Sustainable Transportation Part 2: Love at first ride. My e-bike experience.

This is the second article in my three part series on sustainable transportation.

On my quest for sustainable transportation methods, I tried out the new e-scooters and considered purchasing my own for quick trips downtown and commuting to the office.  I had also heard of the newer electric bikes and the bike shop down the street was offering free test drives and a scratch-off coupon with savings.  I love biking and I already own three bikes: a road racing bike, a mountain bike, and a commuter bike.  I mostly ride for fun and exercise.  Typically, I forgo the commute or downtown trips via bike because I don’t want to arrive to a show, dinner with friends, or to the office sweaty.  Would the e-bike be better than the e-scooter to get places in a quick, eco-friendly, and less sweaty manner?

I grabbed my helmet and headed to the bike shop on a beautiful spring day.  The bike shop sells the Trek line of e-bikes and I opted to try the Verve+ Lowstep which is built similar to my regular commuter bike.  I adjusted the seat, turned on the Bosch display and stepped up on the bike.

Within a few spins, I engaged the Bosch Active Line motor and was SOLD.  As I was riding through the parking lot towards the street, I felt as if an invisible hand was helping me along.  The Trek Verve+ is known as an electric hybrid bike, or pedal-assist.  The reason it is called an electric hybrid is because you can still use it as a regular non-electric bike with the motor off, or engage the motor for pedal assistance.  This means you still have to pedal, but you get the help of the electric motor.  Some people describe the feeling as “flattening hills” because the motor gives you the feeling or riding a flat surface when tackling a hill.

Bosch display

The Bosch Active Line motor
on the Verve+ offers 4 settings: Eco, Tour, Sport, and Turbo, each with
increasing power.  The motor settings are
operated by the simple + and – buttons on the display by the left thumb.  You can get between 30-80 miles per charge depending
on which settings you use, weight, terrain, and other conditions such as wind.  I’ve been riding short distances (about 5
miles per day) for a week and I still have a half-full battery.  I can charge from this point to full in 1.5
hours, or from an empty battery to fill in 3.5 hours.  Charging is simple in a standard wall outlet.

The big test was the hill near my house that I trudge up in granny gear even on my lightweight road racing bike.  I wanted to see if the e-bike could help me get up the hill mostly sweat-free.  The Trek Verve+ has a 9 speed shifter, so as I headed up the hill I put the electric motor in Turbo and gradually downshifted as needed.  I made it to the top in gear 3 with relative ease.  So I headed back to the bike store and promptly handed over my credit card.  Actually, I waited the requisite 24 hours before making a big purchase, did some more research, and then went back to get it!  I saved $200 because Trek was having a sale and I had $60 in store coupons, so I added on a rear rack so I can use my panniers (saddlebags).

bike
First day commuting!

Pros:

  • Rides smooth and stable,
    feels like a luxury car
  • Easy to use electric motor
    system
  • Fenders included
  • Headlight and flashing rear
    light included
  • Hydraulic brakes
  • Bontrager outfit
  • Super quiet motor, most
    people won’t hear it
  • The lower end of the price
    range for e-bikes

Cons:

  • No regenerative braking
    to re-charge the battery on downhills and straights
  • The seat isn’t as comfy
    as my other commuting bike
  • Even though it’s at the
    lower end of the price range, it is still expensive

I chose the e-bike over
the e-scooter, even though it is a lot more expensive, for the following
reasons:

  • The e-bikes are made better and last longer
  • The ride is much smoother on the e-bike
  • The e-bike is faster
  • I can carry lots of cargo on the e-bike (laptop, food, books, etc.)
  • I feel more visible and safer in traffic on the e-bike
  • I get exercise on the e-bike

I am very happy with the e-bike
and happy to arrive sweat-free (or less sweaty) to my destination.  I tend to stay in Eco or Tour mode so I still
get a leg workout, but don’t get me wrong, I put that baby in Turbo for the
hills around here!  Now I need to go sell my non-electric commuter bike
and cancel my gym membership.

If you are not into the e-bikes, next month’s Part 3 post will be about the plug-in Prius Prime vs. Tesla Model 3. Stay tuned.

Read Sustainable Transportation Part 1: My e-scooter experience. Is it worth it?

Sustainable Transportation Part 1: My e-scooter experience. Is it worth it?

This is the first article in my three part series on sustainable transportation.

I am always looking for sustainable transportation methods so I was excited to try out the new e-scooters that recently took over the town.  Both the Lime and Bird seemingly appeared in abundance overnight.  On a beautiful spring day I grabbed my bike helmet and I decided to try them both for a trip to my office which is about 3 miles by car (and 10-15 minutes depending on traffic).

I started the day with a 15 minute walk to the location of
the closest scooter, a Bird.  It was easy
to scan the code with the app and get started. 
The Bird scooter charges $1.00 to unlock and 15 cents per minute.  The app required me to preload $10 to my account,
but I also received a free $5 credit for my first ride.  The scooter requires a manual kick-push, like
on a skateboard, to get the electronic accelerator going.  It seemed a little slow to start, but once it
got going it was pretty fast.  Both the accelerator
and brake are thumb levers and the brake was very touchy!  I had to get the hang of the thumb brake so I
wasn’t hitting it too hard.  The one hill
I encountered proved to be a challenge and about half way up I began using one
foot to “help” the scooter along, skateboard-style.  The scooter vibrated a lot from the pavement
and when I was done with my 1.8 mile ride my feet still felt like they were vibrating.  This leg of the journey was a pitstop on my
way to the office.  The 1.8 mile ride
took 15 minutes (with two long stoplights) and cost $3.42.

After my pitstop, I jumped on a Lime scooter to continue the
.9 mile ride to my office.  The Lime also
costs $1 to unlock and 15 cents per minute. 
The app was easy to use and I scanned the code and got going right
away.  Lime doesn’t require a pre-loaded
dollar limit on the account.  The Lime scooter
is larger than the Bird and seemed a bit sturdier.  The brake on the lime is a hand lever, much
like a bicycle, and it took some grip strength to pull in.  Unfortunately, the scooter I was on had a
seriously wobbly handle and the ride was not smooth.  Once again I had vibrating feet when I was
done.  The .9 mile ride took 6 minutes
and cost $1.90.

My ride back home later in the afternoon was much more challenging.  First, I walked about 10 minutes to the first scooter I could find, a Lime.  However, I couldn’t get it to activate.  Luckily I was in an area that had a lot of scooters so I walked for a bit to find another one.  What ensued next was the most frustrating part of my day.  Over the course of about 20 minutes I tried 4 Lime scooters and 3 Bird scooters.  Two of them were still in use by other users, so I couldn’t use them.  None of the others would connect.  I don’t know if this was a cellular network issue or a vendor server issue but it was quite frustrating.  During this 20 minutes I was making my way on foot towards home.  Finally, I found a Lime scooter that connected and I took it the rest of the way home.  My trip home took 35 minutes (due to the walkaround/connection setback) to go 2.3 miles and it cost $4.  I found out once I got home that one of the Bird scooters and one of the Lime scooters that I tried to connect to finally connected and I got charged for that too.  I contacted customer support for both and they quickly refunded my money.

Total walk/ride to office: About .3 mile walk and 2.7 mile scoot, 36 min total, $5.32

Total walk/ride home: About a .9 mile walk and 2.3 mile scoot, 45 minutes, $4.00

Total round trip: 1 hour and 21 minutes, $9.32.

Pros:

  • Both e-scooters have easy to use apps.
  • Both e-scooters are environmentally friendly methods of transportation, although there has been some discussion on the longevity of these shared e-scooters.
  • Both apps required me take a photo of my excellent parking job, which makes me wonder why I see so many poorly parked e-scooters blocking sidewalks.
  • For occasional use, these are a great alternative method of transportation.

Cons: 

  • I found it hard to hand signal like I do on a bike.
     Taking one hand off the handlebars made
    me very unbalanced.  That may be
    something that I get used to over time. 
  • I had to be careful with turning the handlebars as
    this can throw off the balance of the scooter. 
    Leaning into turns is more effective than trying to turn the handlebars too
    much.
  • I think that a $9.32 round trip cost for about 6
    miles is expensive.  Especially if this
    is a daily mode of transportation.

Overall, I still like the concept of the e-scooter.  Owning my own e-scooter may be the way to go.  It would always be close by and available for me, I wouldn’t have any connection issues, and I can maintain it better to ensure longevity and a comfortable ride.  It costs about $500 to purchase a highly-rated foldable scooter.  I would recoup my investment in about 50 rides similar to my test ride.

If you are not into the scooters, read about my e-bike experience in Part 2!