May 2, 2024

Ebikes are extraordinary

I thought about getting an ebike for a few years before I finally pulled the trigger. With almost two thousand miles on the odometer, I’m happy to report that these are utterly magical machines. If you’re even remotely considering buying one, do. I’m pretty confident you won’t regret it.

Ride1Up ebike by Lake Merritt

Here are a few observations based on my experience so far:

1. It’s often the very fastest way to travel

For any destination within a handful of miles, an ebike gets you there shockingly fast. There’s a market a mile from my house that I sometimes walk to. It’s a nice walk! But it’s 20 minutes each way. Forty minutes to walk back and forth. On my bike, it’s maybe 3 minutes. Locking up is quick — much faster than parking. Door to door just feels startlingly fast, almost like a magic trick.

2. Biking is usually the cheapest way too, by a wide margin

Driving is quite costly per mile, especially when you include all the easy-to-ignore costs like insurance, maintenance, and depreciation. Public transit is cheaper, but far from free. But the marginal cost per mile traveled on an ebike is close to nil. Electricity to charge the battery rounds down to nothing. So if you score your options on cost & speed together, the ebike will often trounce your other options even more handily.

3. A more affordable purchase than you might think

I think many people have the misconception that an ebike is a roughly five thousand dollar purchase. It certainly can be, but you don’t need to spend anywhere near that to get a really solid one. Mine is a Ride1Up — a solid, dependable, well-made Class 3 bike with solid components, a throttle, front shocks, a rear rack, and integrated lights. It’s currently available from Ride1Up 1 for $1295.

4. Going faster cuts stress dramatically

When there’s no adequate bike lane, the center of the rightmost lane is usually the best option to avoid the door zone. On my old manual bike, I used to find this deeply stressful. I could go pretty fast, but not fast enough to mollify drivers. If you ride at 15mph in front of them, drivers become psychopaths. I stopped riding entirely for a few years after some close call punish-passes and verbal assaults. The ebike almost completely removes this discomfort. Because driver rage isn’t linear with delay. At 25mph some drivers are still impatient, but they don’t respond with the same blind and incandescent rage as they do when briefly forced to go 15mph. This may be the single biggest improvement in my riding experience compared to my old bike.

5. Quick acceleration forestalls many dangers

Using the throttle to get up to speed when the light turns green, (or beforehand, at intersections with leading pedestrian intervals — more of these everywhere, please) eliminates even more conflicts with impatient drivers. Because even on main arteries where people drive faster than I can go, the next stop is often near enough that a head-start moots the issue. More directly, in situations like unprotected crossings, the throttle gets you quickly clear of oncoming traffic or other danger.

6. A throttle is useful for slow maneuvering too

A subtle thing, but I often find myself wanting to inch forward a bit from a standstill to get a better view or maneuver past an obstacle. This can be annoying on manual bikes and ebikes without throttles. You may have to shift to an easier gear or reposition the pedals to get some leverage. A throttle makes it easy. You can lightly tap on it and roll forward a few inches. This is a surprisingly useful ability.

7. Pairs well with public transit

This depends on where you happen to live of course, but in the Bay Area, BART-plus-ebike works really well. A remarkable turnabout, since bikes on BART were completely banned until 2013. And the new generation train cars have very functional rails to secure them. 2 More recently, the pointless rule against taking them on escalators was repealed. So you can usually avoid the slow and often malodorous elevators. My bike even has a walk-assist option that spins the motor at low RPM, that I can use to roll the bike up the rail on the sides of some stairwells, or even in a pinch (if somewhat clunkily) up the stairs.

8. Integrated lights are a major convenience

Many ebikes have integrated lights that run off the same battery as the motor. That means you never have to think about charging them or remembering to bring them. And because they don’t serve any function without a power source, they’re not really worth stealing, so you don’t have to bring them with you when you lock up. Never having to think about this is a significant convenience.

9. Highly exhilirating

If you’ve ridden a bike, you might think you know what it’s like to ride an ebike. But if you’ve never tried one, you really don’t know. It’s a categorically different experience. Riding one of these things is just incredibly fun. A class 3 ebike is definitely a bike, but it offers some of the same exhiliration of riding a motorcycle, at much lower risk. Not everyone enjoys going fast, but if you’re a confident cyclist and you like speed, I promise that the riding experience will put a smile on your face.

So here’s my advice: if you have even a glimmer of a desire for an ebike, test ride one. You might be surprised by how much fun they are. If you live in the Bay Area you can try mine.

1 This is an affiliate link. Ride1Up makes truly excellent products so I’m very happy to evangelize for them! 2 The original pincer-type racks worked very poorly and have, mercifully, been abandoned in favor of simple rails and straps.