Why I Sold My Car for an Electric Bike
This is an inspiring article by Arjun Adamson. The original post of it is located here.
My reasonings for smarter transportation.
Why did I want to get rid of my car?
1. Keeping a car in SF is expensive
It’s not just the cost of gas that’s rising. As a 28 year old male, insurance is not cheap. That along with regular car maintenance, parking fees, and gas combined, I was easily spending $5,000+ annually. While it’s nice to think that at any given time you might head out for a weekend trip, it was costing me to have this occasional perk.
2. Driving and parking in the city is frustrating
There’s two aspects of driving in a city that distinguish it as a miserable experience; traffic and parking. There’s no doubt that a car is a faster ride on the open road (car ads strive to remind you of that experience) but I was using my car mostly in the city, for commutes less than 4 miles, and over steep hills. It was how I got to my gym on the other side of the city, or how I picked up specialty groceries from my favorite Indian shop. There’s a regular lag of traffic at lights (mind you, it’s not nearly as bad as LA traffic, but that’s a whole other beast), then there’s the battle for street parking, or the cost premiums for a parking lot. Other than my regular trips to the gym, I opted for public transport to spare myself from the hassle that comes with city driving.
3. Having a car was more burden than benefit
I was getting tired of paying for repairs, parking tickets, and registration fees; all to not use it very much. On average, I was driving it less than 13,000 miles annually. Sure, it was nice to think that at any time I could just get out of the city, but it seldom happened. Weekend trips to Yosemite with friends were often in their bigger cars, and regular transport around the city was easier by public transport. As it turned out, I was paying for the option of having a car, but using public transport as my primary means for around the city. I really found myself questioning the utility of my car after shelling out $6,000 for a new transmission and flywheel (among other charges), and decided it was time to sell.
Just before I sold my car, I had checked out a lovely little bike shop by the name of The New Wheel, and tried one of their electric bikes. For clarity sake, an electric bike or ‘ebike’ is a pedal assisted bike; it has a motor and battery pack, and each pedal push you give it boosts a little more than what you do on your own. It’s almost completely silent, and really nothing like the obnoxiously loud mopeds you occasionally see around. My initial pre-ride judgment was that this was a heavier bike than any I’d ridden before (45lbs versus my sub 20 road bike) and I was doubtful any motor would make a big difference. But I was delighted by the store owner’s enthusiam about their products, and gave it a try. After a peppy ride around the hills of Bernal Heights, I was excited by the prospects. It felt like a whole new way to get around, hills were a breeze and you could keep up with cars without breaking a sweat. It felt almost magical to be going this fast with this little effort. I went back home by bus, and within a few days I had sold my car.
All of this was a rather hasty decision on my behalf, I wasn’t really sure how this was going to pan out. I was reacting to the frustration of owning a car, but I really didn’t know what the alternative was going to look like. Initially I was feeling a bit nervous about my decision. It was a real pain to get to my gym (2 different buses, and the frustration of missing one). Later that week I rented an eBike from The New Wheel and spent the day trying it out.
My primary concerns with testing it out were whether or not it was going to be able to handle the steep hill of 17th street, how well the battery would perform, and how hard would it be to get into my apartment. It passed the test, with flying colors, and I took the plunge and bought the $3,500 Kalkhoff Sahel.
While I’ve enjoyed my bike, I wanted to make sure I experienced it thoroughly before reviewing it, and I write this blog after 2 months of ownership.
So why am I happier with an eBike?
1. Owning an ebike significantly cheaper than a car
You have far less costs involved with an eBike, and for me this was a big deal. No Insurance fees, no parking fees, no DMV registration, far cheaper repairs and fuel cost. I was so aggrivated in owning a car and shelling out cash for something I was seeing less and less utility in, and my eBike really took up the reigns of filling in when I did want to get around by car.
As it turns out, it’s more than 20x cheaper in annual fees:
2. I actually get around the city faster by eBike
This is the key difference. On top of it being more affordable than a car, it’s actually getting me places in less time. There really is no comparison with other forms of transport within the city.
Faster than by Bus? No problem. You have to wait for your bus to arrive, and make a dozen stops along the way, all to get within walking distance of your destination. An eBike gets you right to where you want to go, and on your schedule.
Faster than a regular bike? Yup. A bicycle has the nimbleness to get right up to the front at each light, but there’s really no comparison when it comes to speed. On an eBike, you’re able to accelerate right off the start, and then maintain a higher speed, even over hills. In traditional bikes, people shell out money to optimize their ride for speed and efficiency. This typically means wearing cycling shoes and riding road bikes (thin tires, light bikes). While there’s something wonderful about getting on a bike and traveling under your own power, the downsides of road bikes for urban transport are clear. You typically have clip in shoes, which are awkward to walk in, and require another set of shoes for walking around. Then you have the challenges of dodging potholes on your super thin tires, and the risk of getting them caught in SF’s streetcar tracks (I’ve been there, it’s not pretty). Finally, the posture is really optimized for speed, you’re tucked down for aerodynamics, it’s harldy a pleasant ride for around town. One of my favorite new activities is to ride up to one of these spandex clad riders who are anxiously track-standing at the front of a light and blow right past them, sitting fully upright with a pack of gear on me.
Faster than a car? Surprisingly, yes.While this sounds counterintuitive because I’m riding slower than cars can drive (the pedal assist easily gets you to a top speed of 25 mph) there’s more than just top speed that factors into the overall time. While the cars line up for the light, I move right up front in the shoulder or bike lane. It’s like there is no traffic.Then when I get to my destination, parking is a cinch. I have my bike rigged with a seat and wheel lock kit that replaces quick releases, so I only worry about locking the frame to a stationary object.
How much faster is it? I’ve done several comparisons where I would ask Google maps to estimate the times for various forms of transport. Generally speaking, the closest time comparison to an eBike is with a car; I usually get places a few minutes faster than Google suggests for a car, and on top of that I’m not searching for parking. It’s surprising how fast you can get around when you can bypass most traffic and keep a consistent pace of 20mph. Here’s a map of one of my regular destinations, going from my house to the climbing gym.
3. I’m more mobile, so I experience more of the city.
With the supreme ease of parking my eBike, I’ve found myself going around the city on a whim. One day I decided to ride down to Tartine’s to get a fresh loaf of bread, and found that I could make it there in less than 9 minutes from my house. While that is also possible on a regular bike (the ride there is all downhill from my house), getting back would be a hassle through “The Wiggle” a series of roads that is considered the flattest route traversing East/West in SF. Instead, I just headed straight back the way I came, cruising up 17th ave at 10mph. The trip back was less than 15 minutes.
I find it delightful that I can just cruise around, and if I see something interesting I can stop and see. It’s just not that easy to park a car in SF, and you really can’t cover as much ground on a regular bike. As a result of being more mobile within the city, I’ve tried new restaurants, went into more shops, it’s been really pleasant way to experience the city.
4. I get some exercise, but I’m not sweaty
Any bike commuter would highlight showing up sweaty to a meeting as one of the downsides to commuting by bike; but with some assistance you’re far less likely to burn up. It’s not completely effortless, but it’s like putting in a brisk walk but making it halfway across the city.
I’ve actually hauled a fair amount of gear on my bike, and it’s been almost comical how much you can carry and still pass a regular cyclist.
Since owning my eBike, I have averaged 38 miles of riding a week, riding about 350 miles thus far. It’s not quite the same energy expense as a traditional bike, but its certainly more activity than sitting in public transport or a car.
All of these factors combined, its easy to say that I’m really happy riding my eBike, it’s just a pleasant ride. That said, no vehicle is perfect:
I think an eBike is the best way to get around a city. I genuinely enjoy riding more than driving. I see cars differently now, as less functional for day to day city commuting. I cruise by the line of cars stopped in traffic and I think, it doesn’t have to be like this, there is a better way. I implore you to try one out, and if you live in San Francisco, go see the friendly people at The New Wheel, and try out their bikes for a spin!
End of Article by Arjun Adamson.
Arjun makes some great points and I commend him for using his electric bike as a car replacement!
An electric bike as a car alternative or replacement is something I am very passionate about. Here is a post that has a similar theme to Arjun’s article:
The Electric Bike: Conveniences of a Car with the Advantages of a Bicycle
Electric bikes are changing the way we get around and they provide a convenient way for more people to commute by bike.
Big thanks to Arjun Adamson for putting together this inspiring article!
P.S. Don’t forget to join the Electric Bike Report community for updates from the electric bike world, plus ebike riding and maintenance tips!
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James Scott says
Cool article. I wish more people who live in a city would read this and get an ebike like I did.
Yes! Please share this with your friends and family and hopefully they will share it others. The more people on bikes the better!
mike weatherby says
I totally agree, and yes I do own an electric bikes store, but one of my arguments about EVs is that there is always an emphasis on electric automobiles and not enough on ebikes. Of course if there is a choice between a regular vehicle and an electric vehicle, by all means choose the “e”, but what we really need to look at is eliminating the need for cars in general, especially in the city. Yes ecars are sexier, however all the costs associated with any auto, insurance, registration, parking, I could go on, are the same. Yes you save on gas, but look at what you save..in SPACE on the road and in general with an ebike. There is no comparison. Go to Europe and see what they are doing over there with ebikes vs autos. In Italy car sales went down while ebike sales went up! If you need to take a long trip, rent a car, most times your are looking at less than 300 bucks, but around town, ride your ebike.
John Reeves says
I have an Ebike and no car! What a pleasure!!
James Scott says
every year it seems more people are looking hard at buying an ebike.
And you don’t have to pay anything like $3,500 for an ebike which makes it even more attractive. For me half the fun was converting my own bike and it’s every bit as reliable as a pre-built version.
thanks for the great article about giving up car for ebike.. I’m considering doing that, giving myself a month or so to test out the reality of using ebike in all weather and getting right gear together (cycling rain jacket, good headlight, etc), in new Orleans. From uptown new Orleans where I live in the riverbend area, I’m about 8 miles from my office in the French quarter and I find the ebike almost as fast (and on some days much faster) and a whole lot more pleasant…I got a shopping basket that connects to the back rack for groceries (and feel very European using it for shopping and then cycling home with baguettes, etc – this being new Orleans and French bread the norm)- admittedly this is probably easier for me than a lot of people used to shopping industrial-style as in my younger years I had a bike rather than a car and never got out of the habit of daily shopping for fresh food – I’ve even started cycling to the barn where I keep my horse (on the river levee and, luckily, only about a mile from my home as cycling in riding breeches and boots is not totally optimum) …the final test will be when I get the bike attachment for my doggyride stroller (my 14 year old German Shepherd insists on going everywhere with me [particularly the barn where he’s ever hopeful that one of the barn cats will come over and play with him – I keep trying to explain to him his over-eager expression of interest is probably not enticing to the cats – he forgets, however, that he’s going to get tired after walking a mile or two, so the doggy stroller has been great, so now that he’s used to it and enjoying it – and as soon as the levee path reopens so I’m not riding home in the streets with him in the back at night – we try it as a bike trailer to the barn at night (his feeling are really hurt when I go pedaling off alone to the barn) I’m still apparently the only ebike in town (I bought it out in boulder, co, this summer)and the guys at the bike shop don’t really approve but, hey, I’m a 63 year old lawyer cycling to work – and, even more fun, I can cycle with my very athletic 24 year old son without slowing him down) — Anyway, it occurred to me that what I would save on insurance, repairs, and gas for my Landrover would cover and annual trip to Paris …plus, zipping around on my ebike makes me feel like I’m 10 years old again and experiencing the first taste of freedom that a bike gave me (I was, luckily, living in japan at the time – where bicycles were very much a major form of transportation) Absolutely love it, so keep getting the word out!
New Orleans and electric bikes- two of our favourite things! I wished I’d had my e-bike when I lived in NOLA. If you’re ever in London pop in and visit our shop on Portobello Rd, we have a big poster of the late, great Uncle Lionel Baptiste up at the back of the store. I heard from a friend that they’re putting in new cycle paths and bike infra in New Orleans but I couldn’t find any info. Would love to see some images if so. One day perhaps we’ll open a store there, until then glad to hear the e-bike revolution has some early adopters in the Crescent City!
Candace crawford says
Yep, it’s amazing, New Orleans has all sorts of bike lanes now! ( of course, in typical New Orleans style they often end just when you need them most but, hey, it’s progress! And it really is a good city for year round cycling with the right gear ( that I’m accumulating… Definitely need a good rain jacket!) and, as someone else noted, don’t need insurance etc for ebike ( my ebike is actually replacement for my Vespa which died after 10 years of yeoman duty… Perhaps, if I feel the need for motorized transportation, I’ll get another Vespa and add a side car for my dog….
Ken Sanders says
Ben using a ebike to get around my city for 9 years now all season rider also
Lin B. says
While I still have my 12 year old Honda Civic, she gets driven less than 1000 miles/year now. I keep her for the times when I need to carry a passenger. I’ve had an e-bike over 2 years and it is set up to carry cargo up to 60 pounds; it’s my primary shopper and errand goer. I added a pretty lightweight Trek cromo bike to a bike to ride for exercise. Pushing a 40+ pound e-bike around without assist just isn’t much fun. I mostly take the Trek now unless I’m doing a big grocery shop or the wind is blowing hard. Light bikes are more nimble and just more fun to ride. When they have a 25 pound e-bike under $2k, I will be the first person to buy one =)
Lin B. says
While I still have my 12 year old Honda Civic, she gets driven less than 1000 miles/year now. I keep her for the times when I need to carry a passenger. I’ve had an e-bike over 2 years and it is set up to carry cargo up to 60 pounds; it’s my primary shopper and errand goer. I added a pretty lightweight Trek cromo bike as a bike to ride for exercise. Pushing a 40+ pound e-bike around without assist just isn’t much fun. I mostly take the Trek now unless I’m doing a big grocery shop or the wind is blowing hard. Light bikes are more nimble and just more fun to ride. When they have a 25 pound e-bike under $2k, I will be the first person to buy one =)