Biking is Better1Btw, this is a great song. Look it up.
As you know, driving is ridiculously expensive. Thus, the intelligent and frugal individual designs their life around minimizing driving, i.e. by doing things like living close to work, and uses non-car transportation for any short trips. For very short trips, walking will suffice, but for trips of a more modest length biking is much more efficient.
Besides money-saving, one of the major “perks” of biking is the associated exercise and increased fitness that go along with it. Unless you are physically unable to bike or are worried about getting in too much exercise, biking is the way to go.
Unfortunately, I am actually worried about getting too much exercise. When I’m not running to train for a marathon, I’m usually trying to maximize recovery. Biking is not the best way to rest the legs, so I’ve typically limited biking to my 1.5ish mile commute and other similarly short trips. This works great for most things, but I still find myself using the car 3+ times per week. The majority of these trips are to go to church 2-3 times a week2on Sundays and for other groups that I’m involved with on other days. This is 9.5 miles away by car or 11 miles by bike (the highway is pretty direct between home and church), which is above my threshold for non-running related exercise.
Justifying my impulsive purchase
So, a few weeks ago I was wasting some time on the web and started reading about electric bikes. Hundreds of times more cost- and energy-efficient than cars, this seemed like the best of both worlds–I could avoid using the car while not zapping the last bit of juice from my already tired legs. So being the impulsive person that I am, after probably not enough research I found a sweet-looking bike on Craigslist, went to take a look at it with Joe’s help, and pulled the trigger.
As a brief aside, this was actually a pretty successful Craigslist interaction. Here’s what I mean by that. I saw the bike on Craigslist–it looked relatively new and the owner posted a good amount of info on the listing–which is a good sign. I went to meet him with Joe, test rode the bike, and Joe questioned the seller. Everything checked out (bike seemed solid, minimal mileage, and the owner was selling because it was a bit small for him and he also just wasn’t using it enough). The list price was $700, but I was able to negotiate that down to $600.
Thoughts on the bike
So I came home with the bike. I’ve had it for a couple weeks now, and I’ve used it several times for my commute and on one round trip to church. The bike has three “modes”: Eco, Normal, and Power. Within each mode are 8 levels of “Pedal Assist”. When you start to pedal, it activates the motor. This is great for accelerating from a stop and maintaining a little bit of speed on an incline–two things that are typically difficult on a regular bike. It does have its limits though. I tried going up a very steep hill with little momentum going into it, and even on level 8 on Normal mode it was a big struggle. Still, for more normal use it’s possible to going 15-20 mph with minimal effort on your part.
A couple days ago I got to do my first test drive to church. Here’s what was good and what was not.
- It’s fun! The bike is pretty zippy. I can easily go at a pretty modest pace and it feels great to accelerate effortlessly after traffic lights.
- I got to ride through some nice neighborhoods that I haven’t been through before.
- It was nice to get to spend some more time outside.
- I had it in normal mode throughout the ride and spend a solid amount of time on assist level 7. Even after 25 miles (I rode to work and back earlier in the day), I still have 2 out of 5 battery bars left.
- I get to save 50 cents per mile of driving avoided.
- It’s still some exercise. I know this sounds complain-y–I am riding a motorized bike after all–but I still had to consistently pedal for 45 min each way.
- A 15-20 min trip turned into 40-45 min. Normally this would be fine, but I was a little late getting there and didn’t want to hang out with people after the meeting I went to because I knew I still had a 45 min trip home.
- While most of it was well lit, there were a couple dark spots. I have a really solid headlight, which was nice, but I still prefer well-lit roads.
Because of the negatives, I’m not sure I’ll use this on every trip to church or trips of similar length. But I will try to use it at least once a week–maybe in the morning when it’s light out!
Is it worth it?
Including some additional accessories like phone holder for navigation, rack, and panniers, the total cost was closer to $700. If I sell my road bike, maybe I’ll deduct this from the cost. But let’s assume $700 for simplicity. Let’s also conservatively assume that driving costs 50 cents per mile. So, after avoiding 1400 miles of driving, I’ll have made up the cost of the bike. That seems like a lot, but here’s another way of looking at it.
Let’s say I invested $700 and got a 10% rate of return. That’s 70 dollars a year, which is about $1.35 per week. If I avoid 19 miles of driving per week, I’ll be saving $9.5 a week. That’s an annualized 70.6%!!! Try getting those returns in the stock market ;). Of course, I have to actually ride this thing every week to realize those returns.
So, was it worth it? Time will tell. For now, I’m enjoying my new toy. And trying not to look too much at my October expenses!