When I think about life-changing things I’ve bought over the years, the list is pretty small. A laptop. My first smartphone. The robot vacuum that’s saved me literally hundreds of hours of cleaning time. But perhaps the best thing I’ve ever bought has to be an ebike.
I bought my first ebike in 2019 shortly after returning from a week-long trip to Dallas. My wife was there to take her board exams and since I was newly self-employed, I tagged along to blog and try out my side hustles in another city.
After she was done with her exams, we spent a day exploring the city on a Jump Bike – one of those electric bikeshare systems that you can rent using your phone. We ended up biking about 9 or 10 miles, saw a huge swath of the city, and didn’t even break a sweat. It was my first time using an ebike – and it completely changed the way I thought about bikes and what they could do as a mode of transportation, not just for cyclists like myself, but for everyone.
My first ebike might be the best purchase I’ve ever made. Here are five reasons why.
A Real Car Replacement Tool For Everyone
I’m a cyclist – or at least I consider myself a cyclist. I’ve never owned my own car (the one car we do have is my wife’s car). When I want to get around somewhere, 99% of the time, I hop on two wheels and pedal my way there.
Here’s the thing though. I definitely bike more than the vast majority of people. Most people put in just a few miles of biking each year and most of it is probably recreational biking. I put in literally thousands of miles on my bike each year. As much as I like to tell people to try replacing some of their car commuting with a bike, the fact is, most people simply aren’t in a position – physically or mentally – to do that.
An ebike completely changes the game. Friction is the biggest barrier to getting started with anything. And the biggest barrier with biking is the fact that it requires some physical exertion. It can be a hurdle to get over that initial hurdle. An ebike, on the other hand, is so easy to use and requires so little work that it’s really not that difficult to get someone who isn’t a strong biker to start using an ebike.
The first step to replacing a car is actually replacing the car. And doing that means getting over that initial friction of putting yourself on a bike. When you know that the pedaling part isn’t going to be difficult, it gets much easier to start using a bike to get around.
They Can Cover Huge Distances
Bikes are amazing tools because of how they can shorten the travel time between two points, and in turn, open up more of your world. I’ve found that for most people, 20 minutes is about the maximum distance you can walk comfortably without feeling like it’s too far to walk. That’s about 1 mile on foot.
Adding a bike into the mix dramatically increases the distance you can travel in the same amount of time. In general, I’d say that if you can travel 1 mile on foot, you can probably travel 3 miles on a bike using about the same energy. That’s a huge increase in the distance you can travel.
To get an idea of how much more distance you can cover, compare the two circles below. The smaller inner circle shows the approximate area you can cover on foot within 20 minutes. The second larger circle shows how much area you can cover on a bike in about the same amount of time. For a city like Minneapolis, where I live, a bike can get you almost anywhere in Minneapolis from downtown in 20 minutes or less.
An ebike increases your circle even more. If a regular bike can take you 3 miles in 20 minutes without exerting much energy, an ebike can take you more than double that distance – somewhere between 6 and 7 miles in about 20 minutes (ebikes can travel about 20mph without requiring you to exert much energy, if any).
Take a look at how big the circle gets with an ebike. It’s pretty astounding.
In a city like Minneapolis (where I live), an ebike essentially makes the entire city within reach for me. Not only that, depending on where I am, I can get to most of St. Paul and even get to some of the first ring suburbs – all within 20 minutes.
*Of course, some factors will slow down your travel time – these distances are measured as straight lines, and not all travel options allow you to go in a straight line. Still, I think it gives a good, general idea of how much ground you can cover on foot, with a bike, and with an ebike.
Maintenance Costs Are Far Lower Compared To A Car
We’ve gone over how far you can travel with an ebike, which, in short, is pretty incredible. Maintenance, however, is something that you have to think about.
What’s great about an ebike is that the maintenance costs aren’t much – typically a few hundred dollars per year assuming you take care of your bike. You’ll need to fix flat tires if you get them. Brakes and chains need to be replaced. You’ll need to take care of other issues here and there. You’ll also want to get your bike tuned up at a bike shop each year. But for the most part, these aren’t expensive things to handle. Contrast that with a car, where everything you do costs a ton of money.
The most expensive parts of an ebike are the electronic components, the most expensive of which is the battery. This will run you about $600 and depending on how often you use your bike and how well you take care of the battery, it should last you several years. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a terribly large expense, especially when you compare it to the cost of even minor car repairs.
The other electronic parts that can be expensive are the display and the controller. I’ve had to replace both of these on my ebike, with each replacement part costing about $100. Again, it’s not a terrible expense when you compare it to how much a car costs. And unlike a car, almost everything on a bike can be replaced over and over. Barring a huge crash that totals your bike frame, a bike can theoretically last a lifetime. You can’t say the same thing about a car.
The Cost Is Reasonable If You Think About It Right
The thing that makes a lot of people balk at an ebike is the cost. You can get entry-level ebikes in the $1,000 range, but most of the main ebike brands are going to cost you around $1,600 or so. This is a hefty upfront cost for most people.
But consider the alternative. The cheapest, crappiest car you can get will likely cost you more than $1,600. If you think of your ebike as just a bike that you ride every once in a while, then yes, it’s an expensive thing to buy. But if you think of it as an actual car replacement – something you use as a mode of transportation and not just as a thing for recreation – then $1,600 really isn’t a bad deal. You’re basically getting a vehicle that can take you around a city for the price of a really crappy car. And it won’t come with all of the maintenance headaches that a cheap beater car will probably come with.
I have multiple ebikes these days, and I use them as much as I can. They serve as my primary mode of transportation. I carry groceries using panniers. I’m able to carry my son by attaching a bike seat on the rear rack (it’s how I get him to daycare in the morning and pick him up in the evening). I even have a little dog carrier so I can bring my dog along if needed. And of course, I do all of my deliveries and gig economy apps using an ebike.
You Can Use Ebikes In The Suburbs Too
Biking in the suburbs is usually a horrible experience. But one interesting thing I’ve noticed about my ebike is that it makes biking in the suburbs much more doable and tolerable.
I think suburb biking has gotten better in recent years. Some suburbs have started adding bike infrastructure which makes the biking experience much more enjoyable. The problem, though, is you still have to deal with distances. In most suburbs, everything is miles away. You can bike, but it’s going to be a pain.
But go back to that section about distances and how far you can cover on an ebike. In a lot of suburbs, 6 miles is probably how far you may have to travel to get to commercial areas. Interestingly enough, that’s exactly within the easy biking range of an ebike.
Suburbs are car-dependent and aren’t really made for people like me. But an ebike might make it easier to close the distances between things in the burbs.
I’ve been very happy with my ebike, to the point where I’ve been going around accumulating more of them. There are a lot of different types to choose from. Cargo bikes that can carry a ton of stuff. Big wheelbarrow bikes that can fit even more stuff. Moped-style bikes that I’ve found surprisingly fun (I recently got the Himiway Escape, which is a moped-style bike that works really well for doing food deliveries).
Biking can be for everyone. If you aren’t convinced, go to your local bike shop and rent an electric bike for a day. It may convert you. And if you’re like me, it could one of the best things you ever buy.
My current ebike roster:
J. Money says
Ahhhhh you’re making me want to go out and get one right now!! Love it!
Financial Panther says
Do it! Or at least try one out to see how awesome they are.
Great article (and timing). I’m planning to get one for my birthday this month so I can start riding to work. After downsizing from a 2 car to 1 car household during the pandemic, I don’t feel like spending money on more insurance and car payments again. An e-bike seems like the perfect solution! 😎
David @ Filled With Money says
Whoa, this is actually really cool. I hadn’t ever considered an e-bike as a replacement to a car. I had just actually considered as a luxury item but if it can replace a car… you can not only save money but improve your health as well.
Great rundown of an e-bike! Like J. Money, you’re making me want to buy one for myself as well.
Impersonal Finances says
I’ll bike short distances when the weather is nice and for exercise (usually quick 30-45 minute rides), but I’m a little on the fence about ebikes. I’ve tried some of the Uber Jump bikes around town and haven’t been enamored with them–the ones I’ve been on have seemed pretty inconsistent. Perhaps I need to try another brand. The big thing for regular biking is safety. I would guess Minneapolis has some pretty good bike lanes? Drivers aren’t always looking for bikers (especially not when they’re on their phones!), so you do have to stay on high alert, especially in big cities.
Financial Panther says
Yeah, Minneapolis has really good bike infrastructure for an American city. I feel pretty comfortable biking around here given the number of bike lanes, separated lanes, and protected lanes.
I visited the RAD shop in Seattle while on vacation in 2019. Upon returning, I wanted an Ebike, but just could not spend the $1k+, so I built my one with a kit and my regular bike. I was unable to bike to work and back because of the hills and my weight, but now I can because of the E bike. I saved 50 10 mile round trips in 2019, 60 in 202, and hope to beat that for 2021. Winter is still and issue, but I’m saving where I can
Financial Panther says
That’s awesome! I definitely know that you can build your own ebike yourself for less. I should probably look to try doing that for the experience.
Cheap Eco Wanderer says
We’re a zero-car family that has been renting a lot of cars during the pandemic since we haven’t felt comfortable with planes/trains/etc. but I do love the idea of micro-mobility and how it could help us visit friends in the ‘burbs without a car. My two biggest hangups about ebikes are:
1) their weight – I don’t live in a home so I would have to lug a 50 lb bike + my 15-20 lb pannier up & down several flights of stairs every day and I’m not feeling that. Once they come out with a 15 lb-er I’ll be all over it!
2) theft – Washington DC, like most major cities, is prone to bike theft. I always uses two locks (U-lock & a cable) and have even gotten WheelBoltz for my wheels (not sure if you could use those on an ebike). Would you feel safe leaving your bike unattended for an extended period of time? I would think the higher the cost of the bike, the more prone to theft, but I’d be interested to hear what your feelings are.
Financial Panther says
Totally agree with you on the weight issue. They’re heavy! My house has some steps leading out of it and it’s a pain to lug it up and down. And if you don’t live in a place with an elevator, that’s definitely a problem that I don’t have an easy solution to other than building your own ebike with a regular bike.
Theft is a definite concern. I don’t leave my bike outside for an extended period of time. Trips to the grocery store, doctor’s appointments, etc, are all fine. I lock it with a kryptonite lock and also use a chain to wrap around both wheels and make it just a little bit harder. If you’re using it to go to work, most buildings have a bike room these days. My last job had a secure bike room that you could only get into with a keycard (and it had cameras in there, so anyone coming in and out of the room could be easily tracked). A lot of cities also have bike lockers that you can rent, which are an interesting option.
Dividend Power says
I’ve had my doubts about e-bikes but they are becoming more popular.
I got mine, a “used” GenZe (it had all of 7 miles on it!) demo, in 2018. I have about 1200 miles on it so far, almost all transportation miles (vs. recreation).
I understand I’m still pretty far from breaking even on the cost of gas, but it brings me joy every time I hop on 🙂
Financial Mechanic says
I can imagine a world where we all talk about how wild it was that we all used to have our own cars to drive around with. Now living in a place where biking is default (The Netherlands) it’s hard to imagine anything else. Hopefully city infrastructure will change so ebikes are the new normal.
Chris @ Mindful Explorer says
Great article and as a person who has cycling as a major part of their life I really enjoyed what you put together. I am an advocate and promoter of all things cycling and all types of bikes and riders, you really nailed it on the messaging here. What I liked most was the visual of the circle of range between foot, bike and e-bike. This shows the endless possibilities. Keep on cycling and loving life in the outdoors !