Author Topic: Electric Bike?  (Read 12656 times)

kudy

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Electric Bike?
« on: April 14, 2012, 01:53:04 PM »
Does anyone have any experience with an electric bike conversion? My commute to work is 12 miles, and while I've been riding to the gym on weekends, it's still a bit far (and takes a bit longer) than I am comfortable with to get to work; I've been thinking about, and reading (just a little) about electric bikes.  I know that they are not allowed on trails in my city, but streets should be fair game.

I've been intrigued by a product that was actually invented and (I think) produced in my town, called ridekick - it's a trailer that has the motor and battery pack, and it pushes from behind you, and can attach to any number of bikes.  I'm considering buying one, but the cost isn't cheap.  It would give me the added benefit of a bit of cargo space as well.
« Last Edit: April 14, 2012, 01:57:11 PM by kudy »

AlexK

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2012, 04:28:38 PM »
A guy at my local community workshop has one of those trailers and he loves it.

I've had a hub motor electric bike and it was great. It had about 20 miles range.

sol

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2012, 09:28:45 PM »
This is one of those problems where I think the solution is not to rush out and buy some fancy new gadget.  The solution is to work up to riding 12 miles, save that money so it can work for you, and be grateful that you have been given such a perfect excuse to improve your health through daily exercise.

gooki

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2012, 03:27:31 AM »
I'm with sol. Electric bikes are great for elderly people (my grandfather uses his every day) where the physical effort of biking any reasonable distance is simply too draining. But for a younger person I'd be working on my fitness and do the 12 miles unassisted.

FWIW an electric bike wont make you get to your destination faster, and won't magically keep you dry when the weather turns to shit.

gooki

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2012, 03:28:41 AM »
PS if yo do end up riding 12 miles to work, you are more badass than me!

arebelspy

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2012, 09:58:38 AM »
The wife and I bought electric bikes for about 400 each and enjoy them quite a bit.  Not as badass as a regular bike, but also gives you a lot less reason to make excuses.
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kudy

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2012, 10:13:17 AM »
I think the trailer thing might get me there faster - right now I can go up a hill at about the same speed I can walk, but I think with some assist, the hills would go a lot faster.  In my idealized scenario, it might make my 1.5 hour bike ride to work only 50 minutes.

As for cost, I would need to use it regularly (4  times a week) for 10 months before it would "pay for itself" by diverting funds from fuel - of course, as sol points out, I *could* ride without it, and divert those funds instead into savings.

At this point, I am not sure if I will ever get up at 5:30am to ride to work, with or without electric assistance, but I do think it would be a great motivator in getting me on the bike, and it certainly wouldn't be doing all of the work, because I'd still be pedaling 2/3 of the trip.  In the very rare case that I've forgotten to stop at the store while I'm already out, it might be a good way for me to easily get to the nearest grocery store (6 or 7 miles away, 45 minutes by bike) without hopping in the car.

Maybe I'll keep my eye out for a used solution that's cheaper, but I certainly will continue to try and build up my stache and my health by riding when I can.

Rich M

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2012, 09:56:12 PM »
Some alternative ideas for you.

-Have public transportation like a bus that can carry a bike?  You can mix it up.  Ride part of the way, bus part of the way.

-Another way to do it it drive your bike to work, then ride home, leaving your car at work.  You ride the next day and repeat.

-Ride only on Fridays to start.






cosmie

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #8 on: April 17, 2012, 07:56:54 AM »
I've had a bit of experience with electric bikes, as my university has biking stations loaded with them where we can "check out" a bike for a period of time, and return it later to be recharged and checked out by someone else.

They're fairly convenient, especially where I live - nothing but hills. However, they do become a hindrance as well. The electric motor makes it difficult to peddle on your own when you want, as the bike is so heavy that you lose motivation to. And then there's the hassle of securing it at your destination. A normal electric bike is fairly easy, you just take the battery with you. No one wants to steal a 50 lb bike, not worth the hassle. But if you have a pull-behind cargo/motor contraption like you linked to, it could be more difficult to secure.

I'm in the same boat as you, with about a 12 mile commute. When researching my options, I looked at various electric bikes as I can get one really cheap through my university. However, it's too cumbersome to really operate as a bike - too heavy to peddle unassisted on an incline, prohibited on most trails, too fast and cumbersome to react easily in traffic, too slow to keep up with traffic. After researching it a bit, I realized "Hey, these are basically overpriced, underpowered electric scooters". So, if you want to forgo the car but can't hack the bike, I suggest looking at various scooter options (not the kid scooter, the Vespa scooter). You can get an assemble-yourself no-name gas scooter that gets 60+ miles to the gallon for $500-$1000, or prebuilt brand name scooters for $1000-$2000. There's usually quite a few used ones on Craigslist as well, depending on where you live, as a lot of people get them for the novelty and hate them after realizing they don't have air conditioning, they aren't in a weatherproof box anymore, can't talk/text while driving, etc. If riding a scooter doesn't sound exciting to you, then neither will riding an electric bike. So go for the tough-it-out stance with the normal bike.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2012, 07:59:18 AM by cosmie »

arebelspy

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #9 on: April 17, 2012, 08:45:18 AM »
After researching it a bit, I realized "Hey, these are basically overpriced, underpowered electric scooters". ...If riding a scooter doesn't sound exciting to you, then neither will riding an electric bike.

I strongly disagree with these statements.

A bicycle you pedal, and get exercise, even if Electric.  I often turn it to "off" just to pedal and know that I have the electric as backup for longer rides/hills/etc.  Easy as reaching down while riding and flipping a switch (same as when riding my motorcycle and switching to the reserve tank).

A scooter you get 0 exercise.

I personally have no desire to ever have a scooter, but an electric bicycle is a good compromise between a regular bicycle (which some may not be able to do, depending on their physical fitness, terrain, etc.) and not exercising at all (taking a scooter or car or whatever the 0 exercise choice is).

A scooter is much closer to taking a car than a bicycle.
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cosmie

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #10 on: April 17, 2012, 10:04:00 AM »
I strongly disagree with these statements.

A bicycle you pedal, and get exercise, even if Electric.  I often turn it to "off" just to pedal and know that I have the electric as backup for longer rides/hills/etc.  Easy as reaching down while riding and flipping a switch (same as when riding my motorcycle and switching to the reserve tank).

That must be a difference between types/brands of electric bikes then, as well as locality, as those statements were made based off of my own experiences. The ones that I've rode have an internal hub pedal-assist motor. Even when turning it off, there's still a minute amount of added drag from the motor. This became extremely noticeable when on any sort of incline; combined with the weight, it made me keep it on most of the time. So the only time I could ride with the motor off was on level surfaces or downslopes. Since there aren't very many level surfaces where I live, gravity does most of the work on downslopes, and the motor was on during upslopes, the "pedaling" I did was mostly superficial and didn't really amount to any more exertion than if I were to wiggle my feet on a scooter.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2012, 10:15:58 AM by cosmie »

arebelspy

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #11 on: April 17, 2012, 10:16:39 AM »
I strongly disagree with these statements.

A bicycle you pedal, and get exercise, even if Electric.  I often turn it to "off" just to pedal and know that I have the electric as backup for longer rides/hills/etc.  Easy as reaching down while riding and flipping a switch (same as when riding my motorcycle and switching to the reserve tank).

That must be a difference between types/brands of electric bikes then, as well as locality, as those statements were made based off of my own experiences. The ones that I've rode have an internal hub pedal-assist motor. Even when turning it off, there's still a minute amount of added drag from the motor. This became extremely noticeable when on any sort of incline; combined with the weight, it made me keep it on most of the time. So the only time I could ride with the motor off was on level surfaces or downslopes. Since there aren't very many level surfaces where I live and gravity does most of the work on downslopes, the "pedaling" I did was mostly for show and didn't really amount to any more exertion than if I were to wiggle my feet on a scooter.

So click it into an easier gear?  Even having a minute amount of drag and pedaling in an easier gear to compensate is better than no exercise with a scooter.  And that's the great thing about an electric bicycle - you can push yourself or let it help you.  Even when turned on, if you just go the max speed of the bike (often 10-12 mph) then you can pedal for "show" but not have to do a ton of work (still more than sitting there), but if you push past that, say 16mph, you're suddenly doing a lot more work.

So you can push, get tired and rest (while still moving at a decent pace), push again, etc.  And exercise at your level.  I just don't think a scooter, with no exercise, is an apt comparison at all.  But it sounds like your experience with an electric bike was different, you essentially didn't get any exercise (never turning it off, and never pushing past the motor assist to pedal harder, so only pedaling for show). I think that's mostly personal use.  And I can see if you use it that way why one might push for a scooter. Except that a scooter costs a lot more.
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cosmie

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #12 on: April 17, 2012, 11:21:11 AM »
Ah, I think the experience difference is based off of specific bikes. The one that I used has a motor assist speed up to about 15mph, and at 20mph the motor exhibits drag as a governor (the federal maximum speed limit to be classified as a non-motorized vehicle is 20mph - if it goes faster than that, it has to be tagged/registered/licensed).  So even when trying to pedal "beyond" the motor, you couldn't do much. I guess the bikes here are designed to be more scooter~esque. If they're not all that way, it might be interesting to try out a different one that's designed more like a bike, maybe one with a conversion kit rather than a designed-to-be-electric bike.

HumanAfterAll

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #13 on: April 17, 2012, 12:07:11 PM »
The federal law prohibits assistance over 20mph, but has no wording about actually impeding the bike over 20.  If it's a direct drive hub motor, there will be resistance.  If it's a geared, freewheeling hub motor, you can easily coast or pedal past 20mph on a downhill.

There are also powerful bikes available that will keep you going 20mph up hills! 

If you build your own or do a conversion, the 20mph limit does not apply :)  I'm enjoying cruising at 30-35 these days.  Never around pedestrians, of course - only empty bike paths (20%) and on roads (80%), often past hundreds of cars stuck in traffic.

Kudy, you could definitely improve your speed from 8mph (12 miles in 1:30) to 14mph or more on average with an electric bike.  If this gets you out of the car, it is worth it.  Perhaps you can take the mayor of Seattle's example - he started with an electric bike, got in shape, and now commutes by a standard bike every day. 

cosmie

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #14 on: April 17, 2012, 01:06:18 PM »
The federal law prohibits assistance over 20mph, but has no wording about actually impeding the bike over 20.  If it's a direct drive hub motor, there will be resistance.  If it's a geared, freewheeling hub motor, you can easily coast or pedal past 20mph on a downhill.

There are also powerful bikes available that will keep you going 20mph up hills! 
Interesting. I haven't looked into the varieties of motors,so I didn't know that.

You seem to have experience with this - are there any online resources you know of to learn more about the possibilities?

HumanAfterAll

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #15 on: April 17, 2012, 02:08:29 PM »
The ebikes.ca site has the best introduction to technology: http://ebikes.ca/hubmotors.shtml

Here's the forum where all the DIY mad scientists hang out: http://endless-sphere.com/forums/index.php

And my build thread: http://endless-sphere.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=32160

the fixer

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #16 on: April 17, 2012, 03:08:11 PM »
Also look at http://gocarlite.com, that's where I ordered the conversion kit I used. There's lots of information on different motor and battery technologies.

I started ebiking last year when I bought a Schwinn Tailwind. I got it fairly cheap but that bike is heavy and slow, so I returned it (bought from Performance with a good return policy). Still, it was able to cut a 12.5 mile commute with lots of hills, and a couple big ones, from 70 minutes each way on my mountain bike to about 60 minutes.

I have since built a nice ebike from a cheap hybrid on Nashbar and one of the gocarlite direct drive motor kits, total outlay about $1100 including rack, fenders, and other little accessories. This thing is awesome, but I never got to try it on that 12.5 mile hilly commute to get a comparison. My current commute is 16 miles or so on mostly flat terrain; I do it in 75 minutes on the downhill direction and 80 minutes on the way back (note that I stop at lights and stop signs, and slow down to go around pedestrians). Range is about 30 miles for my speed under these conditions. The direct drive motor does have a little rolling resistance and is heavier, but even so I don't have any problem removing the battery pack and using the bike for short distance trips of 4 miles or so on my own power.

Regarding speed: when I ride the bike I'm typically coasting at 16-18 mph (estimated). I could go faster but that would reduce range and wouldn't be as safe on mixed-use trails. Even so, most of the bikers riding lightweight road bikes are traveling about the same speed as I am or faster, so I've recently become aware that I could be just as fast and more badass on a road bike. So I would only recommend ebikes if one or more of these statements applies to you:
  • You have to carry a lot of extra weight (10-20+ pounds, such as a grocery trip)
  • Your commute has a ton of hills (I pass almost everyone on hills, this is why I started ebiking in the first place)
  • You tend to arrive at your destination sweaty due to effort or the heat and find that unacceptable/inconvenient (for instance, no changing facilities, consumes too much time to pack a change of clothes, etc.)
  • You want to have increased low-end torque to feel more comfortable riding in the road (so you can accelerate from a stop and make turns about as quickly or quicker than the cars can)
  • You own a car but want to kill your addiction to it by leaving you with ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE not to use your bike to go somewhere within 10-15 miles (this is the #1 reason I still use mine)
If you're still interested, don't skimp on the motor like I tried to do at first. Those 250W things won't go very fast and can't handle serious hills (about 5% grade tops).

shedinator

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #17 on: April 17, 2012, 07:00:41 PM »
After researching it a bit, I realized "Hey, these are basically overpriced, underpowered electric scooters". ...If riding a scooter doesn't sound exciting to you, then neither will riding an electric bike.

I strongly disagree with these statements.

A bicycle you pedal, and get exercise, even if Electric.  I often turn it to "off" just to pedal and know that I have the electric as backup for longer rides/hills/etc.  Easy as reaching down while riding and flipping a switch (same as when riding my motorcycle and switching to the reserve tank).

I think there may be a regional difference in terminology at play here. An "electric bike" where I'm from is something more along the lines of what cosmie described- something similar to a Vespa/Scooter, which gets its power from an electric motor. Anything with both pedals and an engine was called a moped. When I read electric bike, I initially assumed you meant the former, until the rest of your post indicated the latter.

arebelspy

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #18 on: April 17, 2012, 08:19:42 PM »
After researching it a bit, I realized "Hey, these are basically overpriced, underpowered electric scooters". ...If riding a scooter doesn't sound exciting to you, then neither will riding an electric bike.

I strongly disagree with these statements.

A bicycle you pedal, and get exercise, even if Electric.  I often turn it to "off" just to pedal and know that I have the electric as backup for longer rides/hills/etc.  Easy as reaching down while riding and flipping a switch (same as when riding my motorcycle and switching to the reserve tank).

I think there may be a regional difference in terminology at play here. An "electric bike" where I'm from is something more along the lines of what cosmie described- something similar to a Vespa/Scooter, which gets its power from an electric motor. Anything with both pedals and an engine was called a moped. When I read electric bike, I initially assumed you meant the former, until the rest of your post indicated the latter.

Huh, weird.  I definitely would call one with no pedals a scooter (or perhaps Vespa, or Moped).  I wouldn't ever call something with pedals a moped/Vespa/scooter, but an electric bicycle.  We do seem to have some regional terminology differences.

I don't think that's the difference cosmie and I were discussing though, as we both were talking about a bicycle with pedals that had an electric assist motor.. not a Vespa type vehicle.  He/She just used it differently than I, leading to a different conclusion (don't bother versus has potential)
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gecko10x

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #19 on: April 26, 2012, 11:08:48 AM »
So I would only recommend ebikes if one or more of these statements applies to you:
  • You have to carry a lot of extra weight (10-20+ pounds, such as a grocery trip)
  • Your commute has a ton of hills (I pass almost everyone on hills, this is why I started ebiking in the first place)
  • You tend to arrive at your destination sweaty due to effort or the heat and find that unacceptable/inconvenient (for instance, no changing facilities, consumes too much time to pack a change of clothes, etc.)
  • You want to have increased low-end torque to feel more comfortable riding in the road (so you can accelerate from a stop and make turns about as quickly or quicker than the cars can)
  • You own a car but want to kill your addiction to it by leaving you with ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE not to use your bike to go somewhere within 10-15 miles (this is the #1 reason I still use mine)
If you're still interested, don't skimp on the motor like I tried to do at first. Those 250W things won't go very fast and can't handle serious hills (about 5% grade tops).

I'm entertaining the idea of an electric commuter bike- we are moving in about a month, and my commute will be about 10mi each way (vs. current 17). Unfortunately it's probably only do-able with an electric bike (very hilly, time, I'm not a biker, etc.), but in order to justify the expense, I think I'd have to sell my car (one of our two), which would mean I'd be on the hook for biking in rainy weather, as it wouldn't make much sense for my wife (and kids) to make the trip twice to drop me off & pick me up. Alas, biking in the rain does not thrill me, and I'm not sure I could convince myself to do it. After writing this out, I'm not sure I could make it work... does anyone have any suggestions?

Also, I just found MMM about a week ago. I've read through virtually every post, and have found lots of good advice, but I (we) am NOT currently very badass- we are a pretty typical American family with too much debt (I now realize)- so please don't be too harsh on me! ;-)

the fixer

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #20 on: April 26, 2012, 11:47:51 AM »
Biking in the rain isn't so bad! It does take more preparation and gear than on a normal day, though.

Let me start by saying that I bike about 70 miles per week but I don't own a single "road biker" outfit of bike shorts and lycra. I bike in whatever clothes I have on. The only extra piece of "clothing" I recommend normally is the little velcro straps to keep your pant legs away from the chain and getting grease stains on them.

In the rain, you need a waterproof jacket, rain pants, and waterproof shoes (or bike shoe covers). The jacket and rain pants should be a pretty breathable material for the summer. Since this probably isn't your workplace's dress code, you'll need to bring some clothes in a waterproof bag: either a rainproof pannier or, at the cheap end, 1-2 gallon-size Ziploc freezer bags inside a backpack. You might also want a towel. You can pick up a good rain jacket and pants for $100 new if you shop around for discounts and don't need to buy right away (check backcountry.com, steepandcheap.com, REI, etc.)

In my part of the country most of the summer rain we get comes in the form of afternoon thunderstorms that pass through rather quickly. In this area, you have the option of planning around those storms. If the weather reports online say it's about to rain, hold off on leaving work for another hour or so to wait the storm out. It's still good to have fenders on the bike and realize that there's still a chance of getting caught in the rain, but it won't happen as often as you think.

If you're evaluating whether or not bike commuting is possible for you, you're way more Mustachian than 90% of the people I've worked with at past jobs. You'll get there!

the fixer

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #21 on: April 26, 2012, 12:30:51 PM »
One more thing: cost-justifying an ebike is not hard. For a 20-mi daily commute it should pay for itself within 2 years. If you bike at all during the winter the payoff would be quicker.

I did this exercise last year and computed my driving costs at $.30-$.35 per mile. This is mostly depreciation, gas, tires, and a few cents for other regular maintenance of a car with less than 100k miles (this did not include "fixed" costs like insurance and registration so it assumes you keep the car, and it also does not include hard-to-quantify costs like speeding tickets and accidents). If you drove a similar car 20 miles to work and back every weekday from May 1 through Oct 31, it would cost $750-850. Granted, this was for a Honda Element; drive a Civic and it will be cheaper, a Pilot and it will be more expensive.

There are small per-mile costs of an ebike that depend on the battery type, but a good battery will last for 2-3 years of daily use. As for electricity, a 32V 10Ah battery would take about 0.4kWh to FULLY charge (assuming some inefficiency in the charger); you can check your power bill if you want, but that's insignificant. If you charge the battery twice per day, at work and at home, the cost to you is halved.

kudy

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #22 on: April 26, 2012, 12:37:43 PM »
My calculation was that it would pay for itself in 10 months of use if I used it twice a week.  If I used it more often, it would obviously pay for itself a lot faster.

gecko10x

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #23 on: April 26, 2012, 12:46:14 PM »
One more thing: cost-justifying an ebike is not hard. For a 20-mi daily commute it should pay for itself within 2 years. If you bike at all during the winter the payoff would be quicker.

I did this exercise last year and computed my driving costs at $.30-$.35 per mile. This is mostly depreciation, gas, tires, and a few cents for other regular maintenance of a car with less than 100k miles (this did not include "fixed" costs like insurance and registration so it assumes you keep the car, and it also does not include hard-to-quantify costs like speeding tickets and accidents). If you drove a similar car 20 miles to work and back every weekday from May 1 through Oct 31, it would cost $750-850. Granted, this was for a Honda Element; drive a Civic and it will be cheaper, a Pilot and it will be more expensive.

There are small per-mile costs of an ebike that depend on the battery type, but a good battery will last for 2-3 years of daily use. As for electricity, a 32V 10Ah battery would take about 0.4kWh to FULLY charge (assuming some inefficiency in the charger); you can check your power bill if you want, but that's insignificant. If you charge the battery twice per day, at work and at home, the cost to you is halved.

This is a good point, and made me realize that my calculation was off by half! However, even though it would pay for itself rather quickly, the issue for me would be the upfront expense; if I don't sell my car, it costs us an additional $$ now, on top of having to come up with $7500 to pay it off in the next 12mo (longer story). If I sold the car, we would be about $7-8k richer. So, at this point in time, it comes down to cash-in-hand.

the fixer

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #24 on: April 26, 2012, 03:17:56 PM »
Yes you're right. I tried to avoid stating "you'd SAVE $800/year with an ebike!" because it's not really true; you already paid for the car (or at least committed to paying for it via a loan), and part of that cost is just cashing in on your vehicle inventory.

If you're talking about replacing a car with a bike it gets a little more complicated, since you'll need to be prepared from the beginning to ride the bike year-round. Depending on your area's climate, that might mean you'll need to buy some snow tires for the winter. Winter bike clothing can also be a challenge, but you probably own at least a few things already that would work as part of a system.

One thing to think about that might make the decision easier: if you sold the car, bought a bike, then decided it's not working for you on certain days of the week or times of the year, would you have saved enough by selling the car to buy an alternative vehicle, e.g. a full-blown scooter, or even a Mustachian car? http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/03/19/top-10-cars-for-smart-people/ I'm not saying this is your best option, but you could keep it as a backup to put you more at ease with the decision to jump head-first into biking. Since in your current situation you need to come up with $7500 in the next year, you could easily buy one of the vehicles on MMM's list for that much so you'd be no worse off than you are now.

arebelspy

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #25 on: July 01, 2012, 11:17:44 AM »
Kevin Kelly over at CoolTools did a decent summary of Electric Bicycles (just the general pros/cons) the other day that was pretty much spot on.

Anyone in the beginning stages of thinking about getting one should check it out.

http://www.kk.org/cooltools/archives/006239.php
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kudy

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #26 on: August 07, 2012, 09:33:28 PM »
I bought a ridekick electric trailer today - going to take it to work tomorrow morning.  I'll let you all know what I think about it after I've used it for a while; also, if it gets me on the bike more often, if it saves me gas money, etc.  If I break even on the cost of ownership over a year vs. my car, and it gets me to ride more often (and in the process, healthier), I think I'll be happy.

Sacadoh

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Re: Electric Bike?
« Reply #27 on: August 08, 2012, 03:42:00 AM »
I had one for a year or two before it was stolen. My commute is 14 miles. I was not too much quicker on my electric bike than on my hybrid.
2 main positives:-

1. I could commute in work clothes incl a suit, as although I got some exercise the motor took the strain on the hills so no sweat.

2. Sometime 14 miles seems daunting on muy hybrid bike. Never did on my electric bike.

An expensive bit of kit though. Would I get one again? Perhaps when I am older.