Can an electric bike replace a car? A 1,000-mile journey

 
 

Can an electric bike really replace a car? It’s a question we’ve been asked countless times and the answer is: it depends.

At Electrified Reviews we’ve made it our mission to ride an electric bike, electric skateboard or electric scooter whenever possible, but it wasn’t until last year that we tried to officially and totally replace a car with an electric bike for an extended amount of time. We spent several months with an electric bike as our primary source of transportation and only used a car when absolutely necessary. The journey was incredible and the results were enlightening. Here’s what we learned.

Going the distance

One of the biggest concerns with replacing a car with an electric bike as a primary source of transportation is range. Can an electric bike really get you to where you need to go? In our experience, the answer was yes 99% of the time. From a factual standpoint, about 95% of all vehicle trips are less than 30 miles, with nearly 60% of vehicle trips shown to be less than 6 miles, according to a 2018 study from the Department of Energy. And since most electric bikes can handle a 30 mile trip pretty easily, the numbers do add up.

But what was it like actually riding for extended distances? We learned a few things along the way that might help your journey. For starters, we quickly found the need for either a backpack or an electric bike equipped with a front basket and/or rear cargo rack. This made trips to the grocery store much more feasible, and it made extended commutes more enjoyable as we were able to comfortably carry more equipment like a laptop, charger, snacks, a change of clothes and other miscellaneous items. We also learned the importance of suspension. The electric bike we primarily used was the Model C from Electric Bike Company, which had no front suspension but did have a seat post suspension. Though the seat post suspension only had about 20 mm of travel, it made a noticeable difference on rides longer than 15 miles. 

In the end, the hurdle of distance didn’t end up being much of a hurdle at all, and there were only a handful of times that we had to use a car to for longer commutes of around 60 miles or so. Had we actually sold our car instead of simply chosen not to use it, we could have take alternate transportation like a train or bus, or even an Uber to get us to our destination. 

Safety

Safety was a big concern for us during this experiment, especially since some of our trips took us busy roads and extended into the night, so maintaining visibility was paramount. Our Model C did have integrated front and rear lights, which were bright enough to actually illuminate our path during night rides and help raise visibility during the day, but we noticed lateral visibility was still lacking so we installed a few aftermarket lights on the seat post and handlebars to further increase our visibility. 

There are other options for increasing visibility as well. For those electric bike that don’t have reflective side walls, there are companies out there that sell reflective stickers and paint that can be applied to the sidewalls and even on the frame. Helmet companies have recently been catching on to the fact that electric bike riders need increased visibility and there are a handful with integrated lights and even turn signals. We used the Lumos helmet and found that the blink mode worked particularly well — we could see the reflection from our helmet on street signs from quite a distance. There’s also some clothing lines with lights built in and reflective material. 

Because of the increased speeds of electric bikes, we believe safety is paramount, and one of the best ways to be sure you’re seen is to be bright and highly visible, especially at night.

Come rain or shine

We live in California, where it’s almost always sunny, but what about other climates where rain and snow are more prevalent? During our experiment, it only rained a few times during our rides and after being caught off guard the first time, we threw a poncho in our gear bag to keep us dry. 

Humans are waterproof, but electric bikes aren’t. Sure they’re water resistant, and some electric bikes have higher IP ratings than others, but it’s always a good idea to keep them as dry as possible. That means avoiding big puddles and drying off your electric bike when you’re done riding. Again, we only went on several rides where it was raining, but we didn’t experience technical problems during or after our rides. 

The biggest thing to keep in mind for the weather is safety — the roads will be more slick and stopping distances will increase for you and for cars — and also your gear. If you’re using a backpack to stow your gear, be sure it’s either waterproof or bring along a plastic bag to keep it from getting soaked. 

The overall experience

Overall, this experiment revealed to us that it’s not only possible to (mostly) replace a car with an electric bike, but also practical. While using pedal assist we rarely broke a heavy sweat while riding so we got to our destinations ready to tackle whatever task was at hand. But what was more interesting was how we felt. The increased time outside lifted our spirits and mood. Feeling the sun on our shoulders and the wind in our face was amazing and we started to notice things along our normal paths that we missed when driving a car. We gained a greater appreciation for our area; for the small points of interest that would have otherwise gone unnoticed — the wall murals sprinkled throughout the city, the local vegetation; new shops we’d never seen before. We’ve gone back to using a car more frequently because of work, but we still ride an electric bike to run our errands whenever possible, not just because we can, but because we enjoy it.

Should you do it?

Should you replace your car with an electric bike? It depends. Do you live in an area where this would make sense? Can your electric bike handle longer commutes, and do you have an alternate mode of public transportation or a friend who can drive you in the instances where you need a car? We don’t think we can answer definitely with a “yes” or “no,” but we do think for those who want to embark on this journey, it’s entirely possible, and you’ll probably end up enjoying the experience just as much as we did.