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e-Bike Commuter Guinea Pig After One Week

by Ted Johnson

Steve Benning comes close to being the perfect Guinea Pig for a new bike commuter. (Sigh… If only he had high-maintenance hair.)

Steve Benning

After one full week as a bike commuter, using an Ohm XS 750 e-Bike, he says he’s hooked.

For any pedal-power purists out there, I think it would be hard to argue against his enthusiasm for bike commuting at this point in the experiment. If you curmudgeons are reading this, I’d like to know what you have to say.

If anything, he might be too enthusiastic. My goal is to get inside the head of a reluctant bike commuter, and find the tipping points. (Maybe we overshot the tipping point by lending him the nicest e-bike in the fleet.)

Even a flat tire the first week didn’t dampen Steve’s spirits.

I never would have guessed me turning into a bike commuter. I’ll be the first to say it. I have not taken my car to the store or to work and back since I’ve had the bike.

BTW: The pannier on the bike is the Racktime Workit Commuter Pannier reviewed recently by Josh.


<< See Steve on Day One

Update: See Steve after two weeks of Bike Commuting >>

 
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10 Responses to “e-Bike Commuter Guinea Pig After One Week”

  1. Alden says:

    As a pedal-power purist, my argument against eBikes is the same for the electric car: Where does the electricity come from? More often than not, a coal-burning power plant. Of course, eBikes use significantly less power, and there’s other types of power plants out there. I think my point still stands.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      I live in the gray. If I’d offered Steve a top-of-the-line commuter bike without electric assist, I’m not sure he’d be as excited as he is.

      I like to think of e-bikes as a gateway drug.

  2. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    I met an older man riding to work on his e-bike. For his age, riding a regular bike would not be possible because of the distance. Later I met his wife and she said how much the bike riding did for him.

    If ebikes are touted for those that it will make the difference – I’ll all for them. But knowing America, e-bike will be used (or not used and endup in the trash) by people who do not belive in any kind of active life, but rather looking for an alternative to $4 gas.

    As a person who bikes every day for all transportation, I honestly belive that American bikes come with gearing that is too high. For most people to commute with and carry a load of ~20 pounds, a 4mph gear would help. All of my bikes have a low gear of ~20″. Don’t need any assist, not even on bad days with a headwind on the stepist hill.

  3. jack says:

    I get the “purist” issues with electricity. However, this guy clearly needs to ride, it could change his life. So the e-bike could be a “gateway drug” for him. After a while, he’ll go try a human powered bike, and that will be that. The sense of accomplishment, the fun, it will lead to him spending more time on a “real” bike, and that’s a good thing for everyone

  4. Brent says:

    I would think that electric bicycles are greener than human powered. Obviously, there are other reasons to prefer pedaling (public health, for one), but the “human engine” isn’t particularly efficient at converting food energy to motion (Wikipedia puts it at around 20 percent), and the production of food has a high carbon cost. Electric motors, by contrast, are up to 90 percent efficient, and I believe the production of electricity, even by relatively dirty means such as coal, is still cleaner than the production of food.

    I’ve heard some people argue that we have to eat anyway, and cycling more doesn’t mean eating more (hence, it doesn’t pollute more). I don’t really buy it, especially not at the margin. If you’ve ever cycled while on a severe diet, you’ll know the point at which it goes from being a nice way to get around the neighborhood to a serious effort. Or, just look at Tour de France cyclists — they’ll go through 10,000 calories a day each. From a carbon production perspective, it’d probably be better to shuttle them on four or five buses rather than have them all ride.

  5. outdoorsman says:

    I am a regular commuter and I don’t eat anymore food than I did before. I don’t race bikes by any means, but the 10,000 calories idea is an extreme for certain. It’s like you comparing an Indy car to a Honda Civic, one uses way more gas than the other. Also, in the case of the severe diet, you wouldn’t need to be on that diet if you were working out regularly like commuting by bike. Sure, increased activity by a human can contribute in some way to carbon output, but in this case it is a give and take relationship, workout more, a person is healthier.

  6. Adam says:

    I have to say, for every argument against electric-assist bikes, there is a valid counter-argument in support. And vice versa, oddly!

    1. “Where does the electricity come from?”
    Well, a power plant, of course. In most places, that means coal or natural gas, but increasingly from environementally-friendly sources. I live near a nuclear plant (Turkey Point, FL) so it’s reasonable that the majority of the power I use is at least carbon-neutral. We’ll ignore the radioactivity part for now.
    If cycling is in contrast to driving a car, I would say that it probably better to get the power from a power plant than it is to burn the gasoline in an standard automobile engine. If you look at the efficiency numbers it is fairly compelling. Plus, most electricity does NOT come from imported oil, so power from a power plant is possibly more “American” than gasoline for your car.

    2. “But knowing America, e-bike will be used by people … looking for an alternative to $4 gas.”
    Again, what’s wrong with finding alternatives to driving a car? While cyclists enjoy the immediate reward of physical activity, the choice of cycling over driving has many other positive effects too. Wouldn’t you rather have a few thousand cars off the roads and more bikes instead? How about increased “bicycle awareness” in the minds of the general public? That might mean more designated paths, which improve safety. City/county planners are more willing to spend money on projects which would be provably be used, so let’s have bikes out there in real use (electric or otherwise). If there were a true cycling initiative, that would likely improve quality of life for everyone in a community.

    3. “I like to think of e-bikes as a gateway drug.”
    Maybe, maybe not. I haven’t seen any real numbers on people transitioning from e-bikes to regular bikes. It would be interesting to see how true a statement this is. Sure, there is anecdotal evidence everywhere, but it is a bit harder to quantify the notion that e-bikers eventually “upgrade” to a nice standard bike.

    4. “…the “human engine” isn’t particularly efficient…”
    Agreed. The world would be a MUCH better place without humanity. Unfortunately, that’s not an alternative that would prove popular! That said, the wikipedia article for “Bicycle Performance states that “The bicycle is the most efficient self-powered means of transportation in terms of energy a person must expend to travel a given distance”, which is fully cited. Said article also states that atheletes are about 24% efficient. I assume it is worse the less athletic the person is. Using other numbers from the article, riding at 15 km/h for a 70 kg rider requires 210 watts. Assuming 20% for an “average” rider riding for 1 hour, that would reqire consuming 1050 watt hours of energy (about 900 dietary calories). Yes, when I look at athletic sites for how many calories you burn cycling at that same speed indicates it should require 325 watt hours (about 280 dietary calories). What does all this mean? I have no idea, really. I leave it to a bigger egg-head to figure out. Given that obesity is a large problem in the U.S. it seems that people are already over-consuming. If some of this consumption can be used for something (cycling, or any other physical activity), why not encourage it?

    5. “Tour de France cyclists… it’d probably be better to shuttle them on four or five buses rather than have them all ride.”
    That would be even worse than NASCAR.

  7. Efficient Jim says:

    Brent,

    Bicycling, under human power alone, is by far the most efficient mode of transportation. Also, if you choose the right foods, food production can actually reduce carbon footprint. Human powered bicycling is as simple as it looks – no gas, reduced carbon footprint, more joy from life.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      @Jim: We have a copy of Electric Bicycles, by David Henshaw and Richard Peace, and will publish a review in the near future.

      The authors claim (on p. 15) that the most efficient mode of transportation (lowest carbon emissions) is an electric bike, powered by renewable energy, operated by a person who eats no imported food.

      The least efficient (vis-a-vis cycling), they say, is a pure pedal-powered bike operated by a person who eats imported food.

      The authors have an agenda to be sure. But that doesn’t mean their analysis is wrong. It means it should be held to scrutiny.

      Food for thought.

  8. Green Fish says:

    I’ve always found the argument against e-bikes a bit of a puzzle.

    Getting people out of cars is a good thing – regardless if they are switching to public transport, walking, peddling or e-biking. Less cars equals less gas, less land for parking spaces, less air pollution.

    As to e-bikes being more efficient… I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around that one. Most Americans (myself included) eat more than they need, so I think getting people moving outweighs the ‘efficiency’ of an e-bike.

    I’m considering getting an e-bike… I’ve damaged a tendon in my foot, and have been banned from biking or much walking, and am going stir crazy. If it takes much longer to heal, I think and e-bike will restore my mobility and emotional health.

    And FYI, my house is powered by solar, and I generate enough to add an e-bike (or a dozen!) without using dirty energy..

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