I’ve had a fascination with e-bikes for a few years now. I first learned about them on a gravel bike ride, when an e-bike rider flew by me with a smile on his face. In that very moment I wasn’t impressed, and the word “cheater!” came to mind as he happily breezed down the path.
But after the outing, we caught up and he shared his tales of riding in the Rockies, exploring more than 50 miles a day, and backpacking to places he would have never imagined without the extra assistance.
His adventure changed my thought process and inspired me to give it a try. I challenged myself to ride an e-bike for a month in lieu of driving my car to see if I could save money on gas, use a different mode to run errands, and increase my non-exercise activity. Here is what I learned along the way:
Check out the Elby e-bike:
Getting Set Up
I was sent a test bike to use for my challenge—the Trek Super Commuter+ 8S. The bike is powered by a Bosch Performance Speed mid-drive system with a long-range 500w battery. When charged fully, the battery provides between 24 and 80 miles, depending on factors like the power mode chosen, the weight of the rider, and cadence. It also operates on a power-assist system that requires you to pedal to receive the e-boost, meaning you can’t just coast along—you’ve got to put in a little work.
The cool part is that you can adjust the amount of assistance from low (eco mode, which gets you more miles) to high (turbo). If you’re in the mood to work harder, you can even ride it without any assistance at all. And when it’s time to charge it up, you can do so by keeping battery on the bike, or remove it and bring it inside with you. Going from empty to full charge takes about 4.5 hours.
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Other than riding it around the block a thousand times like I just received it on Christmas morning, I took the e-bike for its maiden voyage on the Un-El Tour Ride, a fun and casual ride around downtown Tucson, Arizona, to explore the street art. I had ridden 54 hard miles in El Tour de Tucson the day before, which left my body aching quite a bit. The casual nature of this ride was perfect timing.
I decided to set the e-bike on Turbo mode to get to the tour from my home, and holy jeepers that was a fun ride. I not only covered the 10 miles averaging 24 miles per hour with ease (it tops out at 28 mph), I enjoyed using the pedal assist to get in a light ride for a warmup and shake off the remnants of the tour on my legs. I turned off the power for the arts ride, and then used Turbo again on the way home. Cheating it is not. It is another opportunity to play outside.
I Drove Less and Explored More
Though I did drive a few times for date night and to transport the bike for a destination ride, I found that I was successful in riding instead of driving for much of the month. Instead of getting in my vehicle to haul my bike to the trailhead, I rode and was able to warm up before I tackled the trail hike or run. My husband rode it as well and found he was able to ride farther and explore the trails more as he builds up his biking fitness.
Wherever I rode, the e-bike spurred conversations with enthusiasts. An insurance agent who rides his e-bike to work daily calculated that he saves $130 a month on gas. Then there was an Army veteran who was injured on duty and using the his e-bike to recover. As the month went on, I found myself getting into a new rhythm with the e-bike, and was more in tune with my surroundings, my body, and my mission for the ride.
The author used her e-bike to make her daily appointments, get groceries, and get around Tucson, Arizona. Jenny Hadfield
Normally, I grocery shop once per week and get everything we need. Because I was riding to the grocery store now, I found I had enough room in the bike’s frame-mounted bags for about two bags of groceries. So instead of tossing things mindlessly into the cart, I walked the store planning meals for the next two to three days. This evolved into buying more veggies, fruits, and proteins, because that was on top of the list and I had no room for the other stuff. My husband and I began eating in those two- to three-day cycles, and when the fresh food was eaten I would ride to the store and replenish.
The result—along with saving a little money on gas—was a lot less food in our cupboard and a spending about $78 less on food during the month.
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I Moved More
I spent the first half of my career moving all the time. I was the director of the Discover Card Corporate Fitness Center and was always teaching classes, training employees, testing new exercises, and taking care of the facility. When I wasn’t there, I was building my run coaching practice. The second half of my career has involved a lot of writing and creating, which means a ton more sitting. Sitting has changed my body, and it is a daily goal to maintain what I like to call NEAT—non-exercise activity thermogenesis. In normal language, that is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating, or sports-like exercise.
The e-bike completely upped the movement in my life outside of my core workouts. I achieved this goal daily by riding to run errands. When I sold a bike saddle, I rode to meet the guy who bought it. I rode to pick up our mail and ship packages for the holidays. I rode to several meetings. I rode to Starbucks to write, and then began exploring all the other stores in town. The result was boosting my daily NEAT factor, as well as my body’s wellness. Although it’s only been a month, I can already feel the difference in how my body feels (fewer aches) because I’m moving more and sitting for long hours a lot less.
A Challenge That’s Worth It
Making a commitment to ride instead of drive might seem unrealistic or tedious. But as the month progressed, I found myself feeling better because of the movement. I actually enjoyed falling into a routine that called for bike locks instead of car keys. Plus, it forced me to improve my diet and choose veggies and fruits instead of a big old bag of tortilla chips.
Am I going to continue to ride an e-bike? Absolutely, and I’m already putting one on my wishlist for the holidays. In addition to all the perks mentioned above, it’s just fun. (To improve your skills and knowledge, check out our Complete Book of Cycling Road Skills.)
The article This Running Coach Replaced Her Car With an E-Bike for a Month. Here’s What She Learned originally appeared on Runner’s World.