My family has been car-free for 15 years, and during that time, my Bay Area commute has never been more than a couple of miles. Riding to work is my morning cup of coffee, but in recent years, I’ve found myself taking the bus or asking for a ride more often. I realized an e-bike was the solution to keep me rolling on two wheels.
An electric bike, like a classic bike, is a fabulous tool. It makes biking a viable choice for people who have long commutes, need to transport kids or cargo, or live in hilly places that might otherwise be hard to bike around. And, when you feel that extra boost from the electric motor, you might just get hooked.
One of my favorite things about getting around by e-bike is that, other than charging the battery, there's not much to worry about. Instead of clipless-ready cycling shoes, I can ride in my favorite platform sandals without sacrificing speed or performance, and I don’t have to worry about sweating through my work clothes. My bike, like most e-bikes, has built-in lights powered by the battery, so I never ride home in the dark because I forgot to charge my lights.
All you really need to start e-bike commuting is the bike itself. However, there are a few essential considerations that can make your transition easier.
First, get an e-bike with a built-in motor rather than adding after-market power to your current ride. The performance and safety of a bike designed to be electric far surpasses a DIY add-on. To help offset the cost, check whether you qualify for a local rebate or purchase incentive. Government agencies are slowly waking up to the fact that e-bikes are an excellent way to replace car trips and protect the environment, so they deserve subsidies similar to what’s already available for electric vehicles.
The logistics of your commute and even your parking options will affect the type of e-bike that makes sense for you. For a multimodal commute, a standard or folding e-bike that can easily fit on a bus rack or in an elevator is a good choice. Meanwhile, a long-tail cargo bike makes ferrying kids to school on your way to the office or taking presentation materials to client meetings easy. But many cargo bikes like mine are too big to fit in bike lockers, and even freeform bike parking can present a challenge. Most bike racks weren’t made for bikes with running boards (like my bike has), and some are placed too close to the wall for bigger wheels, so I often find myself cursing the lack of suitable cargo bike parking.
Most e-bikes are pricey, so security at your chosen parking spot is essential. Even though I carry two beefy locks, I look for indoor parking if I’m going to be somewhere for more than an hour or so. Finding a secure place to park during the workday, such as a bike locker, bike station, or in your office, is crucial preparation for an e-bike commute.
My e-bike has gotten me on my bike on days when I might have otherwise wimped out, and I don’t have to worry that I’ll be too tired to ride home at the end of a long day because I can boost the pedal assist. I love all the stuff I can haul on my bike, whether it’s groceries or furniture. But mostly, my regular commutes keep me connected to the joy of biking, no matter what speed.
The Best E-Bikes for Commuting
E-bike choices are broad and expanding as more manufacturers add electric models in a variety of styles to suit different needs. Rides come in a range of prices, starting at under $1,000 to over $10,000 for a high-end cargo bike. Here are three versatile options I recommend.
A CARGO E-BIKE FOR HAULING ANYTHING
I tried this long-tail cargo bike and a shorter Xtracycle model when I bought my e-bike, and although a compact size was appealing, I found the Swoop more comfortable. The small rear wheel gives it a stable ride, even with a full load of groceries or passengers in back, and the step-through frame makes it easy to mount. The Swoop isn’t the cheapest long-tail cargo bike on the market, but it’s a well-made bike with a Chromoly frame that can carry up to 400 pounds and should last you (and hopefully me) many years.
A SPACE-SAVING FOLDING E-BIKE
This recommendation comes courtesy of my wife, whose bike-plus-train commute necessitated an adaptable e-bike. She loves the Vektron’s classic bike look and feel, even though it’s electric and folds. Although it isn’t as compact as a small-wheeled folder like a Brompton, she’s able to fold it and fit it in her classroom at work. The sturdy rear rack can carry a small passenger or a surprising amount of cargo—she recently used it to bring home a range hood from IKEA.
A ZIPPY SINGLESPEED E-BIKE
Aventon has played a big role in popularizing e-bikes by offering them at more affordable prices. The Soltera is a singlespeed bike with a boost. At 42.1 pounds, it’s heavier than standard bikes but lighter than many other electric bikes. But its primary benefit is the price: Selling for just $1,300, the cost is comparable to some classic bikes. It’s a great intro to e-biking and ideal for bike-only commuting. And if singlespeeds aren't for you, the Soltera is also available as a 7-speed bike.
Essential E-Bike Commuting Accessories
How to Safely Charge an E-bike Battery
The lithium-ion batteries that power e-bikes can, in rare instances, catch fire. A few simple safety precautions will keep your battery safe and powered up.
⚡️ Don’t use an aftermarket or off-brand battery. Yes, e-bike batteries are expensive (a Bosch replacement battery can cost around $800), but the risk of starting a fire isn’t worth it.
⚡️ Only use a charger made for your bike’s battery. Here again, aftermarket options can increase fire risk.
⚡️ Finally, don’t charge your e-bike battery when you’re not around to monitor it. If the battery gets hot, unplug it (and then go get a new battery). Frequent topping off can shorten battery life, but a few hours of charging once or twice a week will probably give you the range you need for your commute.