Electric bikes, or e-bikes, are a growing trend in transportation and many people are attempting to make the switch from traditional forms of transportation to electric bikes. We recently caught up with Tad Montgomery, our Lebanon Energy and Facilities Manager, to ask him about his experience with transitioning to an e-bike for his commute to work each day. Here’s what he had to say.
I moved from Brattleboro to Hartland, VT this year to be closer to work. My hope was to live close enough to be able to bicycle to work, but my new apartment is 18 miles from my office. This is daunting even in the flatish Connecticut River Valley.
I met Karl Kemnitzer at an Upper Valley Transportation Management Association meeting last fall. He had biked from Hartland on his electric-assist bike, and I was impressed. I met him again at a Hartland Energy Committee meeting and asked what it would take to convert my bike to an e-bike. He spent about an hour and a half looking over my bike and discussing options for motors, batteries and control systems. He then said that he would be happy to convert my bike for the cost of the parts.
After a couple talks about motor types and battery sizes, I settled on a DIY conversion with a Bafang bottom bracket motor and a 1 kWh battery that is attached to a custom rear rack. We did the conversion over the course of a couple of days and Karl even welded up a special little device that holds the control display, a throttle, and a bell I use to alert people when I am coming up behind them.
This bike has been a major source of transportation for me now for over two months, and I have commuted on it an average of two days a week. The motor and battery have made the bike quite heavy, adding 30 pounds or so, but when I get on and the motor kicks in I feel like I am flying. Hills just melt away beneath me (watch the video) and I do the 18-mile commute in a bit under an hour. The biggest difficulty has been negotiating the cracks, potholes, and lack of a shoulder on Route 5 between White River Junction and Hartland.
The total cost of the parts was about $1,000, and I am delighted to be able to get to work without using fossil fuels. The exercise and joy of riding are bonuses. One battery charge gets me to work and back if I do not take any detours, and costs about 16¢. One surprise has been biking at night – I had been a bit daunted by the night trek, but it turns out I can see cars coming up behind me from a much greater distance than during the day. A good headlight and tail light are key. One disappointment has been not finding a rear-view mirror that works worth a darn.
The major difference from regular biking is the lower amount of effort needed. The way my bike is set up the motor kicks on whenever I pedal, and kicks off when I reach 25 MPH. I arrive at work breathing normally and not tired at all. There have been a couple of minor component failures, but I have gotten them repaired quickly either with Karl’s help or at Omer & Bob’s.
Statistics show that the worst mile a car travels from a pollution standpoint is the first, while the engine is warming up. I would therefore highly recommend an ebike for people who just want to bop around town or do a little shopping nearby. For those who are not proficient on a bike I would recommend gaining that proficiency before buying an e-bike. The best candidate for one might be a person who has wanted to reduce their contribution to global warming by commuting on a bike but was afraid of arriving at work sweaty.
For those who would like to try an e-bike, Omer & Bob’s currently rents them for $45 a day. You can also learn more about permitted e-bike use in Lebanon and New Hampshire at LebanonNH.gov/ebikes.
NOTE: The Upper Valley Electric Vehicle Expo on Sept. 14th will feature eBikes. The free event is 11:00am - 3:00pm at the Dothan Brook School in White River Junction. More information including registration can be found at uvevexpo.org.