I know, I know. The whole “Don’t like gas prices? Ride a bike!” sounds annoying and feels impractical for most people. But if you weren’t already aware, there’s a much more practical alternative to conventional pedal bikes: fun and energy-efficient electric bikes! Now more than ever, with gas prices rising steeply and uncertain fuel prospects on the horizon, perhaps it’s time to give an electric bike a second thought.
Look, if you can pedal for your entire commute, that’s awesome. Go for it! But the simple fact is that very few car commuters have the patience or physical stamina to trade their car commute for a pedaling slog on an old-school 21-speed. But electric bikes have seen huge success convincing drivers to make the switch to two wheels.
E-bikes basically take the pain out of cycling, turning a long and arduous bike ride into a shorter, faster, and funner joyride. While most e-bikes have a pedal assist feature that gives you a helpful push while you provide a portion of the pedaling, many (at least in the US) also have hand throttles that allow them to be ridden like mopeds, no pedaling required. Pedaling is great for exercise, and it’s awesome that e-bikes provide that option. But sometimes you just need to get to work quickly, and that’s where a low-cost e-bike with a hand throttle can be a nice alternative.
The savings at the pump are impressive. The US national average gasoline price per gallon was US $4.32 today. Depending on your car, that might take you anywhere from 20-50 miles.
But on an electric bike? That same US $4.32 will take you over 2,000 miles. That’s because it is ridiculously cheap to charge an electric bicycle, and they are ridiculously efficient. You likely won’t even notice a difference in your electricity bill from owning an electric bike – they simply barely use any energy.
Don’t believe me? Here’s the math. Considering a US national average electricity price of $0.10 kWh and an average e-bike efficiency of around 20 Wh/mile, that works out to roughly $0.002 per mile, or 5 miles for one cent of electricity. If you’re an urban commuter and you drive a 5-mile commute, you could do it on an electric bike for the cost of just one sticky penny wedged in the bottom of your car’s cupholder.
Then consider the savings in parking fees, insurance, car payments, wear and tear on the car, etc. Many people have taken advantage of these savings by transforming from two-car families to one car and one e-bike families. Some have even given up cars altogether in favor of e-bikes, saving tens of thousands of dollars. For example, a woman in San Francisco calculated that over seven years, she saved $50,000 by switching to an electric bike.
Is a low-cost electric bike the answer?
Sure, there are plenty of very nice electric bikes out there. Prices can easily balloon into the several thousand-dollar range. I’ve tested many of these expensive e-bikes, and yes, you actually get a better bike for the price.
But if the goal is to save money, then you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars. There are also great options on the more affordable end of the spectrum. And depending where you live, they may pay for themselves in a matter of months. You’ll of course have to price this out for yourself, but with a tank of gas approaching $60-$100 right now depending on your tank size, you can see how quickly an e-bike can pay for itself.
Then consider other factors like the price of parking. In San Francisco where parking averages $350 per month, a $1,000 electric bike can pay for itself in less than three months! Even if you have an electric car, the price of parking alone can be a great reason to switch to an e-bike for many trips.
And fortunately there are plenty of good e-bikes that can be had for a solid price. I generally recommend avoiding anything under $600 or so, as the e-bikes are largely disposable at that price level. But from around $800 to $1,300 or so is a sweet spot for high bang-for-your-buck electric bikes.
I recently compiled some of the best electric bicycles that I’ve tested at every price level (from well over 100 e-bikes over the last couple years), but below I’ll share some of the best budget options that would be great for alleviating pain at the pump without requiring a huge initial outlay.
Lectric XP 2.0 ($999): This is one of my favorite bang-for-your-buck e-bikes right now. It can hit fast speeds of up to 28 mph, has a pretty decent range of at least 20 miles (though many e-bikes can go farther), and comes with front suspension, rear rack, fenders, lights, and more included as standard equipment. Plus the folding nature means you can also take it on the bus or keep it in the trunk of your car if you want to drive to the city outskirts then ride the last few miles, saving gas and parking fees. Check out my full review here.
The Lectric XP LITE is the baby brother to the Lectric XP 2.0 from above. It’s not quite as good of a bike, but it might actually be the better option for some riders. It still gets good performance, including a 20 mph top speed and a range up to 40 miles on pedal assist. But it has an 18% smaller battery than the XP 2.0 so the throttle only range isn’t as good – perhaps just 15 miles if you ride it really hard. Though if you only need to go 15 miles or less (which is true for most urban residents), then this might be the ticket for you. It’s also a single-speed bike without suspension, so you’re giving up a couple of the nicer features from the XP 2.0. But if you’re alright with a single-speed, it will reward you with a much lighter 46 lb weight. It’s also smaller when fully folded, meaning its even easier to lift and stuff in a car trunk or back seat. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re trying to get an awesome e-bike for under $800. You can see my full review here.
Ride1Up Roadster V2 ($1,045): This one doesn’t have a throttle, but the strong pedal assist means that the motor will help you hit speeds of up to 25 mph as long as you’ll do a bit of the pedaling yourself. The bike is super lightweight for an e-bike at just 32 lb. It is a single-speed and uses a belt drive, meaning you’ll never have to deal with chain issues or maintenance. The ride has more of a forward leaning, sporty road bike feel. That will be great for some people, but others may prefer a relaxed and upright ride. You can get a more relaxed riding position on the company’s $1,399 Ride1Up 500 Series, if that’s your thing. Check out my full review here.
Rad Power Bikes RadMission ($1,199): The RadMission is a more conventional metro-style e-bike, which might feel more familiar to many new and returning riders. It can reach a top speed of 20 mph and travel for between 20-40 miles, depending on whether you plan to help pedal or not. Plus it is fairly lightweight compared to most e-bikes at just 47 lb. It’s a single-speed, but it seems to work well on modest hills too. Rad also released a new e-bike recently known as the RadExpand 5. It has similar performance specs (though a bit more range from a larger battery), yet comes in a step-through folding frame with fat tires. At $1,499, it’s a bit more expensive but might be more of the ride type that you’re looking for. Check out my full review here.
Aventon Soltera ($1,199): The Aventon Soltera is a surprisingly high-quality e-bike for the price. It features a 20 mph top speed and a very nicely integrated battery that hides away in the frame, yet is still removable for charging. It’s also a very forward-leaning posture city e-bike, but comes with more city-centric features like built-in tail lights directly in the frame. There’s a throttle and pedal assist, plus the bike is available in single-speed or 7-speed. Check out my full review here.
There are so many good e-bikes out there in a wide range of prices that there is almost surely something for everyone.
But if you’re on a tight budget and trying to get started for cheap, these are excellent options to get you rolling efficiently.
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