Posted on 11 mins read

I haven’t received any money or free products for my opinions nor do I have any affiliate links on my blog. I’m doing this for free because I don’t have the good sense to stop.

Forget about saving the Earth for a moment. Forget about reducing smog, exercising, or keeping up with the latest trends. Forget about traffic, even.

It’s still worth considering an ebike as your next vehicle. It doesn’t matter if you’re a fitness-obsessed environmentalist or not; the bottom line is these things are fun and can save you a lot of money.


Driving can be fun, but usually isn’t. To make it fun you either have to go fast, which leads to crashes and speeding tickets, or off-road, which requires a more expensive vehicle and a designated location. For those of us with an entry-level Nissan Versa, fun is pretty much off the table.

Walking is pleasant, but not particularly fun. It takes a long time to get anywhere and your feet get tired.

E-biking is consistently fun. A class 1 ebike tops out at 20 miles per hour, but even 15 is a thrill. You fly down hills and whip around corners. You get the wind in your face and the open sky up above, which is fun for the same reason convertibles are fun. You can go “whee” and “zoom” on a half-mile trip to the grocery store.

“Isn’t that the same as a regular bike?” you ask. Well, sort of. Regular bikes are fun too. But ebikes are extra fun because they go faster and farther and don’t wear you out as much, so when you reach your destination you’re still fresh and ready to go. That’s not to say the bike’s doing all the work; you still get your exercise. You just don’t have to commit to a tough, sweaty workout every time you hop on.

I’m no expert in fun, so take it from my kids, who are both under six years old and can sniff out “lame stuff pretending to be fun” from a mile away.

ME: Why do you like the ebike better than the car?

5-YEAR-OLD: Because it goes up and down on bumps and it’s really fast.

(Ed. note: They had never gone over 13 miles per hour.)

The kids love our ebike. They beg for rides all the time. If it were up to them, we’d dropkick our car into the ocean and bike everywhere. Beyond the sensation of speed and bumpiness, Not Just Bikes points out another reason why: in a car, they’re stuck staring at a back seat or out the side window. On a bike, they can see everything.

Ebikes aren’t just toys, though. They actually get you from point A to point B. Many of them can bring a passenger or a load of groceries, too. So they take something you needed to do anyway and make it fun. How often do you get to do that?


Let’s compare the best-case cost of car ownership to the worst-case cost of ebike ownership.

The cheapest possible car

The cheapest car in the U.S. right now is the Mitsubishi Mirage, at about $18,000 MSRP.

  • Let’s say it lasts 20 years. That’s $900 a year.
  • You’ll pay about $150 a month to insure it. That’s $1,800 a year.
  • It gets good gas mileage, so you might only spend $100 a month for gas. That’s $1,200 a year.
  • Registration, safety, and emissions (depending on the state) could be as little as $100 a year.
  • Oil changes and repairs will run you at least $1,300 per year.

Total: $5,300 per year. That’s if you buy the car without a loan (zero interest) and never sell it (zero depreciation). And you might have noticed I’ve been very lean with my estimates. If you need a more expensive car (for work or transporting kids), have a long commute, or are more expensive to insure, your actual costs could be a lot higher. AAA estimates the average car owner is paying over $10,000 per year, all told.

The most expensive possible ebike

For contrast, let’s take one of the most expensive ebikes I know of: the Urban Arrow, weighing in at $8,000 fully loaded. It’s got a top-of-the-line motor, a belt drive, an aluminum frame, and a massive cargo box that can hold two kids and a pile of groceries. It’s an eight-foot powerhouse, a “pickup truck on two wheels.”

Bikes are extremely repairable, so there’s no hard limit on how long this bike will last. But since the motor and battery are only under warranty for two years, let’s say it lasts that long.

  • $8,000 over two years is $4,000 a year.
  • By all accounts, belt drives are basically maintenance-free. But let’s pretend this bike has a higher-maintenance chain instead, and you don’t bother to take care of it so it has to be replaced once a year. The chain on Urban Arrow’s similar Performance model costs $45.
  • Let’s say you ride downhill at all times so your brake pads wear out in a year. A new set will cost you $60 or so for both front and back.
  • If you treat your tires like trash too, replacing both of them will cost $92. The inner tubes will cost $26.
  • If you don’t want to repair the bike yourself, you’ll spend some money getting the local bike shop to do it for you. That could be as much as $250 for all of the above.
  • Don’t forget electricity. If your battery (which does about 30 miles at a go) needs a full charge every single day, and you live in a state with very expensive electricity, that could cost as much as 20 cents a charge, or $73 a year.
  • Let’s tack on full-coverage theft and damage insurance for $25 a month. That’s $300 a year.

Total: $4,846 per year. That’s right. The most expensive ebike, ridden by the world’s worst bike owner, is still cheaper than the cheapest car. And that’s assuming you’re throwing the bike away and buying a new one every two years, which, I cannot emphasize enough, you would not do. In the worst case scenario you’d spend about $2,000 to replace the motor and battery every 3 years. If you make that change and nothing else, and the bike frame itself lasts 5 years (which is how long it’s warrantied for), that brings the total cost down to $3,112 per year. And if the frame lasts a more realistic 10 years, you’re looking at $2,312 per year.

How about something more middle-class?

Let’s be honest, you don’t need an Urban Arrow any more than you need a Cadillac Escalade. Let’s say you’re looking for the Kia Forte of ebikes: something that will get you around without breaking the bank. The Aventon Abound is a good candidate at $1,800. If you throw it away and buy a new one every year, your total cost is $2,173 per year with electricity and insurance. And if your head isn’t full of rocks and you ride it for just three years, you’ll easily come in under 1,300 per year, assuming a 300-dollar cushion for maintenance and repairs. That’s less than a quarter the minimum cost of car ownership and just over a tenth what AAA says the typical car owner pays.

But I need a car

For those in a top-10 population hub, biking and public transit may meet all your transportation needs (with the occasional rental car for road trips). Those of us in the suburbs are still forced (more or less) to own a car. So let’s take another perspective: if you have to own a car, can an ebike still save you money?

80% of car trips cover a distance of 12.4 miles or less, which is about the distance you can cover on an ebike in an hour. 65% of car trips are less than half that long. But say only 50% of your trips seem convenient to a bike for whatever reason, and only 8 months of the year (because you’re not quite fanatical enough to bike in the snow). We’ll run the numbers with an ebike replacing one third of your car trips.

The math here will be oversimplified. Just because 80% of car trips are 12.4 miles or less, that doesn’t mean 80% of miles driven are on trips that are 12.4 miles or less. Longer trips are less frequent but have more miles, so they may account for more than 20% of miles driven. But the mechanics of long trips are different as well: less starting and stopping the engine, less city driving, less brake usage, and so on. I don’t think it’s feasible to fully capture the cost-per-mile of short trips only, so I’m using “percent of trips” as a proxy for “percent of cost.” Your mileage may vary. (Literally.)

Take the aforementioned Mitsubishi Mirage. Replacing car trips with ebike trips will extend its lifespan while reducing gas consumption and maintenance costs, but won’t affect insurance or registration. The cost per year without those last two is $3,400. A one-third reduction on that is worth $1,133, about half the worst-case cost per year of an Aventon Abound or a normal-case Urban Arrow. That’s not quite a money-saving move. But remember, we’re talking about the cheapest car you can get and an ebike that needs an extraordinary number of repairs.

What if AAA’s estimate is better than my back-of-the-napkin math and the cost of car ownership is closer to $10,000 per year? Let’s assume $1,900 of that is still insurance and registration. That leaves $8,100, and a one-third reduction on that is $2,700 per year, more than enough to cover any ebike you want.

There’s obviously a lot of play in the numbers here. If you live in a rural area with dirt roads and the nearest grocery store is 50 miles away, an ebike isn’t going to save you any money. If you have a used car and your uncle changes your oil, a brand-new Urban Arrow may not be a favorable tradeoff. But there are plenty of used ebikes out there, too, and you can save money by doing all the repairs and maintenance yourself, so the comparison still holds water. Mile for mile, two wheels are always going to be cheaper than four.

What you need to know

If you’re ebike-curious, here are a few things to consider.

Class 1, 2, and 3

In the United States, ebikes are typically divided into three legal categories.

  • Class 1 ebikes only run the motor when you’re pedaling and the motor cuts out if you go over 20 MPH.
  • Class 2 ebikes have a throttle so you can run the motor without pedaling, but are still limited to 20 MPH.
  • Class 3 ebikes only run the motor when you’re pedaling but have a higher limit of 28 MPH.

Class 1 ebikes are the most common and have the fewest legal restrictions nationwide. All states except Alaska and Rhode Island treat Class 1 ebikes like regular bicycles: you can ride them on all bike paths, trails, and roads (unless there’s a sign that says you can’t), and you don’t need a license, registration, or insurance. Most states are pretty cool about Class 2 and 3 ebikes as well.

You can learn more about your state’s ebike laws here.

I am not a lawyer. Always learn and follow your local laws.


There are two major ebike motor brands: Bafang and Bosch (yes, the same Bosch that makes your dishwasher). If an ebike doesn’t say what brand of motor it has, it’s Bafang. They would tell you if it were Bosch. People pay a premium for that.

That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with Bafang, necessarily. They make a ton of different motors, supplying nearly every ebike manufacturer, and I’ve heard some of them are pretty good. But Bosch motors have the cachet of German engineering on their side and are a clear favorite for premium ebikes. A Bosch drivetrain adds at least $1,000 to the price of an ebike, but it’s generally considered to be worth every penny.


There are a few different levels of investment you can put into an ebike:

  1. ($500 to $1,000) If you already have a regular bike, you can buy an e-conversion kit and install it yourself. This is the cheapest option. A few different kits are reviewed here.
  2. ($1,500 to $3,000) Most entry-level ebikes fall in this range. Brands like Aventon, Lectric, Co-op Cycles, and Rad Power are popular choices. For the most part they have Bafang motors and are just fine for casual riders.
  3. ($3,000 to $6,000) This price range is for premium ebikes only. Brands like Tern, Trek, Riese & Müller, Cannondale, and Gazelle are popular. If you’re paying this much, you should expect a Bosch motor or equivalent, rock-solid construction, a smooth ride, and a good warranty.
  4. ($7,000+) Anything above this price is super-premium. Urban Arrow is in this category, along with the highest-end Tern bikes and a few others. For this price you should expect a belt drive and some luxury features, like a smart system, enclosed gears, and extraordinary build quality.

Call to traction

Okay, now you can remember the things I told you to forget:

  • Cars have a tailpipe that continuously belches carbon dioxide. Ebikes do not. This is good for the Earth.
  • Cars are extremely loud. Ebikes are quiet.
  • Ebiking is great exercise. The motor doesn’t make you lazier, it just significantly extends your range.
  • Ebikes rarely (if ever) get stuck in traffic.
  • Ebikes can go places cars can’t, like scenic trails. (Yes, cars can go on the freeway and ebikes can’t. But the freeway is about as scenic as a giant square of tinfoil.)

So go buy an ebike. The more ebike owners there are, the sooner we can complete the ritual.