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Is There Bike After e-Bike?

by Ted Johnson

Steve Benning has been using an Ohm XS 750 e-bike for four weeks leading up to Bike to Work Week. And he’ll use it during Bike to Work Week too. But then what?

Steve Benning at Bike Shop HubWhat will happen after he has to give back the e-bike?

I’m very satisfied with Steve’s willingness to try this experiment, and very pleased to see him take it on with such enthusiasm. Even more, I want to see Steve still embracing bike commuting in the weeks and years to come.

Which puts me in a dilemma. If I encourage Steve too much, am I being manipulative? Is the subtext, Keep doing it for me? or, You’ll disappoint so many people if you backslide?

Is this what happens when scientists get too emotionally involved with their lab rats?

Maybe the experiment was flawed from the start. Was the objective was to convert a car commuter into a bike commuter, or to just observe what happens when you give a car commuter an e-bike?

Me: What do you think your life as a bike commuter is going to be after [you no longer have an e-bike], if at all?

Steve: I’m curious myself. I will definitely give it a shot. Going back up the hill, back up to the house might be a challenge. But I’m definitely going to give it a try.

At 02:25 I say, “Well, we’ll be interested to see how that goes.” And I’m not proud of the doubting look that flashes across my face.

Steve faces the prices of e-bikes pretty bravely. I’m certainly familiar with the cost-benefit calculations that prove that e-bikes are worth it–as long as what they are replacing is a car, or replacing many typical short-distance car trips. I think there’s an economic case to be made for someone like Steve to get a an e-bike.

Steve Benning at Bike Shop Hub

So close, yet so far. The low-end on this lineup is $2199

But what about someone like me? I’m a lab rat too.

I’m already a bike commuter. I’ve already given up a car. I have a stepcar–a car owned by my wife before we were married.

Furthermore, I’ve never paid more than $400 for a bike. (Shocker! There goes my credibility with some readers.)

So I look at those prices and think, I’d really need to see some hard number crunching to make the economic case for myself and my family. I’d need to cut into the use of the stepcar in a way that isn’t being covered by our regular bike use.

What are your thoughts on this experiment?

Especially you pedal-power purists out there: Have you learned anything you didn’t know before about the minds of non-cyclists and new cyclists?

 
The Chariot Summer Sale - 2013

10 Responses to “Is There Bike After e-Bike?”

  1. BluesCat says:

    Don’t beat yourself up about it, Ted!

    Heck, you’ve brought attention to the idea of bikes as REAL transportation. You’ve demonstrated that with E-bikes you don’t HAVE to be an athlete to ride a bike to work. And you’ve shown that with a little encouragement people WILL start to include bicycles in the strategies for making their lives better and for making America less dependent on exports from countries run by rich despots.

    You’ve primed the pump, but people have to do their own pumping.

  2. You’re a winner Ted. Thanks for championing the cause.

  3. Heather Crombie says:

    A switch to commuting by bike is more complex than economics & commute time with cars VS bikes. If that is the only way to look at a question, we’d never have children! If Steve is to continue, he’ll need to consider which value is more important to him, how he feels commuting by e-bike or the cost. Ultimately its his choice. You’d done a very good deed by showing him the joy of riding.

    When I first started commuting by bike, I couldn’t commute by regular bicycle more than 16 miles round trip. To do that for a 40 mile round trip commute (my job was 20 miles away from home) meant I transported my bike by car & jumped on the trail 8 miles from my office. It became a regular gig because I felt such joy from the endorphine blast of the ride & accomplishment in respecting one of my values. It also meant I had to put my desire to use my time as efficiently as possible lower in my priorities. It became efficiency VS joy & sense of accomplishment. Time efficiency lost out.

    After 3 years of the car/bike commute I decided I wanted to ride the entire way & quickly ran into the barrier of my 40 year old body’s inability to commute daily 40 miles on a regular bike. I was unwilling to give up the twice a day endorphine blast of my bike commute & started looking for another way. That is when I started looking a e-bikes. Once I found an e-bike that met my needs I had to swallow the expensive price and commit. Ultimately, riding my bike showed me there are other ways to meet your values if you look at the arguments from a more sophisticated perspective. You may very well have brought Steve to a greater understanding of feeling the joy of riding so he is now more able to see the nuances of the argument for a deeper perspective than just “time/money car VS time/money bike.

  4. Paul From Vancouver WA, USA says:

    The economic argument is most important for the people and families with the tightest budgets. Further up the economic ladder families can make choices to balance a variety of expenses and even if an e-bike isn’t strictly more economical they can make the choice.

    For those who don’t have the economic means to treat an e-bike as a luxury item it is a much harder sell. If they are going to be able to give up a car it makes sense by freeing up the cost of insurance and maintenance on a vehicle. Or if they are using an e-bike to supplement mass transit and the utility cuts commute time, or enables new options in work location etc. that may be a factor.

    However, for most I don’t think an e-bike makes enough economic sense to be a common solution. A regular bike is so much cheaper that even pushing it up the occasional hill makes more economic sense than investing in an e-bike.

  5. tim says:

    http://www.bikecommuters.com/gas-saving-calculator/

    Buy a bicycle. It is already paid for. You will only save money.

  6. Reynor Padilla says:

    I guess it depends on how “occasional” the hill is. If there are several large hills on the way to or from your office, an ebike might make sense.

    In my case there is no way back into my neighborhood without climbing a series of very steep hills.

    In order for a bike to completely replace a car, I’d have to find a way to conquer those hills.

  7. peteathome says:

    Economic justification for expensive ebike:

    You don’t have to replace a car with it to justify it. Although the savings are huge if you can replace a car. Here’s my calculation for substituting miles on the bike vs. car, while keeping the car:

    $1500 for Bionx kit to add to my pre-existing bike.

    I expect the kit to last at least 5 years at my rate usage – 4,000 miles/year

    The battery costs $500 to rebuild. I estimate I can get 14,000 miles on my 36 V, 9.5 amp-hour battery before I need to rebuild it.

    Electrical charging costs are pretty much in the noise of this calculation.

    So the cost of five years use is $1500 plus a $500 battery rebuilding at the end of 3.5 years.

    Works out to be $400/year for 4000 miles/year.

    The car I use only gets 25 mpg. It takes 160 gallons of gas to drive this car. At $3.50/gallon, that’s $560.

    So the Bionx pays for itself in gas costs alone.At the end of five years I’ve saved $800.

    I didn’t add in the maintenance cost of bicycle tires, brake pads, rain gear, etc. But I also didn’t take into account all the savings in wear-and-tear on the car.

    Not to mention I was able to change my car insurance to “recreational driving” because I put so few miles on it, knocking down my insurance here in expensive NJ by about $400. The savings in not using the car for these miles vastly exceeds the maintenance costs on the bike.

    If the Bionx motor, plus a nearly new rebuild battery holds up longer than 5 years, I’ve saved even more money. Or if the price of gas goes up a lot.

  8. Jim Tolar says:

    Ted,
    Long time reader, first time commenter. I’m a full-time bike commuter, 14 miles round trip. But I feel like I should put quotes around bike commuter, not because I don’t ride a bike to work, I do. But, I live and commute in Tempe, Arizona (pretty much full time beautiful weather). My bike route is 90% no-traffic paved canal-side lighted multi-use path. And I have indoor parking for my bike and showers and lockers at my office. I mean, if you can’t be a full-time bike commuter under those circumstances, when could you?
    That said, even “expensive” bikes are easily justified over time when they replace car travel. peteathome does a nice detailed job of explaining tradeoffs above. You should add into the equation something for the health benefits too.
    Really enjoy your blog.

    jt

  9. another matt says:

    The hardest part for me is that I will be wearing a suit this summer and I don’t think they have showers available so getting there without getting drenched in sweat and keeping the suit wrinkle free poses a lot of logistical problems. Distance is about 13.5 miles, maybe this would be a good candidate for an e-bike but I can even come close right now to the capital needed to purchase one.

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