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Have you thought about buying an electric cargo bike and why I think it’s a nifty idea

 
pioneer
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A year ago I was given a big nudge to go car free - basically I didn’t have a license - you can read more about it here.

I read somewhere that the average cost of car ownership in the USA is $5600 a year. I have no idea if that’s true but it seems like a good place to start.

I also read or heard that 90% of car journeys are under three miles in the USA. This I can believe and it was true for me. Until I moved to the US I thought it was because all Americans were fat and lazy - well, that’s not true but it’s what you hear a lot and I myself am a little on the chubby side. The reality is, it’s really hard to walk here, everything is built for the car. I tried walking to my local grocery store during my first week here. It was stupid and life threatening.

I hear many excuses for not using bikes, so let me address them from my own perspective. I’m a 51 year old male, stay at home dad, who, as mentioned is a little on the chubby side. I live in a part of New Jersey which is not a bike friendly place unlike neighbouring New York City which is having a big bike moment. I’m fortunate to be time rich and cash poor.

1) Electric bikes are expensive and Electric cargo bikes can cost more than a car.

My first electric bike was a Rad Runner. It’s not a true cargo bike, more a jack of all trades. I really wanted to get the Rad Wagon but it was out of budget and at the time not available. I bought the heavy duty racks and added a milk crate to the front and an Ikea wooden tote to the back which I already owned. I also picked up a trailer which I mostly use for hauling stuff from Home Depot. I bought a couple of heavy duty Abus locks. The total cost was a little under $2000. I have to date used it for approximately 300 round trips, mostly under 3 miles. I’ve saved $1100 on car insurance. I’ve saved on servicing. I’ve saved on car depreciation. I’m sure there are other savings. I have bought some bike tools, some chain oil and spent some money on a weekly charge of the 576w battery. I haven’t spent anything on cycling gear - you don’t need to wear Lycra to go grocery shopping! If you’re starting out though, then hiking gear works. Ponchos are awesome when it rains. Back to the $5600 - I could buy a very, very nice electric cargo bike every other year and still have money left over. I successfully used this argument on my wife who let me buy a Bullitt bike. My son is now using the Rad to go to school on the bus, which is more expensive per year than the cost of the bike.



Chunky Rad Runner next to regular bikes. Wooden box and milk crate was all I needed for most local trips

2) It’s cold / wet / too hot / snowing.

I’m guessing because you’re reading this here, that you’re used to weather. In the words of Billy Connolly “There is no such thing as bad weather – only the wrong clothes.” As mentioned, you don’t need to wear cycling gear, although you can. If your journey is under three miles, you’re not going to get hot and sweaty on an ebike. You can fit winter tires. I’ve ridden through a lot of snow and ice without them.


Fresh tracks

3) It’s dangerous

Yes . . . Undeniably. So is driving a car especially in the US. Cargo bikes are bigger than regular bikes. An electric cargo bike has presence and speed, which both help to own the lane. I know my neighbourhood and take routes that avoid things like left hand turns on major roads. I’m guessing this is the biggest barrier here. I’m hoping over time, the more people who bike, the better it will become. I’m posting this in the bike section so I assume you’re already familiar with the risks involved.

Here are some great resources:

Propel Bikes in NYC and CA - also has an awesome YouTube channel which has bike reviews and lots of social discussions around ebikes. Propel YouTube Channel . This is a good one which covers most of my points above.  Cool moms don’t drive minivans

Shifter YouTube channel Very practical cycling advice from a lovely Canadian living in Calgary

The New Wheel Electric Bikes - bike shop in SF with a great YouTube channel with lots of reviews.

Not Just Bikes Youtuber - Lots of great videos on cycling and transport policies. One of my favourites is Why are Canadians such giant wimps - all about cycling in the winter. He has some great series on broken North American towns and lots of stuff permies can relate to

Rad bikes - I think they’re the biggest ebike company in the US. Started by a guy strapping a motor and a car battery to get to school down a long dirt track. They’re big and chunky, basic and reliable and a good budget option.

Curbside Cycles Toronto based bike shop - super friendly people. Personal recommendation as I bought my Bullitt from them during the pandemic when I couldn’t source one anywhere else in NA. So I’m biased . . . In a good way.

Larry v Harry The best bikes in the world! I bought a none electric version and will add a hub motor in the future . . .

So, have I convinced you! Please let me know and I’m happy to answer any questions I can.

Final note from a Parisian Plumber who sold his van and bought a cargo bike

''It affects the mind, we can get up on the wrong foot, once in the saddle, ideas are aired, transformed and in fact, everything is fine.
For the rest: Efficiency, speed, coolness, sexy image, economical, ecological, everyday professional life is changed.''
 
Edward Norton
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Forgot to include a picture of my current set up with a load of essential supplies!


 
pollinator
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That bike on the right is a tank! Super cool write up, I appreciate it. I wish they were cheaper.

I want to get a light duty e-bike to hang gear on and  walk alongside, Ho Chi Minh Trail style, when I go "backpacking". Because the one drawback to backpacking is that carrying enough beer for a weekend in the woods is hard on the knees!
 
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Another option especially if a person already has a bike is the electric conversion kits sold for a couple hundred dollars. Those can get to higher speeds which as a long time bike rider seems like a very unsafe option. Mine stops providing power at 20mph which is plenty in regular traffic. I've had people pull out into the bike lane/shoulder to pull into traffic and stop plenty of times, forcing me to hit the brakes hard or hit the car. If I were going twice as fast that would just be too dangerous for my tastes. Of course when traffic is light then it would be handy. When I was in highschool I once got up to 35mph per my cycling computer by drafting in traffic on a road that was 35mph. Looking back it was seriously stupid, if anyone hit their brakes that would have been a very bad day.

An electric bike that can handle the weight of cargo too is very handy, in my neck of the woods I never see bike racks so you have to find a tree or light pole to chain to. At work I can park inside my building. Next year I'm looking forward to using the electric mountain bike between base camp and the lab, and recharging it with the solar system. Then I hope once settled in my truck use will be down to maybe once a week going to town.
 
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Edward, you commented on the cost of electric cargo bike compared to a car. Cars have insurance on them to at least some degree. Do you have any insurance covering damage or theft of your bike? Is it covered by your house insurance? Or will your house insurance company give you what's called a "rider" to insure the bike? Or do you figure you're saving so much over owning a car that you'll just "self insure"?

On the subject of bike theft - for those who might not know, on the frame of the bike there's a number stamped in (sometimes with letters) which is the only easy way the Police have to confirm a bike belongs to someone. When my bike was stolen, they were surprised that I had the number ready for them when I called them. I figure it's the only way I got the bike back, even though it's a unique bike for this region.  There's just too many for any reasonable way to sort the stolen ones except electronically by its number.
 
pollinator
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Edward Norton wrote:

I read somewhere that the average cost of car ownership in the USA is $5600 a year. I have no idea if that’s true but it seems like a good place to start.

I also read or heard that 90% of car journeys are under three miles in the USA. [/b][/i]



Back of the envelope math for my car ownership for a year:
Gas $360
Taxes and registration $56
Insurance $200
Fluids used in the car (oil, coolant, etc.)(estimated) $100
Oil change $60
Total $776

Now that does not include breakdowns of the engine or tires. Money set aside to fix the engine issues, which I would estimate at $300 and up. This would also depend on how a person drives and the job they have.

I would say that most driving in a city is a few miles just to pick up one thing. When I was in high school I rode my bike from freshman year to the beginning of my senior year. If I remember it was about three or four miles and sometimes there was fog. It was exciting to ride in the fog but I did have flashing lights to help the drivers see me. I have had thoughts about setting up an electric bike with LEDs and using it at night.

Jay Angler wrote:Edward, you commented on the cost of electric cargo bike compared to a car. Cars have insurance on them to at least some degree. Do you have any insurance covering damage or theft of your bike? Is it covered by your house insurance? Or will your house insurance company give you what's called a "rider" to insure the bike? Or do you figure you're saving so much over owning a car that you'll just "self insure"?



I have the same questions. Maybe I should ask my insurance company about the use of electric cargo bikes.
 
Jay Angler
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T Blankinship wrote:

Insurance $200

We drive a 19 year old hatchback. However, our only choice of insurance is a gov't corporation and despite having excellent driving records, our insurance is about $800 Canadian.

Like so many things, location and situation matter so much. Hubby likes to buy new so he knows the vehicle's been cared for well from the start, but he figures that if the car lasts for 23 years, the depreciation would be $1000/year, not counting the fact that if we'd invested the money, it would have grown during that 23 years. If one were to choose to bike and not invest the difference, that would be irrelevant. That's one of the things about saving money - if your goal is to save to buy land (the OP mentioned that somewhere), if you choose to bike and calculate the exact cost difference where you live and put that money straight into your property savings account, I suspect you could save a lot in many situations.

FYI - here on the southern part of Vacouver Isl. current gas price is $1.60/liter - serious ouch! We try not to drive much! It's really making me think an electric bike of some sort would be a big asset for me. That said, I suspect our European members would consider that cheap!
 
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Jay Angler wrote:Edward, you commented on the cost of electric cargo bike compared to a car. Cars have insurance on them to at least some degree. Do you have any insurance covering damage or theft of your bike? Is it covered by your house insurance? Or will your house insurance company give you what's called a "rider" to insure the bike? Or do you figure you're saving so much over owning a car that you'll just "self insure"?

On the subject of bike theft - for those who might not know, on the frame of the bike there's a number stamped in (sometimes with letters) which is the only easy way the Police have to confirm a bike belongs to someone. When my bike was stolen, they were surprised that I had the number ready for them when I called them. I figure it's the only way I got the bike back, even though it's a unique bike for this region.  There's just too many for any reasonable way to sort the stolen ones except electronically by its number.



My home insurance specifically doesn't cover electric bikes as they classify them as a motorized vehicle. Velo insurance was a company I found that did offer e-bike insurance, but I decided to self insure by just getting a couple of really good locks (heavy duty kryptonite ubolt, through the frame and attached to a fixed object, plus a chain lock connecting the front wheel to the frame) and I then registered the VIN to every local bike registry I could find.

 
Mark Brunnr
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Total cost of ownership can certainly vary, that average annual cost ranges from old cars bought used with minimum insurance in the midwest and not driven a lot, up to and including new cars priced well into 6 figures with insurance alone costing that $5600 or more a year. Here in southern California insurance is twice what I was paying in the midwest for the same car, and gas is about $1.50 more per gallon. There's also the cost of replacing a car eventually, and a good percentage of buyers buy new and replace it every 3-4 years, which drives up that TCO a lot. My experience has been selling for about $1000-2000 less per year of ownership than I paid when the car has been new, and they have the biggest depreciation during those first couple years.

So if a person buys an affordable used car that's say 4-5 years old, then keeps it another 15 years and doesn't put a ton of miles on it, and avoids tickets and accidents, then that TCO can be way lower than the average. I would offer that an e-bike is still worth it. There are several brands of bike that cost less or get a kit and a used mountain bike like Mr. Money Moustache did here (a very good site for saving money BTW). You also get the benefit of exercise vs addition passive sitting, minus the risk of accident. I've been hit by a car once on my bike and it hurt a lot more than the one minor fender bender I've been in.

T Blankinship wrote:

Edward Norton wrote:

I read somewhere that the average cost of car ownership in the USA is $5600 a year. I have no idea if that’s true but it seems like a good place to start.

I also read or heard that 90% of car journeys are under three miles in the USA. [/b][/i]



Back of the envelope math for my car ownership for a year:
Gas $360
Taxes and registration $56
Insurance $200
Fluids used in the car (oil, coolant, etc.)(estimated) $100
Oil change $60
Total $776

 
master pollinator
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Jay Angler wrote:FYI - here on the southern part of Vacouver Isl. current gas price is $1.60/liter - serious ouch! We try not to drive much! It's really making me think an electric bike of some sort would be a big asset for me. That said, I suspect our European members would consider that cheap!



Yes, we do! Hubby paid £1.56 / litre here yesterday. Ouch!

I would love an electric cargo bike, except I have balance problems and would need a cargo trike, which cost even more. Hubby won't sell the car because he's a very "just in case" person. So I haven't been able to justify the spend yet. One day...
 
Edward Norton
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I’m a self insurer. I put the money into locks! Apparently there’s a Chicago rule which states 1 lock per hour. I’m rarely anywhere more than an hour but use three locks anyway - a massive chunky Abus motorbike chain, a Knog D lock and an old combination lock which has a bright plastic covered cable. I park out front in high traffic areas. I have lost a bike and several wheels when I was bike commuting to a train station. It really got me down so I got a new job. It really sucks to live in a countries where bike theft is the normal and so little is done.
 
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Hey Edward! I just read your post in Ethics & Philosophy about having an impact on the planet. You sounded a little down so you need to know that you sure did impact my life. I bought an electric bike after reading your posts. You sounded like you were having so much fun, and I thought, “Hey, I want some of that happiness!” I’ve been on the fence about getting a new car because so many people give me a rough time for driving my old SAAB for the last 3 decades. I almost caved but, thanks to you, I’ve got a cool bike with room for cargo AND there is one less car in traffic, more happiness, better health, and more motivation to keep reducing and reusing (because it’s more fun). You never really know how you are changing the world but really, this little experience means that we influence others, who are part of the planet, to make positive changes that help out the planet. Thank you for your service!
 
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Don't forget depreciation of the car as a cost item. It's significant!!!
 
Tim Short
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They are indeed, Cuz!!!

Welcome from Canada (Toronto). Love the dialogue underway.

For the others, I, too, have a cargo-bike (Bullitt) just like Edward's. I love riding it. I get all of my groceries and more with it perhaps covering some 3 - 5 miles each day.

Off to a local cargo-bike rally tomorrow near downtown, roughly a 8 mile ride. No sweat on the Bullitt!!!

Here's my ride:
Bullitt-cargo-bike-(Tim-Short)-June-17-2021.jpg
[Thumbnail for Bullitt-cargo-bike-(Tim-Short)-June-17-2021.jpg]
 
pollinator
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Mine is not a cargo bike, but i have a rack and panniers for daily use. I love it.

I do 15 miles a day commuting. It is currently in pieces on the workbench though, while I do a motor repair. I think the clutch has worn.
 
Tim Short
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Something I forgot to mention. I care about the environment as I'm sure many on this forum do. When I'm asked by curious folks about what this type of bike is and why I got it, this is my narrative: it doesn't make sense for a 120lb woman/200lb man to drive a 2.5 ton gas-burning death-machine (e.g. SUV) 5 miles to pick up 50lb of groceries.

When I explain my rationale to them that way, everyone gets it.

 
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As a life long cyclist (mountain biker), who moved to my current city just to be close to great mountain bike trails, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I don't use a bike to get around for errands.  What's worse, is that my city caters to cyclists.  I just googled it, and there are sixty miles of multi use asphalt paved trails that go to key areas of the city.  Most of the roads are really wide and have a good amount of shoulder space for cyclists.  
It's also super safe here.  Not much theft, although a lock(s) would be a must.  
and the climate is pretty much year round ideal for cycling.

So yes, I'm coming around to the idea of an electric cargo bike.  I can't say I'd use it to commute to work (30 miles one way), but for groceries/errands it probably makes a lot of sense.  I also like the idea of a solar set-up specifically to charge the bike.   I'm keeping an eye out in the classified ads for a used one.

Thanks for inspiring me to look into it a little deeper!

 
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I've never had an electric bike, but I've been commuting daily by bike for a bit over a decade. I've been doing it in one of the most hostile habitats for cyclists in the U.S. and I feel relatively safe. I don't think I'm in any more danger than I would be driving all the time. There is very little bike infrastructure where I live, but by choosing my routes carefully, I can find a safe (but sometimes long) way to get most places on two wheels. The availability of Google's street view lets me scout out potential routes risk-free and this is a big help. Even if the cycling risk is a bit higher than driving, it seems worth it to me. I figure I'm accepting a tiny risk of a catastrophic accident for near certainty of health problems later in life if I sit in a car all the time. Plus my commute is fun. How many drivers can say that?
 
pollinator
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Help me out folks...
In looking at several cargo bikes that have the cargo area on the front, I'm struck by a seeming lack of utility for hauling long items. Wouldn't that be better addressed with cargo to the rear? Can one still have a bike trailer as well as the cargo up front design?

Also, what is the lifespan like for electric cargo bikes?
 
pollinator
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You see a lot of bikes of similar design here, and the cargo area is always at the front, why I don't know. You only ever see commuting bikes in towns.  For me a bike is a pretty useless piece of equipment other than for pleasure, I could use it to go to the local shop which is about 4 miles away, but it is a dangerous ride. And to go anywhere or do anything else it's 11 miles in one direction on 15 in the other. Both are large main roads with no cycle lanes and in the case of the road I am on, no space for two lorries to even pass without them both driving on the shoulder. I once even had to reverse because a lorry met an oversized tractor and they couldn't pass at all.. I hate meeting bikes while driving (we get the occasional long distance rider or tourist)  as you cannot get past them and have to crawl at 10mph until it's clear to pass.  PS. these are main roads not small side roads!

For pleasure riding my house is wonderful, If I go out the back door and over the field it's about 400m until you hit the gravel roads, there you can go all the way to the sea, or you can use the tarmacked back  road to go 40km before you hit a town, but watch out for the drunk drivers, the roads are known as "Spirit roads" for good reason, on the flip side take a bag and you can make enough in hand in fees from cans and bottles for dinner.
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