for both of us and I battled him for over a year, saying that my thighs didn’t need LESS exercise… He ‘won’ in the end and after about a week I wished I’d caved earlier. I used to always take the train to visit my family (25 k away). Now all of a sudden, I could go on bike. And what a lovely route! I enjoyed myself so much. Plus, on a 2-way trip I still got plenty exercise!

    And then we had a baby and there’s no transporting one on a bike before they can sit very sturdily in a bike seat. Well mine is 11 months now and she’s almost there. However, I got a bike trailer with a baby seat and was still able to go anywhere safely with the baby in tow since she was about 3 months. These carts can get heavy to pull, especially uphill. But with an e-bike… Whoohoo!!

    I make way more mileage than I ever could have imagined, I still work out (some) and the fresh air and excellent fall scenery keep me happy and healthy. I’ll never get rid of that e-bike ever again!!

    Paid 950 euro’s (about $ 1200) for a previous year’s model, by the way.

  • LennStar October 1, 2014, 2:10 am

    “faster than about 25MPH, as the pre-made bikes must comply with federal e-bike speed limits.”
    Like Sandy in the netherlands, in germany e-bikes (“Pedelecs”) have an upper limit of 25km/h for motor power, after that its your body alone. I always thought that should be upped a bit to 30 (consistent to many town speed limits anyway) for the commuter.

    The reason is the law: You can ride it as a normal bike. No license, no helmet obligation, bike lanes etc.

    If your bike is motor-powered above 25km/h or can go without you inputting muscle power (= self-driven), you need a license, put on a helmet and I think have to use the street.

    So before you buy one, look at your local laws.

    There are 2 things that prevented me from getting one: 1. the price 2) the simple reason I dont drive farther then 3 miles because of my knee. I would be able to go farther and faster here in town without hurts, but I can reach everything and even if it hurts the knee a bit sometimes, the price and the simple fact I have to carry the bike up and down steps every time… no. Perhaps if the price halfed.

  • Petra October 1, 2014, 4:32 am

    Also from the Netherlands… Here ebikes are coming into fashion particularly for people who are a bit older and have trouble using a regular bike. For them, the extra weight of the bike can be hard to handle at times. Also, for some of these people they can’t actually handle these kind of speeds anymore: their bike goes too fast for them to understand the traffic situation and react to it.

    So there have been accidents where people have hurt themselves or others because of the weight of the bike or because of the fact that they didn’t make the right judgement when “plowing into” an intersection at 16 miles per hour or so.

    Assuming most mustachians are younger and still have enough power in their arms to hold up a bike, and enough brain power to drive at 20 miles per hour or so, they should be fine.

  • Mrs. PoP October 1, 2014, 5:07 am

    I’ve seen a couple of e-bikes along my commute (9 miles each way in humid South Florida) and occasionally been jealous of how quickly they pass by me. When I told Mr PoP about them he tried to convince me to let him add a battery kit to my car, but I’ve been holding out in favor of using leg power for now. What can I say? I like the exercise!

  • EarlyRetirementGuy October 1, 2014, 5:13 am

    Why not just get yourself a (brand new, important) 125cc motorbike for half the costs listed here? Over 100 miles to the gallon and far quicker with greater range than a push cycle.

    I appreciate that normal bicycles have their place in the frugal lifestyle, but if you’re going to be spending the extras to ‘pimp’ it up like this, you may as well have just gone for the motorbike in the first place.

    • orbix42 October 1, 2014, 6:55 am

      There are a couple excellent reasons why not to get a motorbike in this scenario-

      1) Cost to operate – an eBike will run on pennies worth of electricity rather than dollars worth of gas. Even when you average out the cost of periodic battery replacement, the per-mile cost is far cheaper than the fossil fuel options.

      2) Noise! eBikes are *very* quiet, if not effectively silent. Not so much for the mopeds of the world…

      3) Emissions – while there’s plenty of pollution coming from our electrical power system as it stands, there are a lot of us going with wind, solar, and other ‘clean’ power options. As those options improve and become more plentiful, the overall emissions footprint of an eBike is only going to get smaller, whereas the 125cc moped you’re suggesting will still dump the same pile of crap into the atmosphere no matter what. Also, many smaller-displacement engines are exempt from the majority of the ‘clean air’ regulations, meaning they actually pollute more than a full-size SUV!

      • Scott October 2, 2014, 10:31 am

        To add on:

        4) I can take my bike (or ebike if I had one) on the dedicated walking/biking trails– can’t do that with a motorbike! I’d be stuck using real roads, in traffic.

    • slugline October 1, 2014, 8:41 am

      Motorbikes are stuck in street traffic with automobiles. Use of motorbikes on off-street cycling paths is frowned upon in my city and probably others, whereas riding an e-bike would not. So, I view it as a literal “your mileage may vary” situation.

      • MrFrugalChicago October 1, 2014, 1:34 pm

        Actually ebikes are illegal on many bike paths. As far as I can tell, they are illegal on the Chicago Lakeshore Trail. See one every once in a while, but it seems the laws require fully human powered machines.

    • Leo October 1, 2014, 8:42 am

      You can convert a regular bike to an ebike with a good quality kit for about $1400. Since when is a new motorbike $700?
      Nevermind gas, insurance, no exercise, stuck in traffic, etc.

      • EarlyRetirementGuy October 2, 2014, 4:27 am

        May be specific to the UK, but I bought a brand new 125cc for £700, delivered.

        Gas/Petrol – Yes, a cost.. but so will replacing the battery on the bike.
        Insurance – £60 a year. Similar to the costs of insuring this expensive piece of kit I expect.
        Exercise – go for a jog
        Traffic – Again, location specific. In the UK it is perfectly legal to filter. I think you guys call it Lane-splitting? No waiting in traffic queues.

        • Leo October 21, 2014, 9:56 pm

          So that is $1400 for the bike then. Gas is a large cost you will have. Battery will last some 40,000 km at least. You will be paying far more in maintenance on the scooter.
          Insurance again. No insurance on ebikes.

          As for exercise, very difficult to get enough if you don’t build it into normal activities. Sure I could go for a jog but that would be a waste of time if I can combine exercise with commuting

  • English Claire October 1, 2014, 5:47 am

    My dad (69, retired and a big fella >200lb/6’3″) had a lung removed three years ago and stopped his recreational cycling on weekends until he found out about e-bikes. He sold his manual bike and bought an electronic one for c£1,000 (c.$1.5k) and just uses it to get him up the hills he couldn’t face on his regular bike :)
    My commute in London is seven miles and quite flat, but I am a teeny bit tempted to have one to keep up with my superfit boyfriend on recreational rides! Looking forward to updates.

  • KR October 1, 2014, 5:54 am

    E-bikes actually terrify me. First I’ll say I’m an avid cyclist, raced for 15 years, spend most of my weekends and all of my vacations cycling, etc. But I live in NYC, where these are supposed to be illegal, and it’s easy to see why. A lot of amateur cyclists and delivery men ride them, and they zip along, going way too fast in the bike lanes, cruising through lights, and I’ve had some scary near-misses. The effect of getting hit by one, especially t-boned in an intersection, would be like getting hit by a motorcycle. And yes, I know I could get hit by a car, too, or another cyclist, but the speed of the electric bikes, and their incognito appearance, puts them somewhere in the middle. I’ve spent time in Thailand where I rode a scooter, and thought they were pretty cool and should be used more in the U.S., so if I were to get on board with e-bikes, I believe they should be catagorized the same way, as motorscooters, and kept out of bike lanes and off the shoulders of roads.

    We’ve got yahoos now on the pathway of the George Washington Bridge cruising along on their e-bikes. It’s a dangerous space, lots of pedestrians and cyclists all trying to navigate a narrow path, then someone comes zooming along on what is effectively a scooter. People who opt for these are often inexperienced cyclists and aren’t great bike handlers. Now they’re going at speeds over their ability.

    I can understand the attraction of using an e-bike instead of a car to run errands 20 miles away, I just don’t believe the safety issues of where they’re being used has been worked out yet, and I see them adding even more chaos to the places where I ride.

    • Rob October 1, 2014, 7:12 am

      I agree KR, in urban areas they can be dangerous. It’s unfortunate, too, because the more they attract attention to themselves with unsafe and irresponsible handling (blowing stop signs, lights, hitting people, etc), the more electric bikes come into the spotlight in a negative light. I am extra cautious to obey all laws and not draw attention to myself or my bike, though it is legal. I think federal law limits them to 20mph in the U.S., though ebikes in Europe have even wimpier limits (might be 25km/hr, not sure). 20mph is a decent speed, and I chose not to go for the 30+mph ebike kits mostly for the legal reasons (thought it would be hella fun). I find my ebike solves the sweat problem and the being-too-tired problem for my commute to work. In urban areas, unless you are using a cargo bike, I find them unnecessary and more of a hindrance.

      • KruidigMeisje October 1, 2014, 9:20 am

        in NL the limit IS 25 km/h. Which suits most ebikers fine. There are ebikes available which get you to 45 km/h, but they are considered similar to motorcycles for most purposses (traffic rules, helmets, insurance).

    • LennStar October 1, 2014, 10:15 am


      if these bikes would be treated teh same as automobiles – then they would just get more lanes to drive on savely.

      Just to put another point of perspective.

    • pce October 1, 2014, 10:38 am

      It has nothing to do with the bike, it has to do with riders. For all you are terrified of ebikes, triathlon bikes have now killed more pedestrians then ebikes. Should we ban triathlon bikes?

      Irresponsible people will be a danger to others regardless of the vehicle: bike, assisted bike, moped, scooter, motorcycle, car, van, pedicab, etc, etc.

  • Potimarron October 1, 2014, 5:59 am

    Thanks for the article- it’s something that I’ve wondered about (I’ve only ever cycled on the flat and to get to my house from just about anywhere, you end up going up a pretty steep hill). My query is in terms of bike security (for bikes in general, but particularly for a high-value item like this): what security system would you want on it? A lock, or something more?

    My town has a fairly high level of bike theft (most people I know who cycle regularly have had their bikes stolen at least once), so if I bought a bike I’d want to be sure that it would stay where I’d left it!

    • Benjamin Manns October 2, 2014, 7:05 am

      I’d also be interested in how you handle this. My wife would like to ride to school, but I’d be wary of leaving a ~$1000 bike with a ~$1500 motor attached to it outside for up to several hours.

  • louisa rogers October 1, 2014, 6:14 am

    My husband and I share an electric bike. We ordered the package from Clean Republic in Seattle for $800 and installed it on our existing hybrid bike, that we weren’t using that much now that we have folding bikes. One thing you didn’t mention is the sheer thrill of powering down the road. I feel like I’m on a flying carpet! I love it! I feel spoilt on it!

  • Patrick October 1, 2014, 6:32 am

    Now you’re speaking my language. I posted this a while back in your forum. My first electric is a converted mountain bike, though with more power than yours, the second is a custom build specially for handling large amounts of power and speed. My commute is 15 miles each way and I hate taking the car! The bike cost me $3500 to build, but costs just $0.20 to get me to the office and back. It’s halfway to having paid for itself, probably about 2 more years to go.

    A vid for those interested in seeing what 50mph+ is like on a bicycle: http://youtu.be/nu0IHH8EAvQ

  • Ryan October 1, 2014, 6:34 am

    So glad you’re doing this! I’ve been interested in electric bikes for years, but never bit the bullet and bought a conversion kit. They seem like such a perfect compliment to the MMM philosophy. It would allow all those people with longer commutes to get to work cheaply and dryly. Now if we only all had protected bike lanes everywhere, it would be a perfect world.

  • orbix42 October 1, 2014, 6:59 am

    Funny, I actually *just* bought a secondhand ebike off Craigslist a few weeks ago (a Giant hybrid with a professionally-installed BionX 350W conversion kit) for about $600. There are a lot of questionable electric bikes on CL, but, like anything else on CL, you can get a great deal if you poke around for it.

    I’m finding that the ebike is a GREAT way to lower the mental barrier to getting on a bike, even for more involved hauling or trips when it’s hot out. I can’t help but feel like it’s cheating a bit, but I’m looking at this as a way to help continue to minimize my car usage.

  • Will October 1, 2014, 7:34 am

    I biked to a Tesla Motors meetup a few months back. There was a guy there who had 2 electric bicycles to show off. He let me ride them both and they were a blast! Actually more fun than a Tesla, really.

    I rode one electric bike developed by the Russian spetsnaz in the 1990’s. It was too heavy for service though. I could hardly carry it more than 10 feet. But the 2014 bike I rode was way lighter and sleeker. It’s impressive to see how quickly this technology is advancing.

  • kyle October 1, 2014, 7:39 am

    Hey MMM, I imagine you are already aware of this, but you may want to consider putting in a fuel stabilizer into your car and minivan gas tank if the gas has been in there since April. Great article and yes, electric is the way of the future!

    • Brett October 1, 2014, 9:14 am

      Hey Kyle/MMM,
      I was actually wondering about this as a tank of gas is lasting me about 1-2 months.

      -Would you still recommend a fuel stabilizer? Which one?
      -Would you take any other maintenance steps in light of very infrequent use?

      I always feel like I’m shocking my Taurus’ system whenever I finally use it :)

  • FreeWheel October 1, 2014, 8:06 am

    Any would be speedsters looking for the fastest e-bikes would be wise to check their local laws. Unlike regular bicycles, here in Illinois e-bikes are limited to 20 mph… everywhere, always. Getting cited for speeding would certainly take all the fun out of it.

    I do see a place for electric assisted bikes, just not for me. Muscle over motor.


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