Why I Commute by E-Bike, Especially To Work

I usually roll into my work building early in the morning with a large bright yellow backpack over my shoulder, an empty water bottle in one hand, and my old helmet in the other. I walk in energized, refreshed, and excited to begin my day. I stroll down the corridor past my colleagues hunched over at their desks. And every day without fail I have a big cheesy grin pasted to my face. It is a subconscious reflex to the sight of my colleagues looking and acting as if they were in character prepping for zombie roles in The Walking Dead Series.

My zombie-colleagues move slowly. They have extra-large containers of caffeine on their desks. Their bloodshot eyeballs are sunk deep into their faces. Few of them are smiling. They are trying to recover from their congested commute. They appear defeated and doomed for the day and it has only begun.

On the other hand, I have just logged an hour on my bike. I am refreshed having sped through traffic with the wind in my face, my heart beat is up, I’m hydrated because I’ve already had a quart of water, and I’m definitely awake ready to take on the day. I’m also smiling because I feel as if I have discovered something – SOMETHING HUGE – it seems no one else at work has figured it out yet.

electric bike commute to work

My secret is bicycle commuting. Somehow it is still a mystery how we bicycle commuters are so happy, energetic, and full of life. It also appears to be some sort mystery waiting to be discovered by the masses. But we bike commuters don’t want it to be a secret! We want everyone to know what we know and feel how we feel. So I’ll tell you why I ride my bike to work and I’ll just try to convince you to do the same.

1. Health and Exercise

I won’t get into obesity statistics or present the gloomy supporting facts that most of us will die much younger than expected because of heart disease most likely due to a sedentary lifestyle and a severe lack of exercise throughout our lives. Instead, I’ll simply say that riding to and from work on my bicycle is great exercise; it makes me happy.

There are a few hills on my commute and my 250 Watt motorized bike kit makes it possible to conquer them without getting my heart rate up into the red zone of 165 beats per minute. I save that heart rate for the ride home. I can keep my heart rate at a steady 110-120 right around my target heart rate on and off the hills on my way to work. This is a perfect cardio workout for me the entire route. This means that I can get a long cardio workout each day without actually getting soaked on my way to work and it does not matter the time of year.

This is a big reason why I created the Five Minute E-Bike Kit. I layer in the Fall and Winter and ride with cycling clothes in the Spring and Summer. I may push a little harder on the ride home and hit the red zone for a while because I know I have a shower awaiting me, but I can take it easier on my way to work.

My bike was converted to electric with a 250 Watt electric bike wheel. It gets me to and from work faster than a regular bicycle. In fact, I fly past ALL cyclists I encounter on the road.

You see, my electric bike conversion kit turned my old bicycle into an electric bike. There is no difference except for the fact that it cost me about 1/4 of what an average-priced electric bike would have cost me. And knowing that I will not be an early death statistic merely because I commute by bicycle is liberating. Perhaps my genes may make me an unfortunate statistic, but at least it won’t be for a lack of effort. My bike is like my “gym on wheels” only it is much more exhilarating than being inside a gym [1].

2. Commuter Traffic

I live in the D.C. Metro area. The average commuter in D.C. spends 67 hours a year stuck in traffic [2]. We are number one in the nation for the worse traffic [3]. Congratulations to us! Sometimes I drive to work and contribute to the chaos. I’m not 100% on my bike commuting because “life happens.” So when I am in my car listening to the traffic report on the radio and I hear the traffic report of heavy traffic on the 95 and the 66 at 5:30 in the morning I just shake my head in dismay and laugh amusingly. It is crazy! Getting ahead of the traffic is a challenge even in the early morning hours. It seems to be a losing battle when I drive.

Bicycle commuting is a different story. When I commute to work by bike, I can leave a little later. It took some time learning the quicker routes and scenic trails, but once I had my route down using a great website called Map My Ride, it became a thrill to race my coworkers to and from work. I love flying down the bike lane at 20+ MPH while cars are gridlocked bumper to bumper. My coworkers may say, “Hey, I saw you fly by me yesterday afternoon!” They ask what time I got home and can’t believe the answer – I beat them home. I feel like the traffic victor when I bike and a gold medal is for the taking when I arrive. And yet, many people still don’t get it…

So, let’s take a look at this statistic for a minute from the Federal Highway Administration’s Annual Congestion Report of 2015 and consider the biking alternative. The average commuter spends 38 hours each year stuck in traffic. That is nearly an entire week lost, completely wasted. The cost in fuel on a national level for this wasted time is more than 60 countries’ GDP. It comes out to $121 billion annually [4]. One may say that is a waste in spending, better spent on our seniors, veterans, and the homeless, or it may be spent better in a myriad other ways. I would emphatically agree.

Since I began commuting by bike a few years ago, I’ve come to realize it is not as rare as I thought. Perhaps I might feel like a loner riding solo every day, but the statistics show that we are a growing community. In fact, according to the most recent U.S. Census, over 786,000 of us commute by bike to work every day. That is one percent of the population in the 50 largest U.S. cities. We’re the new one percenters!

Even better, 6.1% of the population in Portland bike to work. When I see other bike commuters I feel like we should have some special handshake or secret wave. We know the secret. We took the leap, began the adventure, and continue to grow in numbers. We’re part of a society of healthy-happy people. How does your city compare to the growth in bicycle commuting below?

Bike_Commuting_Growth_2015_final
The League of American Bicyclists – Bicycle Friendly America Program

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3. Audiobooks

Some may say that biking, despite the great exercise that it is, may be a waste of time. I beg to differ. While I’m commuting, I’m virtually multi-tasking. Sometimes I may be listening to the Smiths, U2, The Bee Gees, or even Taylor Swift (let’s keep that a secret), but I’m usually listening to a great audiobook. Usually it is one of the many Tom Clancy spy novels, a New York Time’s fiction or non-fiction best seller, or sometimes I try to take on the challenge of James Fenimore Cooper’s English prose. But that doesn’t always go so well.

I have a subscription to audible.com which allows me one free book a month and discounted rates on all other books in the library with my subscription. It is exciting to get lost in another world while enjoying the thrill of my commute. When I’m deep into a great novel I find myself itching to rise early or leave work quickly so I can get back to my story and find out what happens next. It is true that I can listen to audiobooks while driving, but why not do it and get exercise enjoying the ride at the same time?

4. $aving$

We all love to save money. At least I assume we all do. You do too, right? The statistics for money savings commuting by bike are in our favor here. According to the Federal Transportation Administration and bicycling.com, the average cost per year of a sedan is $8,946 and that goes up with a SUV to $11,360. But it is the cost per mile where I see greater savings. The cost to bike to work is 10 cents per mile as opposed to 59 and 76 cents for vehicular commuting. For us in D.C. the difference is much greater when you add in the two “troll booths” we pass each day.

I ride an electric bike so one might say that my cost is much higher, but the truth is that it’s not much higher. My Electric Bike Kit cost $699 and lasts many years of riding and charging the battery every single day. The only thing I’ll ever need to replace is the battery after around 1500+ charges as it loses its lithium power. A new electric bike battery system costs $199 and up if I need another eventually. That breaks down to about $200-$300 per year in purchase cost for an electric bike and about 2 cents each charge. So my commute cost is only a few cents more per mile than a regular bicycle.

Another positive is that I can ride my old bike because my motorized bike kit adapts to any bicycle. It was a quick install and boom! My favorite bike is a cargo bike, now an electric cargo bike that let’s me take the kids everywhere. It even requires less maintenance because the wear and tear is not as significant – I’m not punishing my bike as much with heavy pedaling riding for longer times. My commute time is shortened and the hills are not as hard on the chain as well as my knees.

The fact is, I save thousands of dollars each year by riding my electric bike to work and that is money that will end up contributing to my kids’ college educations and invested for retirement. Added up, the combined savings during a working career can be more than $300,000. That is motivating, right?

So let’s use a retirement calculator. Considering that the annual savings – let’s say $10k/year – is going straight into the 401k and real estate, it is going to continue growing even when not working on weekends and while sleeping at night. According to CNN’s retirement calculator, that $300,000+ in savings will likely turn into $1,200,000 over a thirty year career. Bicycle commuting is the retirement solution.

high cost of driving
Life Cycle Assessment of Transportation Options for Commuters February 2010 by Shreya Dave of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

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5. Parking

I know that parking is not a challenge for everyone, but parking is a beast for me when I drive. The lot is abnormally large and it takes more than five minutes to walk from the back of the parking lot to get into my office, which is full by 7:00 AM. However, my building just so happens to have bike racks right next to every single entrance. I love that!

I can arrive, park, and be inside saving time not having to look for a parking spot and walk all the way through the lot weaving the maze of metal. Again, I realize this is not significant for most people, but for me it is huge!

Where to begin?

Now I realize it may seem like a big step to start commuting by bike or electric bike . I get it. I’ve been there. I’m there every single morning I wake up and start getting dressed for my long bike ride. I’m definitely there the mornings it is cold and rainy and I have the option of either driving in my warm car or facing the cold demons on my bike. Like I said, “life happens” and we don’t have to be 100% at it every day. But what do you have to lose riding a few days a week? …once a week?

I am a huge bike advocate after riding to work for a few years now and I believe it is the key to having a great day at work. It is the one thing I do that I feel gives me the ability to function 100% on the job. I know that if it can push me to achieve at work then it will do the same for you. And now you know the secret. So let’s share it!

commute to work with an electric bicycle

[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/13-reasons-you-should-bike-to-work-2012-10

[2] http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/02/the-american-commuter-spends-38-hours-a-year-stuck-in-traffic/272905/

[3] http://wtop.com/dc/2015/08/d-c-tops-list-nations-worst-traffic-gridlock/

[4] http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/02/the-american-commuter-spends-38-hours-a-year-stuck-in-traffic/272905/

[5] http://bikeleague.org/commutingdata

[6] http://www.bicycling.com/culture/commuting/state-bike-commuting