Friday, November 14, 2014

Commuting: electric bike is best

I have a 20km journey to work. Over the years I've made this trip by car, bus, bike and electric bike and the latter is my mode of choice these days. It ticks all the boxes: low emissions, time, health, cost and pleasure. So, let's go into the reasons. The table below shows the ratings for the criteria I think are important and I'll go through them one by one.

Mode of transport Emissions Cost Time (minutes) Health Pleasure
Car High High 30 Poor Low
Public transport Low Medium 75 Poor Medium
Bike Very low Low 50 Good High
Ebike Low Very low 40 Very good Very high

Emissions from cars has impacts on both climate change and localised particulate pollution (eg smog). Most forms of public transport also emit these, however because they transport many people at a time the emissions are much lower. There are no emissions from a bike, except possibly methane escaping in the saddle area! The emissions from ebikes are minimal. My 40 km round trip uses about 1kWh of energy and since we have solar panels most of this is from renewable resources.

The costs of running a car are huge. It's estimated that the average Australian car costs about $12,000 a year to run. This includes registration, insurance, fuel, maintenance and depreciation in value. On fuel alone it is the most expensive way to commute by far. I'm amazed to read in the news that Australian's number one financial worry is the cost of power, when the cost of running a car is far higher. My 40km round trip costs $20 a day if you calculate it at 50 cents per km. If I did that every work day of the week it would cost around $5,000 a year. The cost of public transport is quite high too. My return journey costs $6.60 a day. Riding a bike is free and the ebike costs around 25 cents to charge. I've put the cost as very low due to the fact I don't go to the chiro any more (see health section). The exercise I get means I don't need to go to a gym to  stay fit. Three years ago we replaced our second car with an ebike and we've probably saved $8,000 a year since then. Here's the old bomb off to the scrap yard.

Time is the only area where the car wins and time is precious. The big loser here is the bus. I have to walk to the bus stop, wait a few minutes, get off the bus and change at Canning Bridge, then wait a few more minutes until the next bus arrives and then walk for a few minutes when I get off the second bus! The bike beats this easily and the ebike isn't far behind the car.

Health is a big deal, in fact it's one of the most important things in life. There is no exercise value in driving a car and since most of us sit behind a desk all day that's not good. I've also had two accidents on the way to work in the last eight years, with people rear ending me resulting in minor whiplash both times. Except for the walking bit public transport isn't much better. In fact, if you consider the fact that you have to be in close proximity to people who may be sick it could be worse. The health benefits of riding a bike are huge. Why did I put good for bike and very good for ebike I hear you say. This is what I've found: riding a bike is good exercise but it's also very tiring. This can cause wear and tear on the body and result in injuries. This doesn't apply with ebikes. I can set the level of assist on my ebike to suit how hard I want to push my body and this means if I'm a bit sore I take it easy and still get to work on time. I've also found that I ride my ebike much more than the normal bike. There's no exercise value in a bike collecting dust in the shed. These days I ride to work three times a week (I work 3 or 4 days a week). In the past I've had chronic back problems which need regular trips to the chiro (every 2-3 weeks), but since I've started riding so much I don't need the chiro any more. This probably saves me about $800 a year.

Pleasure is different for everybody, but I find I get the most out of riding my ebike. I love the feeling of gliding along without too much effort, of overtaking cars stuck in traffic along the freeway bike path and of arriving at work energised and ready for the day. The down side is the weather, but we're lucky in Perth. It's mostly sunny and rain rarely stops me riding. I quite like going by bus too because I can relax and day dream or read a book. The car I just find frustrating, you have to concentrate so much and the traffic and waiting at lights is just boring.

So there you go, that's my take on commuting. And here's the bike I use, a Workcycles Fr8 with an Ezee electric conversion. 10,700km on the clock and going strong. I can load it up with enough gear to go away for a 4 day work trip and can pick and drop Quin from school too.


  1. Thats a fantastic saving you make by using your electric bike.
    Really impressive and travelling a good distance too.
    I agree the total costs of a car are pretty outrageous.
    I have been using a CT110 postie motorbike for a while.
    Registration and petrol costs are negligible.
    I also intend to do an electric bike conversion, for a second transport option.
    Just trying to decide between a front or rear hub at the moment.

    1. Good idea with the postie bike. Front hub works well for me because I love hub gears (if you use hub gears you'll never go back to deraileur, zero maintenance!). Good luck with it.

  2. Wow, riding 40 km a day. I'm impressed! Very inspiring article. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Sherri, but I couldn't do it without the electric assistance.

  3. We are just shopping around for an e bike. My husband works in town (about 30km from home) and wants to use it to get to and from work. He will save about $50/week on fares. The bike will pay for itself in a year or so. Not bad value. Plus no emissions!

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