A year of living by e-bike

One year ago, in March of 2022, I was gifted a 2018 Gazelle NL e-bike. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, or however that saying goes, I set aside my claims of not wanting an e-bike and quickly embraced this commuting upgrade. I had told myself I would wait until I turn 40 to commute on an e-bike, but it was hard to argue with “$free.99”, and I rationalized that I could better advocate for bike-hesitant folks to try an e-bike if I had one myself.

The honest truth is, e-bikes are *really* fun to ride. There are a lot of practical perks as well: I feel more comfortable riding with traffic with a boost to my acceleration, I stay cooler while riding in hot weather, and I can haul heavy grocery loads with ease. Also, contrary to the snarky comments I often get, I would like to assure everyone that yes, you do still pedal and get a decent workout; I like to describe it as “taking the edge off” by making hills feel flatter, and acceleration after stop signs and speed bumps smoother. I love being able to lend my ebike to friends and family to try out and encourage them to replace car trips as well. E-bikes are very easy to charge, and by some estimates I’ve seen cost about $10/year in electricity for a regular commuter. Any changes/increases in my energy bills haven’t been noticeable on my part.

Since I was gifted the e-bike, I didn’t get to test ride and compare different models, which I would recommend doing to anyone in the market because they are a significant investment. Some features I really like about this Gazelle NL are the step-through frame, upright riding position, and the front and rear racks, which make it easy to carry a lot.

Having a Bosch motor is also a definite plus, both in terms of quality and availability of local servicing options. I would not recommend buying a cheap off-brand e-bike online because it’s damaging to the industry given the lack of oversight, compliance and safety regulations. Bike shops are struggling (or refuse) to service these bikes, and they are causing a lot of problems for not just bike shops but for customers as well.

There are a few drawbacks to e-bikes in general that hopefully will improve with the development of new technology. E-bikes are really heavy, usually weighing in between 50-65 pounds, and I had to build a ramp so that I can bring it inside my house for parking and charging. For apartment dwellers, this could pose a significant problem, although the battery can be unlocked and brought inside to charge if you have a secure place to store your bike that offers some reasonable temperature control (the battery in particular should be kept out of extreme hot and cold temperatures). Many ebikes don’t come with great integrated lights, and I needed an upgrade for my front and rear lights to improve the brightness and wiring connections. For a commuter, it’s really nice to have reliable, bright lighs that you don’t have to remember to charge separately. Finally, it is a lot more daunting to make repairs and change a flat on an e-bike since they are a lot more complex, often require special tools, and risk voiding the warranty if you DIY certain repairs yourself vs. taking to an approved bike shop. After a couple of frustrating flats on my bike, I replaced the tires with a set of Schwalbe Marathons and added Tannus tire liners inside – a pain for my mechanic to install, but I’ve been blissfully flat free ever since 🙂

Also of note, there is a significant e-waste consideration to e-bike batteries, so it is best to buy from a reputable brand that is making their products more responsibly. I have heard that there are parties in the bike industry looking to make a more sustainable cycle to all of this battery production to decrease electronic waste streams, and hopefully this improves as all types of electric vehicles become more prevalent.

For those wondering if an e-bike is a sustainable transportation choice, it’s worth remembering that it only takes 500 miles of replaced car trips to make an e-bike hit ‘carbon neutral’. Choosing to ride a bike instead of driving a car means there is less drain on natural resources, less pollution, less traffic, more money in your pocket, more availability of green space and affordable housing (due to decreased parking demand), and more advocacy power for cycling infrastructure.

Stay tuned to my youtube channel for a video review of my Gazelle NL and takeaways from living by e-bike for the last year.

Otherwise, my latest updates and cycling exploits are documented on Instagram, and all referral links on my content support local cycling nonprofits that are working to improve safety and connectivity of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure here in South Carolina.

A year of living by e-bike