291 comments

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.

mmm_ebike

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.

  • SisterX October 2, 2014, 12:04 pm

    Two questions: one, how would the battery (either of them) do in the cold? Extreme cold? Because that is the death of many a car battery. However, bikes are easier to take into the office than a car, so it still might be doable in winter in places like mine, provided the bike can be indoors when not in use.
    Second: has anyone tried an e-bike with a kid in a trailer? (Sorry, I didn’t read through all the comments to see if that’s been answered yet.) I’d be worried about the bike becoming too fast, traffic, etc, in a city. But if others have pioneered the way, that might be something I’d look into more.

    Reply
  • Lou October 2, 2014, 4:59 pm

    I’ve had an e-bike for about 5 years, and it’s a wonder. It’s almost exactly the same as this one here: http://store.kalkhoffusa.com/Kalkhoff-Agattu-p/ka11agat.htm, but rebadged for the European market as I bought mine in Switzerland; mine is also the upgraded version with better lights and hydraulic disk brakes.

    I adore my e-bike. For three years in Switzerland, a land not renowned for its flat landscape or clement weather, I was able to live car-free and still get around with a couple of small kids and a week’s worth of family grocery shopping in a trailer. I could go for miles with my then 5 year old in the same trailer, tucked up under a blanket for warmth, with snacks to hand and an iPod playing stories to her as we travelled. Later, I modded it to add an extra bike seat clamped to the parcel rack, put a tandem stoker bar coming off under my seat, and added foot pegs – voila, like a kid-carrying cargo bike, but shorter!

    It wouldn’t have been realistic to do much of this stuff with a regular bike (I know – I tried for the first 9 months or so there), so it saved me from getting a car.

    I completely agree with the people who’ve said ‘it’s like being bionic!’. Mine is the style with the motor on the drive chain, so it calculates the force you’re putting through the pedals, and increases it based on a percentage you choose (80%, 100%, or 120% matching, depending on the terrain, how heavy the trailer is, or how lazy you’re feeling). But you still need to pedal – there’s no throttle – and it still feels like you’re riding a proper bike.

    The closest way to describe it to people who haven’t tried one is to think of walking across the inflated floor of a bounce house – you still need to use your legs, but wheeee!, you just go so much further with less effort than you’re used to!

    Based on my experience, my mum got one too about a year ago. She’s been a keen bike rider for years (for leisure and shopping), but was finding it tougher in her late 60s. Her e-bike has kept her in the saddle, so the health benefits are great.

    Reply
    • skiMore October 3, 2014, 11:16 am

      I was wondering what the life expectancy of the batteries are and what they cost. Everyone talks about how cheap the electricity is, but the batteries can only be charged a certain number of times and they aren’t cheap. How many miles do you think a set lasts before it needs to get replaced and what do they cost?

      Reply
  • Kyle October 2, 2014, 5:13 pm

    Very timely article! I just purchased a motor. I bought a mid drive system that allows me to use all of the bicycle gears with the motor. This gives a more efficient setup than the hub motors, with good hill climbing ability or top speed. Total cost with lithium battery was about $900. Motor is at home but I am waiting for the battery. If my estimates are close, I will be getting about 1,685mpge. Will find out soon!

    Reply
  • Derek October 2, 2014, 7:05 pm

    Heath- they are too much fun and easily stored.
    Advertised range is 19 miles on my model. I’ve never gone that far, generally have had enough adrenaline or gotten where I needed to go by that time :) 2 hrs recharge with fast charger
    They go 22 mph and thst is fast and fun, but where these things really shine is carving! They have a double truck so its just buttery. I surf the concrete wave 5.5 miles to work and back!

    It is a little rocket though, best to stay in slow mode till one gets a really good feel for it :)

    Reply
    • Heath October 3, 2014, 10:45 am

      That’s a pretty decent range for something so small. 2 hours is more than reasonable if I’m sitting at work all day. And, yes, I would take it RIDICULOUSLY slow at first, because I’m not even all that stable on a regular skateboard.

      But I still think I’d end up hurting myself :-)

      Reply
      • Derek October 3, 2014, 7:03 pm

        Longboards are much more stable than skateboards!
        A little practice and you’ll be fine :)
        I just purchased a second board – this one will have all terrain wheels. I’ll use it to go places my current board can’t but that might be a better beginner option, as it can roll over anytging on the road without any worry of sudden stops!

        Reply
  • Thefrugalnudists October 2, 2014, 7:17 pm

    I used to live in Italy and saw many e-bikes and even got to try one. I liked the ones there better than what I am reading in this article because they don’t even need to charge. When you are pedaling you are charging the battery. Then when you are tired and need a boost you switch it to electric. You don’t go much faster than whatever speed you can pedal.
    I almost bought one there, forget the name of the model now, for about 400 euro or about $600 at that time.

    Reply
  • AC October 2, 2014, 8:01 pm

    MMM-

    Nice review. Part 2 should be “How I wrote off the cost of an E-bike”. Step 1: review them on your site. Step 2: qualified business expense. Genius!

    It does beg the question though. How much consumption are you doing through your various businesses that isn’t accounted for in the “MMM family expenses exposed” posts. Blog travel, eating out, E-bikes, carpentry tools, etc.

    I’m not judging, just curious. I eat out almost every day, but I do not include the cost in my budget. Why? Because it’s a reimbursable business expense.

    Reply
    • insourcelife October 2, 2014, 8:28 pm

      I think it’s … Step 1: get it for free. Step 2: review it on your site ; )

      Reply
  • Lee October 2, 2014, 11:04 pm

    I got so excited after reading about this that I immediately sent a copy to my son in New York, also a cycling enthusiast, and evolving Mustachian! This is how he replied…
    Make sure to read through the comments. I hope I copied the link properly.

    “This is the situation in NY. I think there may be some issues defining the ‘e’ in ‘e-bikes’.”

    E-bikes likely to be banned from city streets

    May 2, By Christian Murray Those e-bikes and scooters that go screeching down the sidewalks and streets are most likely […]

    View on sunnysidepost.com

    Reply
  • Vicki October 3, 2014, 12:18 am

    I live and work in China where ebicycles/escooters/etrikes are very, very common. Hubby and I share an escooter and I have to say, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had commuting. It’s not quite as Mustachian as an ebicycle but it has helped me get over weather issues such as riding in the rain for example. I just put a raincoat on like the rest of the Chinese do and get on with it. My escooter has a top speed of 40km/h which is why even though China has dedicated lanes for non-car traffic I still choose to wear a helmet at all times. The only downside is the petty theft issue, which is rife here in China. Yesterday, while hubby and I were in the supermarket, somebody jimmied the lock on our escooter, ripped the batteries out and stole them. We were stranded on the other side of town and had to fork out 600RMB to replace them. Not cool!!

    Reply
  • FrugalFisherman10 October 3, 2014, 8:37 am

    I am really pumped about this article because of the simple chart shown near the top of the page! I have been wondering really what a “reasonable” commute is by bike, according to MMM expectations. I would like to start biking around my town(atlanta), but it does not seem very bike friendly to do 5-15 mile trips. I’ve often felt like if I could live within 3 miles to work, I’d be all over it. This chart somewhat confirms what I should expect to be a reasonable distance, and encourages me to maybe arrange for that in the future if possible (living closer to work etc.)

    Reply
  • EconoWiser October 3, 2014, 9:58 am

    In The Netherlands you can buy the eRockit, the ebike on steroids. It can go up to 90km/h. You need a motorbike license and helmet in order to drive it! It’ll set you back €13.000. It’ll then cost you 1 cent per kilometre to drive.

    http://www.rtvoost.nl/nieuws/default.aspx?nid=187372
    http://bijtellingsblog.nl/rijtest-erockit-de-snelle-elektrische-motor-fiets/

    Ok, right now it’s a cool toy for big boys and girls. But maybe in the future it could go big…

    Reply
  • Jeremy E. October 3, 2014, 11:47 am

    Some companies even make electric motorcycles. I almost bought a used zero motorcycle for $4000, but didn’t know enough about it to take the leap. The new ones can go in excess of 100mph and have a range of over 150 miles.
    Toyota is also in the process of making a hydrogen car or fuel cell vehicle, although more expensive to fuel it, I think there is greater potential for longer ranges, without having to constantly recharge. Since I usually only drive when I’m going out of town, electric cars may never be ideal for me because of the limitations of batteries, to expensive, heavy, need charged, hard to tax, etc. If the hydrogen infrastructure is ever built, assuming hydrogen costs won’t raise due to political BS, then it may become the future.
    All of the great and efficient vehicles that are coming out amaze me. Such great technological advances are so incredible. Including Tesla motors, elio motors, Toyota fcv cars, other electric vehicles, Mazda skyactiv technology, googles robot car, and many others. It is a great time for transportation technology and I can’t think about it without smiling.

    Reply
  • Katey did October 3, 2014, 2:41 pm

    Love love this post. I have been wanting an e bike for some time to commute to work instead of the bus. In my opinion, the city of Auckland New Zealand is not very bike friendly, and the roll out of bike lanes is not happening fast enough to make it safe for biking for me to justify purchasing this baby http://www.moustachebikes.com/uk/nuvinci.html. I thought mMr Money Moustache would love this range due to the name of the range! How hardcore is that. lol . Apparently the drivetrain is revolutionary and really improves the ride, which means no more awkward gear transitions. I have a hard enough time just pedalling.

    Reply
  • Raymond Ross October 3, 2014, 4:25 pm

    Forgive me if this was mentioned, even if through the comments: but if you use an electric bike conversion kit make sure you buy a set of torque arms (about $30)… Without these, you may very well snap the wheel mount slots on the back of your bike from the torque involved (especially if you want to use the electric break / regen options on modern speed controllers). On a rear motor powered bike it’s important, but not nearly as the front wheel driven kits: if you don’t use torque arms for those, you are INSANE… trust me. I installed a 1,000 watt motor on the back of a low powered electric scooter and snapped the rear forks within 3 days. I’m not kidding. GET TORQUE arms it’s worth the little extra to save your bike and possibly your life!

    Reply
  • Raymond Ross October 3, 2014, 4:33 pm

    I have a really nice setup and it was pretty cheap considering: I bought a Schwinn SpinFusion 700c road bicycle for about $225.00 from Walmart. It then bought and installed a 1,000 watt rear hub motorized direct drive wheel for $225, a Lyen modified controller for $130, and a 48-volt LifePo4 for $425… it’s an awesome bike: top speed is 40mph, but I use a three-speed sensor to select from 20mph, 30mph, and full open… I get 50+ miles on a single charge (I have yet to fully discharge the battery) and it only takes 2 hours max to recharge… I highly recommend this type of bike because I commute over 22 miles to and from work each day and I save a TON of time versus public transportation and it’s way cool! Only drag is I have to park it for the cold/icy months, but I can handle it… fun fun fun!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 3, 2014, 6:02 pm

      Nice system Raymond – do you mind sharing where you bought everything? – thanks.

      Reply
      • Raymond Ross October 3, 2014, 6:48 pm

        Sure, here’s where I got the items: Bicycle from Walmart, 700c SpinFusion for $225, speed controller from Edward Lyen (http://www.lyen.com) for $129– the 12FET 4110 controller, the rear wheel with 7-gear sprocket was $225 from ebay (seller name is ebikeling), the $425 48v 15ah LifePO4 battery from ebay (seller was imotorbattery) and the torque arms ($15) as well as a Cycle Analyst II ($125) from website ebikes.ca. Later I bought a Leschwable marathon tire ($40) and other accessories from Walmart… in all I spent about $1,200.00 and it hauls but. Where I live (Salt Lake City, UT) you can operate a motor assisted bike as long as it doesn’t go faster than 30mph and you have to have a drivers license, plus you have to use bike lanes. I commute 22 miles per day round trip and have so far put over 1,000 miles and haven’t had any hiccups (other than pinch flats which I solved with rim tape, slime, and a Leschwable marathon tire– I LOVE MY e-BIKE!

        Reply
  • Woody Peterson October 3, 2014, 6:05 pm

    I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned the Hill Topper! Seems like a very mustachian option, but maybe I just know it because the manufacturer, Clean Republic, operates a few blocks from my (Seattle) office.

    It’s the simplest thing that could possibly work, and it’s at least half the price of other options. Front wheel only, 250w, 6lbs (9lbs w/ their cheapest lipo battery) and just comes with an on/off button that velcros to the handlebar. $400 base price w/ a lead acid battery, although I think the lithium ion battery in the next-best package is worth the extra $100. So, it’s cheap, reliable (according to local electric bike shops when I was shopping around), and adds a simple turbo button to your current bike. I imagine it’s 90% as fun as a more complex system, although I’ve only ever used the hill topper, and only for Seattle hills.

    Reply
  • aitorbk October 4, 2014, 1:19 pm

    I really like your setup.. complete with anti-torque braces (VERY IMPORTANT in old bikes than don’t have modern pass-trough fittings)

    On january I will be 100% in my new city, and will have a surplus bike.. and I plan on converting one of my bikes.. just for taking longer rides.

    As for it being and introduction to biking.. YES. It has the potential to remove many cars from the roads.
    My parents have two assited pedalling bikes (as they are known). My mother uses the electric power to get back from the store.. she uses it almost as a cargo bike (she loads 30 pounds on her dutch bike!!)

    Reply
  • dave October 4, 2014, 8:18 pm

    I hate how a lot of cities including mine are built around using the car. For example the best and cheapest shopping like walmart and most stores are now way out on the edge of town. To get to those in the summer is tough as you have have to bike on a section of highway and in winter it would be deadly in this area. In the old days pre wal mart stores were more accessible in the city core.

    Reply
  • JaneMD October 5, 2014, 12:09 pm

    No ebike in my future. I biked the one mile to work for a year and then three + things happened. I work second shift and was arriving home at one am totally awake until 3am. My commuting bike was stolen off my porch. I got pregnant and cannot carry my nice bike down two flights of stairs. I have stopped biking completely now and will be selling my bike trailer. No way to carry nice bike downstairs, attach it, and fit three children under 4 in it. An exile will only get stolen.

    Reply
    • Adrian M October 6, 2014, 9:11 am

      When your lease ends, you could always move to the bottom floor to make things easier. Don’t give up biking just because you had a bad experience! Congratulations on the pregnancy!

      Reply
      • JaneMD October 6, 2014, 12:59 pm

        Not going to happen. The neighborhood is prone to flooding. Besides,it still does address the ‘hey I get home from work around 1am, since I just had a work out, I am awake for the next two hours. Alas my kids will be getting up at 7am so 4 hours of sleep is not going to work.’ My three year old heroically volunteered to hold the newborn in the bike trailer which I am not going to take him up on too . . . .

        Reply
  • Robert October 5, 2014, 8:17 pm

    After reading your article, I surprised my wife and took her to a ebike shop in LA on Saturday and got her one for her birthday. Izip E3 Path+. We live 9 miles from her work. The morning commute is slightly down hill with the wind to her back. In our California desert it might be 70 degrees in the AM and over 100 in the afternoon. She has commuted in the past but facing an uphill ride into the wind on a hot day didn’t work for her. Tomorrow is day one of bike commuting! Note to my bike riding friends. You can stop now with your snickering. I don’t see you riding to work. On weekends we’ll still be riding out tandem road/touring bike.

    Reply
  • Damien October 6, 2014, 11:03 am

    Back in 2006 I opted to convert my bicyle to a Motorized bike, powered by a 35cc 4 Stroke engine (after beefing up the wheels, it cost me about $1100 USD). Kit was from here ->

    http://bikeengines.com/

    I had a 20 mile commute round trip in total in Albuquerque, NM. Loved getting around on this, it made you feel young and alive. Best money spent. I chose this over an Electric Bike because I could easily fill it at a gas station and carry extra fuel. I did long trips on it also. I didn’t want to deal with flat batteries, charge time etc.. and was very pleased with the purchase.

    Do you save “money”? The cost per mile when you factored in everything was about ~ 34 cents (5,000 miles on it, engine still capable of more (which will drop the cost down), $1100 to deck out an existing bike I owned ($500 bike), $75 on fuel – 200mpg at $ per gallon , $125 on belts (5 at $25 per 1,000 wear) plus other bits and pieces). You still owned your car, so you had the fixed costs associated with that (you also get insurance with a car). In terms of dollar savings it’s not as good as one would think. For me, the true cost was the the sheer enjoyment and feeling of freedom zapping around town in it. Traffic doesn’t exist any more, neither did parking issues, it was beautiful. But it was risky that’s for sure, nothing major happened to me but I’m sure if I compared my mileage via car in my life and did the same miles on my bike, the car would be safer, though I have no hard data on that.

    When someone said, you must save a lot of money, I would say, not really, but I’m having so much fun getting around on it ! I looked forward to my ride home each day ! Extremely reliable system. I could do 60 miles on my setup before needing to “gas” up again.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 7, 2014, 12:24 pm

      AAAAUGH!!!! Gas-modified bikes are the devil!!

      The pollution and unpleasant sound you inflict upon others is far greater than any personal benefit you could get for it. Go electric, or go leg, or stay home.. please.

      Reply
  • Dan October 6, 2014, 1:31 pm

    Thanks for giving me just the kick I needed in the behind to start bicycle commuting, something I have been thinking about for years but chose not to even own a bicycle. I know bike to work daily, 3.5 miles each way, rain or shine. It almost never snows where I live, so I can bike commute year round, and I (very rarely) even see other people on bikes, though not usually during rush hour, lol, like I am. I have lost 10 pounds, and that is a lot considering this has only been full time for 3 months. I am addicted and need to be checked into rehab, I just can’t get enough, I’m 38. No Ebikes for me, I am still overweight and losing pounds. Until peak fitness, it’s the feet to the pedal for me. Lots of hills where I live, too.

    Reply
  • E. D. Libey October 6, 2014, 5:39 pm

    Mr. M.M.
    Thank you for the interesting article on e- bikes. At 57 I am preparing to retire and enjoy life in a MMM fashion. I love casual bike riding but, am a bit out of shape so, haven’t biked much in the last few years. I also am pretty rotund ( ok, ok, I’m fat).

    Early this spring I purchased one of the brands of e- bike you mentioned. With my 280 lbs bulk and the hilly terrain of my small home town of Hannibal, MO in mind, I opted for a bike with a 750 watt motor and 48 volt Li battery. This will push even my large backside up a pretty steep hill (with just a bit of help from me). On the flats and down hill I let the motor rest and get a bit of exercise.

    Since I live 1 -2 miles from shopping and the YMCA I now ride my bike instead of driving. The bike was a bit expensive so, if it sits in my garage gathering dust it is just another indulgent toy ( I am not as frugalness as I should be but, am getting better). If on the other hand I ride it often then I think it will be a good investment for my health and enjoyment.

    So far, my main problem is my 20 year old daughter has discovered that the bike is a cheap and enjoyable way for her to get to work and school. So sometimes I have to wait until my bike wanders home before I can use it. Still the extra use does make me feel that buying the e-bike was a good idea. Like many purchases, I suppose that a few years of experience will be needed to truly decide if this was a worthy mustachian purchase.

    Reply
  • Casey October 7, 2014, 11:36 am

    Any thoughts on cold weather biking? I bike commute until about the beginning of December and then wimp out until deep in the spring. I could equip myself better for snow and ice biking, but as you might imagine, I’m averse to spending the dough. Anybody feel like they have mastered winter bike commuting and/or have any tips on equipment or on not being a wimp about Midwestern winters?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 7, 2014, 12:14 pm

      My advice is to keep on’ riding. Cost objections are silly, because the benefit is so much greater than the (minimal) expense.

      Here’s a post on exactly that: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/11/03/how-to-ride-your-bike-all-winter-and-love-it/

      Reply
    • Josh October 7, 2014, 12:53 pm

      my standard winter bike gear based on forecast:

      <50F:
      7$ XXL Menards mittens. I go through a pair every 2 years. (actually I have a rotation based on insulation compaction)
      20$ merino wool cannondale balaclava that I fold to wear as a hat under my helmet (after 7 years this is getting threadbare, but my most versatile and used item)
      $100 adidas bike jacket. virtually no insulation and just a very thin synthetic back helps avoid sweat (also beginning to show its age, but my the only outer “cold” layer I wear)
      $10 synthetic t shirt (I have several of these things, 7?8?10 years old. invincible. like brand new)
      + crap jeans

      <30F:
      $120 my normal sorrel winter boots
      $10 wool socks
      $20 long sleeve synthetic shirt
      swap hat to balaclava mode

      <20F:
      $50 fleece long underwear (i lied these may be my favorite, 7+ years old, REI brand. surprisingly hard to overheat in)
      $40 swap for gortex balaclava (I keep adding notes here, this is my most disappointing item. very effective, but expensive and already showing excessive wear at <3 year despite its infrequent use)

      <0F:
      $5 cheap cotton gloves as liner to mittens (Some times <$2)
      $10 second pair of wool socks
      gortex and wool balaclava

      A couple things. I don't use goggles or much bike-specific gear. I find it generally overpriced. Most of my stuff I use for other winter activities too. I don't use studded tires and I fall once or twice a year, nearly always in my driveway. I refined this setup over about 7 years /~20000 miles of winter commuting. I end up overheating in all weather so in most of these setups I am very cold for the first 90 seconds. Below 0F it doesn't really matter. Last winter in MN I had several commutes below -20F and honestly I could not tell the difference. Also I don't pay attention to windchill; its always high when on a bike. I biked 2 miles in a swimsuit once at about 10F after smack talking about how its impossible to get cold while commuting. I wouldn't do that again.

      One very serious caveat, especially below 0, is the danger posed if I stopped exerting myself. My back is virtually exposed to the cold. I would lose core warmth very quickly. I do commute exclusively in a populated area of Mpls so I think there is not much danger of getting stranded (for me), but YMMV.

      Reply
  • Jim Brookhyser October 9, 2014, 11:45 am

    When I first read this article over the weekend I was a little startled and concerned about how it seemed to encourage the use of electric assist to travel at high speeds like 30 mph. a speed limit of 25 mph was put in the “cons” category of buying an off-the-shelf ebike. My thinking was that going fast on a bike largely negates the arguments set forth in the post “Bicycling: The SAFEST Form of Transportation” which I love dearly… in fact I think it’s the best article I’ve ever seen on the subject.

    Despite my initial feelings on the matter I was just going to shrug and not comment, but on Tuesday, while riding my bike to work, I was hit by a car. The car did little to me besides knocking me off my bike, but that was enough. I was going probably 15 to 20 mph and making contact with the ground at that speed was enough to limit the motion of both my arms to the point where it’s difficult and painful to get a shirt on and off. Additionally I’ve been dealing with a load of back muscle pain and ugly road rash on my face and shoulder. The important thing to understand is that it was my own speed, not the speed of the car that hit me that determined the extent of my injuries.

    Bicycling IS the safest form of transportation. The gal who hit me was overweight and will probably die from lifestyle related diseases like diabetes or heart disease long before I die in a bike accident. That said, I don’t think the safety argument continues to hold as you and your bike start travelling at unreasonable speeds. I’m not against ebikes, they certainly help with hills and people with knee problems or other limitations, but I don’t think its safe to use them to go faster than you could go on your own on flat terrain.

    If you need to travel at unreasonable speeds, then I would recommend using an unreasonable vehicle. A bike however is a very reasonable vehicle.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 10, 2014, 12:52 pm

      I think you’re right, Jim. I tried to note that I’m not REALLY the ideal e-bike customer. These things are perfect for people who have trouble maintaining 15-20 for a ride that they need to get done. Using them to take the average from 20 up to 30 is just for the pure dangerous fun of it, unless you are on a very open country road.

      I definitely don’t recommend others follow in my path of bombing around at 35 on a vehicle with 1″ wide tires and no suspension at all. Although I always do the math on the safety of various decisions, I still choose the unsafe option at times, because a risk-free life isn’t my top priority. I also climb cliffs occasionally (with ropes) and have jumped a dirt bike over 70 feet. I’m taking things easier now that I’m a Dad, though.

      Reply
  • Andy October 11, 2014, 10:06 pm

    Cool idea, but the cost seems like a problem to me. Even at the low end of the scale, $600 is a lot of money. I have calculated my driving costs at less than $.25 per mile, so it would take 2,400 miles to make that up. If I go 4 miles each way that would be 300 round trips to my office to make that money back. Assuming I can only use the bike 1/2 the time because of weather or various reasons I need a car on a particular day that looks like a payback period of about 4 years to me.

    Not awful, but not great either.

    Reply
    • josh October 12, 2014, 4:33 pm

      imo, incomplete analysis. it does not consider the indirect financial benefits of getting 40-50min of high quality exercise daily. Or, if you already reap the benefits of activity (e.g. working out), the value of that time. Also, if it was all about payback, a $80 garage sale Schwinn won’t be beat.

      Reply
    • skiMore October 13, 2014, 10:10 am

      Not sure your payback period is correct. I work about 48 weeks a year * 5 days per week = 240 round trips. If you drive half of the time it will take a about 2.5 years to payback.

      Reply
      • Druid October 15, 2014, 1:33 pm

        A lot of people who are doing the payback calculations are assuming that the car is sitting in the driveway. The payback becomes significantly faster if the car is actually sold and that money is invested in an index fund.

        I have been doing the cost/benefit analysis considering that I would potentially get $8,000 for my car and end up putting $6,500 towards my student loan debt. In this scenario I would have a fancy $1,500 e-bike and would save $390 in interest not even factoring in the compounding of interest. My car registration and insurance alone is another $500. One major car repair can easily be the cost of an e-bike. Yearly car depreciation on average is more than an e-bike.

        I don’t know how accurate this article is but chances are people are underestimating the cost of using and especially owning a car..

        http://newsroom.aaa.com/2014/05/owning-and-operating-your-vehicle-just-got-a-little-cheaper-aaas-2014-your-driving-costs-study/

        Reply
  • Austin October 15, 2014, 11:10 am

    Help me do the math here… I have a 13 mile commute to work.

    I spend about 125 – 150 a month on gas and have budgeted 100 dollars for other ‘costs’ that builds up and is used for the occassional car repair or oil change or whatever. I’ve never not had enough money in this account and actually have been using the surplus for this to help save for a future car when I can no longer milk mine for more.

    I figure that I’ll only save about 25-30 out of that budget category, and still spend around 50 in gas a month for the bad weather / other errand days. (like today with a tornado warning). Most other costs associated with my car would remain.. insurance / registration, etc etc.

    that seems to be only saving 100 or so a month. The cheapest a *quality* ebike seems to be is around 1200.

    It would take me a year of ebiking to work to even pay itself off, meanwhile moving my commute from a mere 14 minutes to close to an hour.

    I’m not as extreme as many on this website, even though i follow it still and incorporate many principles. but this just doesn’t seem worth it for the added commute time / some exercise that I dont usually need since I have a gym at my work and am in my 20’s and active.

    Am I missing something or is it just a harder sell for my circumstances?

    Reply
    • Druid October 15, 2014, 1:44 pm

      You should also factor in your yearly car depreciation which is more than an e-bike and the cost of not selling the car and having the money sitting in a retirement account or index fund.

      That being said another 45 minute commute is a hard sell. Then again if the extra exercise saved you time at the gym and the related expenses it may become worth while. You could deduct gym costs in your analysis in that scenario.

      For me I would be able to bike to work in almost the same amount of time due to traffic in my area. However there are probably a lot of scenarios where the e-bike logistically wouldn’t make sense.

      Reply
      • Austin October 15, 2014, 5:00 pm

        @Druid Thanks for the input.

        I currently have a 2007 Chrysler Sebring (aka the Michael Scott car) that I bought for 4k, and is currently worth probably just under 5. So I can still lose some depreciation and come out even. And I’m not losing that much depreciation annually, and it will be less and less the longer I hold on to the car.

        My gym is 24.97 a month. Not the true MMM way, I know, but I really like working out at gyms and feel satisfied knowing most of the suckers around me are paying way more (I worked a pretty good ‘family’ discount).

        I can see if I sold my car how this would work a bit easier, but I’m still single and life is a little spontaneous still, especially come weekends. I’m happy with the car I have that I’m not spending a ton on it but don’t necessarily feel good to give up all that social life / convenience / and some days necessity.

        All that aside.. even if it takes a long time to ‘pay itself’ back and make financial sense.. it sure does look fun to have an ebike :)

        Reply
        • Druid October 15, 2014, 6:51 pm

          Well I am currently driving a car with a V8 engine, so I am definitely not lecturing. For me the E-bike savings would be clear. My girlfriend has a more fuel efficient car and my neighborhood has most of my shopping recreational needs. The ferry, which I take to work, is about 7 miles from my house and traffic is bad enough that it sometimes takes 30 minutes to get there in a car. I should probably rent a bike and see if the ride would make me sweat before buying an ebike. With global warming, manmade or otherwise:), it doesn’t rain enough in California for me to need a car.

          I don’t have a gym membership but I have $500 ironmaster dumbbells so I am not sure if they are considered Mustachian, but they can carry up to 120 pounds in each arm and are as solid as Thors hammer. $24.97 is dirt cheap for a gym though.

          Reply
          • skiMore October 16, 2014, 7:50 am

            Before you rent a bike check your town recycling center or garbage people they may have free bikes that other people have tossed. My town has a container with them in it.

            Reply
  • James October 17, 2014, 8:49 am

    Based on your recommendations and after a bit of research my wife and I just bought our first e-bikes – and love them! I still get a (much needed) workout, but can easily go much faster and farther than we would otherwise. Just yesterday I made my first trip to the grocery store on it – and sadly a stop for a coffee (not very Mustachian of me I know, but I allow myself 1 per week).

    Living in the Pacific Northwest I’ll have to see how often I brave the rain, which we get regularly for 9 months of the year, but I’m determined to try as often as I can manage.

    Reply
  • Gradual Millionaire October 19, 2014, 9:22 pm

    Hey Mr. Money Mustache,

    Just wanted to thank you as you’re the reason I finally got into biking a few months ago. After reading every one of your blog posts, I decided to buy myself a mountain bike so I could hit the trails but also run short local errands (unfortunately, I’m not yet ready for a 16 mile round-trip commute to work, but maybe one day!). I’ve already put a ton of miles on the bike and have been getting out several times a week. Just enjoyed an 11 mile ride through through the woods on a nice nearby single-track trail with a couple friends yesterday morning.

    I was wondering if you or any of the MMM readers have any tips for getting cleaned up after a long bike commute to work? My biggest concern is that even once I build up the endurance for it, I can’t show up to work sweaty and nasty. I work for an investment company, so the attire is professional business casual. Since there’s not a shower on the premises, how would you recommend getting cleaned up and presentable after a long ride?

    Thanks again for all the encouragement to get started with biking! I’m loving it so far and don’t have any plans to stop any time soon.

    Reply
  • Frank "Elliott" Sheridan October 20, 2014, 8:37 pm

    I’ve designed a high performance electric bicycle designed to handle loads and hills that most e-bikes cannot cope with, and I have a Kickstarter effort currently running to raise funds for the continued development of this product. If you watch the videos there you will see this bike climbing a 400 foot grade, and going for a 25+ mile ride with over 1000 feet of climb during that ride, all while carrying 240 pounds of payload. You can find out more at this link:

    http://kck.st/1s7NV9D

    Reply
  • Paul November 6, 2014, 2:13 pm

    Hey MMM,

    I tried to scanned through all the posts to see if this was up or not and I didn’t see it. Hopefully I’m not telling you something you already know. I came across this company on a CNN article and they seemed pretty cool (https://superpedestrian.com/). They have a pretty inventive set-up for a hybrid bike as everything is embedded in the wheel. You just purchase the wheel and put it on your bike. It also can be controlled with apps on your phone so you can work as hard or little as you want. Seems like a neat place for app developers to do some cool stuff. Anyway, I thought you would enjoy seeing the companies website. Thanks for all your writing. Yours is pretty much the only blog I read on a regular basis anymore. I think it’s because you always give great information and inspire me to be a better me.

    Reply
  • yaseer November 17, 2014, 4:02 am

    Lightning LS-218 – The World’s Fastest Electric Motorcycle Launched
    Check Out Here – http://goo.gl/0fVecZ

    Reply
  • Grt December 3, 2014, 4:15 am

    I just discovered this website, a US version of http://www.hannekevanveen.nl in my country. To keep it on topic, the following comment. I have been a person on bicycle, well, since my birth I guess:) and acquired knowledge about frame building and bike mechanics along the way. A regular bike is not strong enough as an e-bike. Especially not the ones with small rims and tires. Besides rims, tires, also frame, fork, BRAKES, seatposts, etc. etc should be stronger. So please be careful!

    Reply
  • GoMeatless January 18, 2015, 5:48 pm

    Has anyone received a flykly wheel yet? They are finally shipping.

    Reply
  • sam foust March 2, 2015, 6:25 am

    My wife showed me an article on e-bikes because our neighborhood has so many hills, no one rides a bike. I purchased a Stromer, she purchased a Pedego City Commuter. I am now hooked on bicycles. I am 53 and as my legs became stronger, I would ride my bike while turning the battery off for a few miles. The bike weighs approx. 60 pounds, making it a great workout. Now I can easily ride the bike without the battery for 15 miles. I can ride the bike with e assist 35 miles on a charge if I choose to. The furthest I rode the bike with one charge is 38 miles.

    When I ride with my wife, she turns her electric assist up and I turn mine down to a point where I huff and puff to stay up with her. We both get a great workout. It has been a year since we bought them. I have replaced two tire and a chain. The batteries work like the same day we purchased them. If you are looking for great transportation and a way to get in shape without killing yourself, you may just find out you enjoy it so much that it becomes a real hobby. I now have a mountain bike and ride it every chance I get.

    Reply
  • Anders March 16, 2015, 3:22 am

    Hey MMM.
    I read this article originally as my wife and I were moving to a smaller town with one small car and a 10 km round trip to day care and kindergarden. Upon reading we decided to keep our 4+ year old three wheeler city cargo bike – the Nihola Family. http://www.nihola.dk/produkter/cigar-family.html

    We put a 250W electric engine on it with a 13Ah battery that sits under the childrens seat in the cargo unit.
    I just came back from the 10 km round trip having driven 400+ km on it. It goes for about 80 km per charge.

    It easily reaches 25-30 km/hour in standard driving conditions, and the other day I brought it to 48 km/hour downhill. It is so much fun to ride.

    It is an expensive package of almost $3000 for the bike five years ago and an additional $1500 for the engine.

    The bike saves us an from owning an extra car, gives us plenty of fresh air and fun rides, – and it feels great to be speeding past other people with 70+ kilos bike, battery, engine and two girls.

    Thank you for the inspiration!

    Reply
  • OldFatDog March 30, 2015, 1:00 pm

    Received Kalhkoff Attagu 8 three weeks ago. I have put on nearly 300 miles. I live in rural small town in CA, used to a lot of slow farm vehicles on secondary roads, so autos are used to it. I have been informed it is not a “real” bicycle by those in Lycra outfits, the ones who use a automobile bike rack to take a $3,000 bike to a “fun ride” event. Look, any bicycle is cheating, you are using gears, levers and wheels. So am I. I just have torque assist in addition to gears. Wait a minute, isn’t gearing torque assist? You cheaters, real moustachians should run everywhere! Seriously, it is fun to ride, and has replaced auto for most round trips under 50 miles. Not to try and compute savings, but IRS uses $.56 mile for average auto cost. I know everyone else’s auto expenses are a lot less, but just saying. Remember auto insurance is based on mileage, so keep your odometer readings, and update every year with your company. Oh, it have been pointed out that I do not have a water bottle holder on the bike. I simply tell them I stop every 25-30 miles at a pub, get a table with a view. Finally, it was this column that sparked the interest, so thank you MMM.

    Reply
  • Speed Ambassador April 1, 2015, 7:36 am

    I’ve been reading MMM the past few months and this one really hit me hard yesterday! It even inspired me to dust off the old bike and take it for a 10 minute ride (2 miles) to an event I had to get to last night. The nice weather helped! From Iowa. Not always the best biking weather.
    Felt great after. More connected to the world and present.
    One reason I’ve been avoiding biking to work is not wanting to be sweaty once I get there and taking extra time. Now that I realize I can go 30mph and not pedal so hard, I think I may pursue the electric bike. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Speed Ambassador April 1, 2015, 7:40 am

      As a follow up/second thought. I lived in The Netherlands for 5 months while in college. Bike use in that country is epic! So is their train system. You can get anywhere sans bike.

      Reply
  • Eric Paul April 18, 2015, 10:03 am

    Anxiously awaiting a follow up on this one!

    Reply
  • Eric July 1, 2015, 6:49 pm

    I am very interested in converting my bike to an ebike. I started bicycle commuting last year and really enjoyed the physical benefits and the enjoyment of being outside. I am thinking that if I utilize the extra power with an ebike and boost my spped, that it may be safer since I am keeping up with traffic speed. 30-45MPH. Any thoughts on that?

    Also, I really would like to purchase a portable solar system to recharge the battery so the system is completely renewable. Thinking of a goal zero system that I can take with me and change the battery while I am at work. Anyone else used a system like this? I am renting and move quite frequently otherwise I would put solar panels on my house and utilise that renewable energy. But for now a portable system might work out well.

    Reply

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