A Virtuous Cycle: Commuting by Electric Bike Recharges Health and Happiness
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A Virtuous Cycle: Commuting by Electric Bike Recharges Health and Happiness

  • E-bike commuters enjoy the convenience of regular clothes, minimal sweating, and benefits like exclusive travel lanes and door-side parking.
  • The benefits of an active lifestyle are easier to reach with an e-bike, across the spectrum of mobility, physical strength, and age.
  • E-bikes are almost twice as likely to be used regularly, compared to traditional bikes.
  • Most e-bikes include accessories for off-roading, carrying kids or cargo.

I can only imagine I looked like Miss Gulch riding her bike in the tornado of Wizard of Oz, but I felt like Superman. My first time on an electric bike I found myself going up a steep San Francisco hill, and came up on an enviously-fit rider — they’re in Spandex on an ultra lightweight bike; mine has a basket and a bell. One that I “ding” twice as I make superhuman pedaling progress past them up the hill.


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That was five years ago when I discovered one of my Top 5 Cheat Codes for Life: an electric bike for commuting. I think it’s worth pointing out this is even in Atlanta, not the West Coast or New York City. Since then, electric bikes have redefined intra-city travel, helping me save time compared to a car, become more “default active,” and appreciate it as part of my lifestyle. I feel like I can make more trips, going further and faster with less effort, including my kids and even some of our “stuff.”


The Appeal of Electric Bikes for Daily Commuting

With a “bias towards action” and “high sense of urgency,” I find myself in situations where I need to get to my next event quickly. Depending on parking, especially in parking decks with slow elevators, I discovered it sometimes takes longer for me to go from the building to getting my car out of the deck than it takes to bike there. I owe this time hack to the benevolent practice of placing bike racks adjacent to building entrances paired with city planners dedicating travel lanes for cyclists and pedestrians.

I also live in the South and have a tendency to sweat, a condition I want to avoid during the workday on the way to meetings. I find it unavoidable on a traditional/manual bicycle, but it’s possible with the different levels of “assist” on a commuter e-bike.

I wasn’t surprised to hear how common this is for other riders too. I find it a likely explanation for why electric bikes are, according to a study by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities, almost twice as likely to be used by their owners than a traditional pedal bike. According to the same study, 91% of e-bike owners ride weekly or daily, citing the convenience compared to their cars.


The Practical Versatility of Electric Bikes

Travel ranges of 30-75 miles with electric assist are common. These ranges depend mostly on the level of effort by the rider and speed. Most e-bikes charge in a couple hours using a regular outlet. Some have removable batteries, which introduces pros and cons, depending on the use case. Living in a downtown skyrise, I appreciate a removable battery. This setup lets me carry a second charged battery for long journeys, then when I’m back, I can park the bike downstairs and take just the batteries inside to charge.


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What I didn’t expect were the types of e-bike accessories. I originally but errantly assumed that if I wanted something like a kid’s seat, I needed to look for bikes that already had that built on. My first experience in a bike shop educated me that most e-bikes are built with common accessories in mind. Thule is a very popular option, offering kids seats, cup holders, phone mounts, and a variety of cargo platforms. Accessories are available for “classic” styles of e-bikes, but I’m a fan of models with larger frames to give more space and attachment points.


The Health and Active Lifestyle Benefits of E-Bikes

Starting my day with activity makes it easier to maintain that momentum throughout, boosting my focus, energy, and motivation. After reading How People Regulate Mood with Food and Exercise by Robert E. Thayer, it sounds like my experience is common for many others.

Biking is an activity that is both physical and mental, brings us outdoors and into sunlight, and permits functional trips and errands with a nice separation from the anxieties of car traffic and road rage. Biking is already a low-impact activity that’s good for joint mobility; adding electric assistance expands the reach of these benefits to populations who might be older or have mobility constraints.


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The Environmental and Financial Impacts

I feel sillier writing about how cheap it is to operate an electric bike than I did passing Lance Armstrong’s doppelganger in my basket bike at the beginning of the article. A standard one-cent Lincoln penny will buy you 5 miles of electric range; 100 miles of riding over a week would cost you a nickel (based on the U.S. average $0.10/kWh rate and e-bike efficiency around 20 Wh/mile).

Some people are getting bikes to supplement their cars, avoid getting a second car, or giving up their cars altogether, and saving big time. One woman in San Francisco calculates she saved $50K over seven years by giving up her car and using an electric bike for commuting instead. Cost savings stack up: bikes are substantially cheaper per mile, require no parking fees or meters, and don’t need car insurance. E-bike maintenance is practical, easier to understand, cheaper to perform, and can often be completed DIY by motivated owners.


The Shifts Toward E-Bike Commuting

In just the last five years, e-bikes have seen significant tech advancements. Engineering improvements in electric motors and battery chemistries are giving riders lighter bikes, longer ranges, and faster speeds.

I studied Electrical Engineering at Georgia Tech and obviously appreciate the technology; where I’m surprised and delighted is socially. It is helping me meet people and giving us more to connect over and talk about. When my kids and I ride, it’s less screen time and more conversation. I’m hopeful that through example, this paves the way for them — not only for benefits in commuting, but healthier, cleaner, and more connected communities.


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IMAGES: EDISON BICYCLES INC

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AUTHOR: 

CORY HEWETT

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