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As we consider an e-bike vs. a car purchase, I'm trying to assess return on investment (ROI). My cost factors are, in order of priority, time, money, and carbon footprint.

My commute

  • I travel 20 miles daily, 5 days/week, over moderately hilly terrain in a temperate zone with four-season weather.
  • I drive a ten-year old car that gets 45 mpg and has low annual maintenance costs.

Car costs

  • The car trip takes 20 minutes on avg., so time cost is 40 minutes/day, 178 hours/year, or 37 days in 5 years.

  • At a fuel cost of $2.30/gal, daily fuel cost is $1.02, or $267/year.

  • To buy another car like the one I own, according to Kelly Blue Book, I would pay $3,250. For sake of argument, I'll assume the car will last five more years.
  • Insurance costs are $552/year.
  • Maintenance costs include oil and filter changes and unexpected repairs. On average this has been about $800/year.
  • Cash outlay the first year is $4,869. Subsequent years would be $1,619. Estimated five-year financial cost is $11,345.

  • Estimated carbon footprint is 2,296 lbs of C02, or 11,480 lbs in 5 years.

E-bike costs

  • Testing e-bikes, trip time is ~40 mins. Daily packing prep time, a shower, and a clothes change add 25 mins. Normal time cost is 105 minutes/day or 467 hours/year.
  • Because of weather, I can't bike-commute daily. Of the 267 work days/year, I'll Uber on 30 of them. At 20 minutes per trip, Uber time is 20 hrs per year.
  • Adjusting for Uber, annual time cost is 435 hrs, or 90 days in 5 years.

  • With moderate motor assist, I consume approximately 300 Wh of electricity daily. Cost per kWh is $0.13, so fuel cost is $0.04/day or $10/year.

  • Speaking to local bike shops, the high side of annual maintenance costs is ~$150.
  • The e-bike I'm considering costs $3,000. Adding high quality waterproof panniers ($150), a pump ($20), tube ($5), seat post bag ($10), rain jacket ($100), lock ($50), and clothing ($300) brings the kit cost to $3,635. I will not add additional insurance.
  • Uber costs $22/trip, so 60 trips per year (30 days) is $1,320.

  • Adjusting for Uber days, cash outlay the first year is $5,115. Subsequent years would be $1,480. Estimated five-year financial cost is $11,035.

  • For the bike alone, estimated carbon footprint is 110 lbs of C02/year. Adjusting for Uber rides (265 lbs/yr), that translates to 363 lbs/yr, or 1,813 lbs for 5 years.

Over 5 years, the car is >2x better in terms of time. The e-bike + Uber mode breaks even with the car in terms of money. The e-bike + Uber mode produces less than 1/6th the CO2.

I'm not surprised about the time or carbon footprint, but I thought the finances would look more attractive. Where am I making incomplete or unsafe assumptions, and how should I modify these calculations?

  • If you actually use the electric assist, you can skip shower most of the time. If you plan on riding hard, the electric assist will be cut off at 25 km/h and you can as well ride non-electric. – ojs May 26 '17 at 18:36
  • @ojs the 25km/h is a European rule (similar rules in other countries). If we assume US$ it will vary by state but some ridiculously powerful unrestricted e-bikes exist. With 250W of pedal assist and hills a shower may be needed at 10 miles each way. This will depend on the individual and workplace. – Chris H May 26 '17 at 18:41
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    Have you considered the fitness/health implications? Biking (even e-biking) will save you time/money you might have put into a gym membership etc, or alternatively mitigate some of the health impacts of a sedentary lifestyle. – Jamie A May 26 '17 at 19:37
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    "Because of weather, I can't bike-commute daily." why not? you are already factoring getting changed and taking a shower, getting equiped for weather is not much more time. – njzk2 May 26 '17 at 22:15
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    You figure annual bicycle maintenance at $150 per year on the high end. In fact, that figure is significantly too low. I have tallied up maintenance costs on my own long distance tours and for a high-end but non-electric bicycle it's around $1 per 12 miles. This includes replacement parts of all kinds, including brakes, chains, tires, clothing, helmets, shoes, drivetrain components, etc. At your expected annual distance that's $395 per year. – John Zwinck May 27 '17 at 10:43
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Summary: I think your calculations are correct for the most part, but unfortunately ignore the health benefits which might actually be staggering but hard to quantify.

Main Thoughts

  1. Consistent daily exercise is definitely a positive that should be factored in.

  2. I think the bicycle maintenance is underestimated. I would be surprised if a battery pack will last 5 years. Depending on the batteries used you have anywhere from 300-1000 full cycles. If you need to charge daily you will do about 200-230 full battery cycles a year. This could mean 1-4 batteries over 5 years depending on the quality of the battery that comes with the bike. The cost of a new battery pack can be as high as $800.

  3. I think your car maintenance is underestimated. Most years may be $800, but once in a while you get a $2000 repair bill (e.g., new clutch). This is why most car calculators use a higher value for yearly maintenance.
  4. In terms of lost time, do you not shower when you before work if you drive? If so you should subtract that from the bike time cost.
  5. In terms of trip time on the pedelac you said it is a 28 mph (45 kph) pedalec, yet your average speed is down at 15 mph (24 kph). I would have figured it would be 21 mph (35 kph) average for a per trip time of 27 minutes (54 minutes per day). Lets call that 1 hour to be conservative. Do you spend at least 20 minutes a day exercising if you drive? If so you are already even on the time spent.

Other Thoughts

For the e-bike + Uber option, Uber is costing you $6,600 or 59.8% of the total cost ($11,035). That is crazy for 30 days. Are there other options such as car pooling?

I think your sunk cycling costs are right (despite comments that suggest otherwise). Even if you found cheaper e-bike, lets say half of $3000, that is still only 10% of the total outlay.

Bicycles are relatively simple machines, but cycling is not necessarily a cheap activity.

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    Bus / train / public transport should be explored in place of the car options. Depends where in the world, and what routes too. – Criggie May 27 '17 at 1:31
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    For me the best public transport option takes 70 minute each way if it goes like clockwork. Straight biking was taking 60 minutes (it's hilly). This is why I started seriously considering e-biking. Comments re: hidden health, car, and bike costs/benefits are spot-on, thanks for the article link. – strongbad03 May 27 '17 at 13:31
  • While the answer about a $3k bike being too expensive is relevant, it's a bit too simplistic. This answer helped me reexamine Uber costs (far more $/year than initial bike cost), reconsider bike and car maintenance costs, factor in the time efficiency from exercise, and consider health benefits. I also should have assumed a higher car cost -- $3,250 doesn't get you much. $8-10k is more reasonable, since few would purchase a car like mine used (190k miles). Great answer @Rider_X. One month in, and I've been very happy with my purchase. – strongbad03 Jul 3 '17 at 17:48
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It's only so expensive because you are going for the most expensive bicycle option on the market. One could easily buy an $800 bicycle and spend $1000 on retrofitting a motor and battery and end up spending a lot less on the bike, or you could just ride the $800 bicycle without the motor, and save even more money. You're spending as much on the bike as it cost you to buy a car, plus you are using Uber when not on the bike. Most bicycle commuters will use public transit (bus or subway) when the weather doesn't permit riding. You aren't going to save much money when you spend $3500 on a bike and related accessories.

  • A $1500-2000 e-bike would also be a possibility. – Chris H May 27 '17 at 13:42
  • For background, price factored into time cost. Commuting with a normal bike takes me 60 minutes. E-bikes and retrofits in the $1,000-$2,000 range cap pedal assist at 20 mph. This means that, though it would be a much easier ride, I'd have time gains of only 5-10 minutes per trip. In my observation, $3,000 is on the cheap end of 28 mph bikes, unfortunately. This particular bike had better acceleration (=time savings) than the $2k e-bikes. – strongbad03 May 27 '17 at 14:14
  • @strongbad03 - I just found this post after Googling this very same question. How do you feel about your decision a year later? – TimHayes May 7 '18 at 20:23
  • Getting an e-bike was a great decision. I've ridden far more than anticipated: 2 days taking a Lyft roundtrip and 8-10 days getting a ride or taking the bus b/c of weather conditions. Looking back, the car price I used for comparison isn't legit - I would have bought a much newer car with a $200/mo. payment. I also overestimated bike kit costs. 5 year TCO for this car is ~$20k vs. $4k for the e-bike, based on actual costs this year. Versus a car, the e-bike has already paid for itself in a year's time. I'm a lot happier and fitter person, my carbon footprint is tiny, and life is good. – strongbad03 Jun 8 '18 at 22:15
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I started questioning your assumptions in the comments, but then realised that was what you were looking for in an answer.

To me (regular bike commuter over similar distances) a lot of your estimates seem high, and some low. Reckon more on tubes, but that's way too much on clothing. I suggest cheap hiking trousers (the quick drying sort or gym shorts, and gym tops. You may anyway have some. If you're into lycra that's fine but you don't need to spend a fortune on bike specific stuff. A bike rain jacket can be had for probably $30. What weather stops you riding? Why? How did you get to 30 days? Why Uber on those days?

25 minutes /day is a lot on prep /showering. Without a shower I reckon <5 minutes to get my bag ready, <5 minutes to get changed. A shower - if you need one - only adds 5 minutes to the changing time. I've often been able to start my work PC up then get changed while it's useless - it depends on the workplace.

Reckon on doing some maintenance yourself. Little at first but more later. It can save time compared to getting the bike to a bike shop (unless you're lucky with where your bike shop is). This will save money.

Would you be able to get rid of the car completely? Shopping? That's an expensive e-bike. Consider what happens if you don't get on with it - resale value? How high is the risk of theft with just a $50 lock where you are?

  • I've bike-commuted in other places during the winter, mostly with no problem. I have found out a few times the hard way that commuting when there's snow in the streets or black ice on the asphalt is not worth the risk. That's where the 30 days per year estimate comes from (maybe high?) – strongbad03 May 27 '17 at 13:26
  • You know your climate better than me. We don't get much snow as it tends to be cold or wet in winter here but do get ice. I run studded tyres all winter. Plenty of people run semi slicks but there are a couple of patches where I don't want to take chances. I'd rather be riding studded tyres than a passenger in a taxi on snow. – Chris H May 27 '17 at 13:41
  • Like cars, new bikes devalue quickly. I'd be able to resell mine now for ~$1700, acc. to one site. As for security, theft risk is mostly low. My situation is somewhat unusual, in that I'm able to park most times in a pretty secure spot. When I need to park on a public rack, e.g., at the train station, I detach the front wheel and pass the lock through both wheels and the frame. I could stand to invest in a stouter lock but even the best ones in online comparisons seemed readily defeated. – strongbad03 Jun 8 '18 at 22:20

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