I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing e-bikes everywhere: in the news, in my Facebook feed, and all over the place in the real world. Last Wednesday, while driving oh so slowly through morning traffic on my way to a critical thinking workshop, a woman on an e-bike zipped by us all in the bike lane. I looked on in envy and admiration. I was carpooling with a friend to a disclosed location 40 miles away, so biking there wasn’t an option.
But a lot of the time biking is an option. I bike not just for fun, but also for errands and meetings near where I live. Most places I go in my part of the Boston area I can get to within 20-ish minutes on a bike. I can’t say the same for driving: there’s the current road construction chaos and the omnipresent parking problem, both against a backdrop of congested urban streets. For this kind of cycling I have to pay very close attention to what’s going on around me, but I tend to get where I’m going quite efficiently and in good time. No need for an e-bike, it would seem.
Then there’s my commute to work.
My university is 41 miles from my house. I commute generally 3 days a week, about 30–32 weeks a year. This is not horrible. I’m lucky that I have the option of working from home 2 days a week, and also in the summer and during school breaks.
I hate the drive to and from work. It takes an hour to get there– I leave after 9am to avoid the morning traffic crush– but it takes anywhere from 1:15 to infinity to get home, which is during the evening rush hour. Yes, yes– I listen to podcasts and audio books. But it is still a long and not fun drive.
There are public transportation options, and I’ve tried them from time to time. It involves either:
- walking to the bus stop near my house; taking the bus to the subway (called the T); taking the subway to the train station downtown; taking the commuter rail to school (47 minutes); walking 10 or so minutes to class or office. OR
- Cycling to the train station (around 45 minutes depending on traffic lights); changing clothes in the train station bathroom, as I’m sweaty after that long a ride; taking train to school; walking or cycling to class or office (depending on whether I took my bike on the train).
Either of these options makes my commute take 1 hour 45 minutes–2 hours EACH WAY. Blech. I’ve duly tried to make myself adjust to this over the years, but it never sticks.
Enter the e-bike option.
In a big fancy survey of e-bike owners, they listed a bunch of reasons why they chose e-bikes (over driving and over regular bikes). Here’s the big fancy graph of their responses:
All of these reasons make a lot of sense. Of course a bunch of these motivations would promote non-e-bike riding. However, they also cited a bunch of barriers to standard bike commuting. Here’s the fancy graph with that info:
These reasons make a lot of sense, too. For me, the factors that are motivating me to test-ride some e-bikes are:
- An e-bike would reduce my commuting time; by how much, I’m not sure.
- I’ll likely be less sweaty when I arrive at the train station, which means not changing in the bathroom and also arriving at class looking less disheveled (the train arrives 12 minutes before class starts).
- Given 2., I think I’d bike commute for more of the year; in the colder months, I would be less sweaty (I sweat while cycling no matter the weather– that’s the fact), which would make the rest of my commute more comfortable.
So what is holding me back?
- Price– e-bikes are still very expensive. From very preliminary research (more will be forthcoming and duly reported here), decent ones start around $2500 and go up from there. Way up.
- I’m not an early adopter of new technology. I prefer waiting until the kinks are worked out, more and better features appear and the price drops.
- I’m not sure how much shorter an e-bike commute would be. It’s about 8 miles to the train station from my house, but it’s a very congested route on city streets with loads of traffic lights. My land speed record there on my road bike is 38 minutes. It’s not clear how much the e-bike would cut the time of the trip.
- It’s not clear how much less sweaty I would be, either. Pedal-assist bikes do require pedaling, so it will take some experimenting to see how my body behaves.
What do you think? Do you have an e-bike? How do you like it? Do you want an e-bike? I’d welcome any thoughts you have on the matter. I’ll report back as I try some out.