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Musings on digital media, urbanization and politics from Seattle, Wash.

Observations from 4,500 miles on an ebike—and why you should get one already

November 8, 2021

It’s the best purchase I’ve ever made. The sooner I can get to that point, the better. It usually doesn’t happen as early in real life, when some hapless stranger triggers an excitable 10-minute conversation because they asked me about my bike.

Eventually though, I get there.

It’s a little bit like writing this blog post. I meant to write it at 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 and even 4,000 miles since I purchased mine in November of 2019—but even since the last figure I’ve clipped off another 600 miles. So instead of delaying further or making this any more complicated, I’m gonna riff.

Here’s owning an ebike.

The basics

  • I have a RadWagon 3. I think. I just know it isn’t the most recent one, which has a little smaller wheels and maybe a smaller cargo deck. It looks smaller but I don’t know for sure. I got it for $1,400 on a $200-off Black Friday sale and then used that $200 to snag the child frame.
  • What’s it like? An ebike? It’s basically a regular bike with super strength. If you’ve ridden one of those Lime/Uber/Jump bikes, it’s like one of those—but maybe two or three times as good. Hills are nothing. Same for hauling stuff. You can go farther without getting tired. It’s just great.
  • It’s a lot like a regular bike, except I have seven manual gears and five levels for e-assist.
    • Level 1, I basically never use. Maybe for walking it when I have to.
    • Level 2 on any max-distance trip where I have to really ration.
    • Level 3 almost all of the time. Like 85% of miles are here. Plenty of kick.
    • Level 4 is for going up a normal hill.
    • Level 5 for when I have plenty of battery and want to just fly around easily. I still have to pedal, but it’s easy and I can spend a lot of time close to max speed. Also good for super steep hills.
  • How fast can you go? On flat ground, I probably really cruise at 18-22mph, with a small tweak enabling couple extra ticks. My max speed ever is probably right at 30, but that’s down a steep and spacious incline.
  • How far can you go? If I’m using normal e-assist rationing—cruising on Level 3 and going uphill on 4, maybe a smidge of 5—about 25-30 miles. If I’m stretching things out and willing to do most of it on Level 2, then 35ish.
  • It takes about eight hours to charge the battery—I think? I just know if it’s empty you’re gonna wanna charge it overnight.

It’s gonna make your life better

  • You—the reader who does not have one but has thought about it at least for a split-second—are absolutely underestimating the amount of trips you could and would do by ebike. It isn’t about replacing a car, it’s about replacing trips. Almost half of the car trips in the United States are under three miles. You know how easy it is to cover that type of distance on an ebike, when you can really notch the assist up because you aren’t going far? Real easy.
  • There’s an increased level of mindfulness when riding by bike. You know how, when you have a layover in some city you’ve never been to, you wouldn’t actually say you’ve been to that city. That’s what it’s like driving through a big city and arriving at your destination. You went through all these wonderful and eclectic neighborhoods (if you didn’t take the highway), but you weren’t in them. On a bike, you’re experiencing all these new parts of a city you’ve never been. You come to understand this neighborhood is next to that one, which touches this other one and sometimes you can go through this one to reach that one.
  • Closely related, an ebike makes me much more likely to do just do different things and go different places—because I can, and because it’s fun. When I first bought my bike, a favorite practice was honestly just heading in the general direction of a part of Seattle I’d never seen and getting lost there. And the number of wonderful places I’ve found as a result is absurd. If I ride by something I wanna check out, I stop. If I’m out for the night and randomly want to head to a particular spot for food or drinks, I do.
  • If you haaaaaaaaate parking, you’ll love an ebike. The simplest way I can put it is this—when I go to a Mariners game, I park about 30 feet from where the owners do. For free. When I go to the beach with a cooler and chairs and maybe some firewood, I park on the beach.
  • As alluded to there, hauling a pretty sizable amount of stuff is very possible. I’ve literally seen as many as three kids on one ebike. I put our 65-point sheepadoodle on ours, plus the aforementioned cooler and chairs for the beach.
  • The very biggest part of this, something that’s impossible to put into words is this—it’s more fun. It’s way more fun than driving. If you need to do four different errands in your neighborhood, and you do it in a car, it’s torture. Whipping a bike to all four spots? The opposite. There is no feeling like going to a huge sporting event in which your team wins and cruising out into the night by bike. The only downside is you’re gonna hate driving even more than before.

A few tips

  • If you’re in Seattle, I can’t recommend more strongly that you give these a shot—immediately. Start working in those Lime bikes in where you’d sometimes take an Uber. After that, head to Rad’s showroom and one or three for a spin. Just know what you’re missing.
  • Get a good lock. Of course. Despite some attempts, my Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Chain lock has worked real well. I’m, of course, cautious about where I leave it and for how long, but we had these tucked into a corner of an apartment building’s garage overnight every night and a couple people for sure took a shot at busting it, to no avail. A nice bonus is that Kryptonite offers insurance policies on their locks, with their best locks, like this one, having the strongest and most forgiving policies. I paid $50 and I’m pretty sure the total value of the bike is protected for at least five years.
  • Related—if you can, splurge a little on gear. I hate spending money on items for a car but because of the significantly induced cost scale and what they do, I don’t mind spending a little extra for bike stuff. Get a good high-vis jacket that makes you look like an extraterrestrial when car lights hit you. Get some good bags. Snag some quality gloves and other rain gear. It’s worth it, and it’s hundreds of dollars vs. thousands.
  • Having a garage or someplace easy and secure to store your bike is a game-changer. It’s obviously not simple to just add or procure, but it’s honestly more important and helpful to me to have a good and convenient spot for my bike than my car.

The big picture

  • I couldn’t be any more bullish on ebikes and, to a certain extent, other similarly-suited electric micromobility devices (onewheels, scooters, etc.). This is where a lot of our trips are headed, and the sooner the government catches up with the market on this, the better. Electric cars don’t do anything to combat the fact that gigantic metal boxes don’t scale like bikes. The sooner we can get families to two ebikes and one car vs. two cars, even if they’re EVs, the better.
  • I’ve talked to enough people about this that it’s clear the biggest hold-up for many folks is that they feel it’s too dangerous. They don’t want to be out there, surrounded by cars. I’ll say, you’re not actually out there mixed in with fast-moving cars all that often, but the concern is still justified—because the stakes are so high.
  • Improved bike infrastructure goes such a long way. The mile or so around Green Lake, pictured above, has completely changed how we traverse North Seattle, because it’s just so nice to ride on. We’ll do a 35-mile ride from Ballard to Seward Park just because they close down the beautiful Lake Washington Boulevard on weekends in the summer. Even something as simple as greenways, with stop signs at every intersection and bumps for cars, go a long way. Once they started closing them down to anyone but cars traveling locally, even better. This stuff matters so much. Induced demand is a very real thing for bikes and, unlike with cars and expanding highways, the results aren’t awful for the world.
  • We should be providing people with serious incentives to purchase ebikes. There’s no reason Tesla purchasers should get $7,500 from the government and an ebike purchaser receives maybe a couple hundred bucks off.
  • A big reason for the point above is that, for moving people in a scalable and sustainable way, you can close the gap faster with ebikes than transit. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t invest (enormously) in transit, but we should in ebikes as well. It’s true they’re not for literally everyone, but they’re for more people than you think.

•    •    •    •

I’m surely missing any number of points from my usual diatribe, but this has gotta be most of them. Ebikes are great. Mine is the best single item I’ve ever purchased, by a good bit. If there’s anything else you wanna know about ’em, holler via Twitter or email.

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