The great e-bike experiment: the data


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I have a conventional bike and lots of really old people pass me at ludicrous speeds on otherwise safe bike roads. On average, they either reach their destination much sooner than I do, or they end up in a hospital or worse.



I’d think that for a relatively short commute in a high-traffic area (such as my own commute), electric assist would seem to offer very little advantage over a regular bike. If anything, it turns your active commuting into somewhat more passive commuting (exercise-wise), which to me would be a disadvantage. And I don’t even ride especially fast (in fact, in the summer, when it is hot, I try to leave the house as early as possible and ride more slowly).

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No calculation of the fun factor? I wouldn’t ride a bike to commute - so that’s the only metric I would like.



I think this is the core of the matter. I’ve got a friend who’s been doing his commute with an e-bike for a couple of years now, and in his case at least it means he does a hell of a lot more biking (e-assisted or not) than he did back when his options were a normal bike or a car.



Thanks for taking the time to report on your experiences. I commute 34 miles/day on my bike in a moderately hilly area. I have a gravel bike and I built an assist bike. On the nicest days with little wind I ride the gravel bike. The assist bike gives me more options and I can ride more days in a week. I never arrive at work in my car and think “that was a GREAT drive”, but I almost always enjoy riding my bike. I think of time driving as “lost” time, so for just one more hour invested I get to ride a bicycle. IMHO, this is for quality of life not time savings.



I commute about an hour each way by regular bike, depending on the route. It likely takes a bit longer than a car would but perhaps depends. Leaving early, there seem to be few cars. Later and it is badly congested in one spot. (I never drive to work, so don’t have good data for that time of day - I am riding with the rush hour traffic).

I have great transit available (one bus, 30 minute arrival periods, almost door-to-door). The door-to-door time that takes (I take the bus about 5-10 times a year) is pretty close to the cycling time if I ride the direct route.

But the time saved for me is not on the commute, it is gym time. By doing my bike commute, I don’t need to make other time for exercise, and am fit enough to do any of the active things if I want to, without it being a chore.



A relative of mine (30min car ride every day, relatively flat, quite rural with a part in a town) changed his car for an E-Bike with a SwissGo motor. Those are legally problematic where he is based, but he figures since he can take third level roads (usually just used by farmers and partially barred for other motorised vehicles) now no-one will really care. A first test showed he reached 42 km/h, but I don’t know about his mean or median.

For him, it’s still a 30 min drive, but he enjoys it immensely more than going by car.
(Just FTR, he has a really fancy Pinion gearbox, a Next time I visit, I’m going to try that out…)

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Are there shower facilities at your place of work?

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How is this any different than thinking about the moped?

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Given what I’ve seen in the Netherlands, the benefit of ebikes is largely that they allow people who are not especially fit (like the elderly) to use bikes to transport stuff. Hills aren’t a factor there, but hauling one’s grocieries/shopping about is. The biking infrastructure there is so great that one can get pretty much anywhere on bike.

The comparison of time in a car vs. bike may not be relevant for many potential ebike users – like the many people who live in downtown Toronto who do not have a car but are fed up with the erratic public transit options and need to arrive at work looking good (ie not covered in sweat). And as many have already noted, driving entails other costs, both to quality of life and larger environmental ones.

I freely admit that the ebike may be being overhyped here in North America as the thing that will get everyone to stop driving (since obviously it won’t) – the really key thing is cycling infrastructure. Nevertheless, an ebike does allow some people to bike for whom it would otherwise not be practical. That seems like a good thing.



I think you should try this experiment again with a bike that does 28mph Max instead of this 20mph limit. For commuters the extra speed will make a big difference.



I have the advantage of a public transportation route that is faster than even using a personal automobile (even without the time to find a parking spot) and twice as fast as cycling would be, so I am not a good use case. But I do use my purely human powered bike with trailer for shopping that would normally require the car that I got rid of. But I can state that the total cost of ownership is much lower for me thanks to my neighbourhood, and more importantly I have more fun and less stress. Except for freezing my ass off in the winter, but what the heck.

I do admit that I am looking into the TCO of having a Vespa-style electric scooter, one where I can pop put the battery and let it recharge overnight. That gives me 50km/h on the roads, but there are the issues of riding a cycle in the winter, slipperiness, things like that. So I hesitate still. And keep riding the tram to work. And thinking I don’t need it after all, it’s just toy lust.



Apparently some cyclists get crotchety when people build or buy something between a moped and a traditional bicycle. I’d say I don’t get all the hatred of e-bikes, but I know bikers who look down their noses at moped and scooter (in the motorcycle sense, such as a Vespa) riders, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the superiority complex and self-shaming of a “bike snob” (whether it’s sincere or contrived for the benefit of the target audience or somewhere in between).

Okay, I’m grumpy and treading into danger of disappointment (in which case I’d have to add myself to the list), so I’ll bow out of these threads. I’m glad this new author is sharing his experience. And I can’t fault his honesty. Some of the professed snobbery feels like gatekeeping, but c’est la vie. Carry on.






My commute is about 10 miles and mostly uphill, I got tired of sweating for hours after a morning shower while at work so I built an ebike and get to work having pedaled hard but not sweating like wild animal is GREAT! I also have very bad knees and if it can get me out riding more (which I’d like) then more power to ebikes. All these hard core folks don’t get it. I’ve ridden the Seattle to Portland classic 3 times (200 miles) so I don’t have to prove anything to the hard core guys and when their knees start to go they will look into it I’m sure. Times for my commute? I can drive in 20 min in morning 30-40 min in afternoon traffic. EBike 35 min in morning, 35 in afternoon. Bus morning 1 hr 10 min in morning. Who knows in afternoon. Riding a regular bike in morning 45 min-1 hr, home 35 min. It’s for exercise and enjoyment and keeps 1 more car off the road.



Even the snobs should appreciate this.



That Vespa does sound like fun. Like you - I’m fortunate in that I can walk to most - but not all of my shopping. Though work is too far and unsafe for either walk or bike - and in winter impossible in either case. And the car is twice as quick as the public transport and paid off with only 40k miles on it. For the price of a transit pass each month I have a car as it is now.



Most states limit the top assisted speed to 20 mph.

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Does Canada not allow “Speed Pedelecs” (California term for a max 45 kph assist bike)?

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