Electric bikes are all the rage today- In fact, anything electric. Scooters, bikes, cars- There is a lot of hype around all of them. But should you buy one?
Electric bikes make riding a bike effortless, at any speed, almost up any hill. You don’t even need to be an athlete to get all the glorious benefits of cycling. And think about what would traffic be like if everyone had electric bikes?
So why did I want to get an e-bike? Well for several reasons, it provides me with a bit of daily exercise, saves me money and time, and I’m no longer adding to the traffic.
A bit of Exercise
Electric bikes usually have two options- you can use pedal-assist or thumb throttle.
When you use the pedal assist, you ride like normal and the motor detects when you are pedalling it kicks into gear giving you a boost. Using an e-bike in this fashion will mean that you will get a bit of exercise compared to using public transport or sitting in your car.
Now if you aren’t up for any exercise, you can use the thumb throttle and drive your e-bike like it’s a motorbike.
An electric bike will end up saving you money in the long run. A single charge of an electric bike will be a few bucks, and that will get you several trips to work and back.
The average price of public transport for a day trip to work is around $5 ($2.72 each way) where I live, and driving my car will cost me about the same. So for cents on the dollar I can use an electric bike.
Granted- I could just bike without an electric motor, but getting to work with speed and not being sweaty has its advantages.
At this stage, I’d also like to point out that the cost of car ownership is much more than the cost of petrol at the gas station. So if you’re interested in doing a calculation to see how much your commute costs per day- remember to add car maintenance, insurance, and other expenses as well as petrol.
With an e-bike (or any bike really) you can avoid having to sit in traffic during peak times. Let me rephrase that- you can avoid being traffic during peak work times.
With a bike, you can fly past all the traffic, and take routes on cycleways and down narrow paths that are not accessible to you 2-tonne dinosaur exploding metal transport box.
Traffic adds about an extra 15 to 20 minutes to my commute in my car when I leave during peak hours- so rather than a 10-minute drive to work- the trip takes me between 25 to 30 minutes. That extra time spent being traffic is dead time. Sure- I listen to podcasts during that time- but it’s still a waste.
Travel on a bike is more consistent as you don’t get stuck in traffic.
Even if I was to use public transport it would take me around 40 minutes- 15 minutes to walk to the bus stop- 10 minutes on the bus and another 15 minutes walk at the other end- or I can catch two buses to walk less- but that takes 50 minutes. Then I also need to schedule my departure around the buses run every 30 minutes.
I can make my own schedule with my electric bike.
DIY Electric Mountain Bike
I’m a do it yourself kind of guy. And when it comes to an electric bike, it wasn’t going to be any different. A new electric bike can set you back $2000, to $3000. There was no way I was going to be paying that. Instead- I bought an electric bike kit.
I purchased a mid-drive kit of AliExpress and had it shipped to my door. I couldn’t find any local suppliers at the time- but I’m sure there are now. Although I would expect that they are just on selling similar kits made in China.
- Motor: I went with a mid-range 750-watt Bafang unit. There is a 1000-watt motor but I figured the 750-watts was enough given that most New Zealand off the shelf electric bikes only have 350-watt motors. The 750-watt motor allows me to go up to 50kph on the flat with no pedal input at all.
- Battery: Bigger is better- but bigger is also more expensive! The batteries in these kits are a big factor in determining their price. I only need a short-range- so didn’t opt for the largest battery. It’s a 13 amps hour 48-volt battery.
- LCD screen: I opted for the basic LCD screen- there was no need for a colour one. The colour screen just adds another $60 to the kits price.
The Donor Bike
I started commuting to work on a hand me down road bike from a workmate- but the electric bike kit wasn’t compatible with that. So I flicked the free bike on TradeMe for $1 reserve and fetched $200 for it. Not a bad gift that was described as being worthless.
I then purchased a second-hand mountain bike for the conversion. It’s a mid-level 21-speed mountain bike with front suspension.
Once I had done the conversion I’d lost the front 3 gears, so now the bike is technically only a 7 speed.
It’s a fairly basic procedure to install the electric bike kit onto the mountain bike. Anyone with a basic understanding can work it out. It’s basically like lego in term of how you put it together. All the pieces snap together.
- Remove the bottom bracket- you do need a special tool for this which I had to buy
- Install the mid-drive motor
- Install the battery- generally onto the drink bottle holder mounts
- Install the LCD screen and power button and power cut-off brake handles onto the handlebars
- Install the speed sensor onto the rear wheel
- Install front and rear lights
- Connect everything together and make the cables tidy
Cost: The bike ended up costing me about $1300. The kit was $1050, and the bike cost me $150. I also spend some money on cable ties, a new chain, and tool to remove the bottom bracket.
At the time I purchased my e-bike (2018) there was nothing in the $1300 range. Most e-bikes at the time cost around $2500+. I suspect the price will come down once there is more demand for e-bikes. This will make the kits less attractive, except that the kits generally have more powerful motors.
So for $1300, I have a powerful 750-watt bike that can get me to work in 15 minutes at speeds of up to 60kph. Granted, the bike’s wiring isn’t as tidy as what you would expect from an off the shelf version, it’s still more than enough for what I need it for.
Return on Investment
So how long will it take me to see a return on my investment?
I only live 6km away from work. That daily trip is costing me $7 a day when I drive my car. I calculated this figure from my last 7 years of expenses on my car, including maintenance, fuel, and insurance. This means it costs me about $0.58 per kilometre I worked out in a previous post about the true cost of car ownership. That means I need to make 177 trips ($1237 / $7 )
So it will take me 177 trips to break even on the money side. But it’s more than just saving money. When I go on my bike I save about 30 minutes a day in travel time. And saving that 30 minutes is better than the $7 saving!
So far, I have done 1270 kilometres on my bike, so around 100 trips to and from work. I’m hoping to get this number up in the upcoming year. Over winter, I didn’t end up using it that much due to the rain.
So how long is your commute? and would you consider getting an e-bike?
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