E-bikes just the option for local commutes

Skagit County Clean Energy Cooperative


October 11, 2023

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the possibility of buying a second electric car. I’m still giving that some consideration. However, before making a final decision, I’m going to wait till the recently-announced process is finalized for the (up to $7,500) federal tax rebate to be directly deducted from the price at the time of purchase is in place. That’s expected by January.

While looking at the state of the art of electric cars, I found out that another electric vehicle type has been getting better and better and I’m now also interested another option: an electric bicycle.

For about three-quarters of her trips and a third of mine, Jenelle and I can use her electric car. We’ve put about 14,000 miles on it over two years, thus avoiding the purchase of 700 gallons of gas (about $3,200) in favor of 4,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity (about $500). We do almost all our charging at home. The home charger (about $2,000) has been long since paid for. Jenelle hasn’t touched a gas pump in two years. We haven’t even noticed the change in our electric bill. Weather affects that more.

About two-thirds of the trips I still take by myself in a gasoline car are between our home in Shelter Bay and the coffee shop we own in downtown La Conner, or similar distances for activities like local shopping. This probably accounts for another 4,000 miles a year (200 gallons of gas and my car takes premium, so these trips cost over $1,000 a year for gasoline). Replacing the car with an electric bike for the two-thirds of these trips that can be taken when it’s not raining would save about $700 a year.

An electric bicycle, which works like a regular bicycle but offers considerable assistance from an electric motor, might be a realistic option to eliminate gasoline on these trips. Electric bikes are around 10 times as energy efficient as electric cars, so I’d need about 120 kWh/year, or $15 worth of electricity. I haven’t looked into e-bikes in detail yet. A quick internet search suggests that a basic model for a Shelter Bay – La Conner commute would probably cost about $1,500-$3,000, so it would offer a two- to four-year payback from gasoline savings, without considering lower gas car maintenance.

Like electric cars, electric bikes are benefiting significantly from better, lower-cost batteries. The last time I looked at an electric bike, several years ago, the price point was around $10,000. There have been other improvements, too. Some e-bikes now feature removable batteries for convenient charging. On some of the more expensive models, options like integrated GPS and smartphone connectivity offer some of the conveniences of modern travel that I’ve gotten used to. Safety features, like automatic lights, integrated brake lights and collision avoidance systems are even available.

Riding a conventional bicycle isn’t a realistic option. The hills in Shelter Bay are a little steep for a time-efficient commute and there isn’t a place for me to take a shower when I get to work. A speedier e-bike still requires effort, but much less. They’re designed for long distances and hilly terrain. I need to test one to see how significant this issue is. The coffee shop has to continue smelling like coffee when I’m there.


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