The True Costs of Owning and Using an Electric Bike

Court

Administrator
Staff member
#1
Hi guys! I'm moving some content off of the main site and into the most relevant categories of the forum. This post was originally made on October 21st 2016:

true-cost-of-owning-electric-bike.jpg


This guide is meant to provide a comprehensive overview of the short and long term costs associated with electric bike purchase, use and ownership. I’ve listed dates for the first section to help orient you as time passes but from what I’ve seen, many electric bicycles are going down in cost with each passing year :)

The first cost to factor in is the initial purchase price, there’s a wide range depending on brand, battery size and components. Below are some averages and ranges based on a number of 2016 retail listings for the various categories. Note that you can often find earlier year models for a reduced sale price (especially in the Fall as inventory resets). Also note that these averages do not take into consideration budget electric bikes as you might find at Walmart on Amazon or other big box stores, which tend to cost less up front but rack up higher maintenance and replacement costs down the line. I’ve reviewed three cheaper Amazon bikes here, here and here with details about assembly time and effort.
  • 2016 Cruisers ebikes: Average cost of about $3,050, ranging from roughly $1,500 to $7,900.
  • 2016 Mountain ebikes: Average cost of about $4,150, ranging from roughly $1,200 to $9,000.
  • 2016 Road ebikes: Average cost of about $4,750, ranging from roughly $1,900 to $8,000.
  • 2016 City ebikes: Average cost of about $2,800, ranging from roughly $1,200 to $8,000.
  • 2016 Folding ebikes: Average cost of about $1,750, ranging from roughly $700 to $5,000.
  • 2016 Cargo ebikes: Average cost of about $3,300, ranging from roughly $1,700 to $6,000.
Once you’ve selected your ebike type and model, there’s one big variable cost to consider which is electricity… how much it costs to fill the battery each time you ride and how far that juice will take you. Here’s a quick guide to pricing out fuel costs:
  • Multiply the battery voltage and amp hour rating to get watt hours ie. 36 volt 10 amp hour battery has 360 watt hours (divide by 1,000 to get Kilowatt hours)
  • Check your local electricity prices, the average cost per Kilowatt hour in the USA at the time of this guide was $0.12
  • Multiply the Kilowatt size of your battery by the cost per Kilowatt hour electrical rate ie. .36 and $0.12 = a complete charging cost of $0.0342 or roughly four cents
  • Estimate your trip distance cost by dividing the charge cost by the average range of your battery pack… I estimate the lowest range per charge by dividing the watt hour capacity of the pack by 20 ie. 360 / 20 = 18 miles per charge and now we divide $0.0342 by 18 to get $0.00171 per mile. That’s less than two tents of a penny per mile on an electric bike looking at electricity alone!
Batteries don’t last forever but most of the major manufacturers like Samsung and Panasonic that supply Bosch, Yamaha, Impulse and some Bafang drive systems estimate 1,000 cycles and warranty about two years of continuous use. The cost of battery replacement ranges from $500 to $800 depending on the size of the pack and whether it’s custom or more standardized in shape and interface. Some batteries can’t be replaced via the original equipment manufacturer at all because the brand has gone out of business and in those cases the battery case can often be repacked for ~$500.

Other considerations: Many times electric bikes wear out faster than non-electric bikes because they tend to be ridden more frequently, at higher speeds and for longer distances. If this is going to become your primary means of transportation, it may also see more challenging weather such as rain or snow. Cold weather in particular, cuts down the effective capacity of a pack and some companies offer Neoprene covers to keep them warm… I often store mine in the garage where it’s warmer than the shed but safer than being inside the house in case of a fire. Anyway, a good rule of thumb is to have a tune-up / check-up for your ebike every six months if you’re riding actively or every 500 miles. A tune up for your ebike will range in price depending on who is performing the service, and should any parts be needed, etc., also note that some places include a surcharge for ebikes, even if it’s just a normal service. This is one of the reasons I prefer to buy directly from electric bike dealers, they tend to be more friendly and open to repairs and maintenance if they sold it to you and they are very likely better equipped to help with battery issues, your controller or the display. Here’s a few guidelines for costs:
  • Tune up: $75 – $100+
  • Flat tire fix (not including tube cost): $10 – $20
  • Brake adjustment: $20 – $35
  • Drivetrain replacement or adjusting: $20 – $60
Maintenance tips: The most common necessary repair is fixing a flat tire; keep the necessary tools, and a spare inner-tube, so you can do it yourself. This may require finding an ebike model that doesn’t require a lot of specialized tools to get at / remove the wheels. It’s one of the reason’s that mid-drive bikes have become popular in recent years, not only is the motor more efficient if you switch gears to help it climb or go fast but the wheels tend to be quick release making them much easier to remove than a hub motor.

A couple of additional tips: Purchase a good lock—protect your investment, sometimes it’s shocking to see a $100 u-lock or folding lock but if you just spent $2,000+ on the bike, it’s a good investment. I know people who purchased two locks just to make it extra difficult for a would-be thief! If your ebike doesn’t have lights or a bell, consider adding these as well. Your bike won’t be worth much if you get hurt and can’t ride it and as the seasons change and it gets dark earlier you may be caught off guard by traffic.

All things considered, electric bicycles can be very efficient both in terms of energy use and money spent. They aren’t free and while you can’t charge most by pedaling (something that gets asked a lot) the electricity cost to fill them from a standard outlet is extremely low. Electric bicycles in fact, are often way more efficient than people-powered bicycles due to the fuel that humans consume which tends to be grown remotely, shipped using gasoline, stocked, shipped from there to a home and often cooked, digested and transferred from chemical to kinetic energy. Whether it’s coal, wind power or solar being used to charge an ebike, it’s usually much more efficient than using food to fuel a human being but you can still get a workout and perhaps transition more of your travel from a heavy, inefficient multi-person vehicle to a light weight, safe and affordable ebike.
 
Last edited:

Court

Administrator
Staff member
#2
Following are some of the original comments that were made on that post:

JOHN R. KARL
Great comments! I never thought about the cost of food for the human machine versus electricity for the electric bike! (I am still going to use my bike for exercise, and thus pay for all that food, but this is a great concept anyway.)

COURT
Glad you enjoyed the writeup John, there are so many factors to consider in both the production of an ebike vs. what’s already made… the power used to fill it or fill you and how it will perform over time etc. it’s a fun topic. Glad you’re enjoying your bike, which one did you get?!

TENBLINKERS
I would add to you list of costs these three things:
  1. Immediately replacing stock tires with kevlar-lined tires pays for itself many times over in terms of flat fix costs, time and aggravation.
  2. Chains and sprockets wear out with the speed and distance ridden on e-bikes, about every 800-1,000 miles for chains, and 1,500-ish for sprockets. Also, cargo bikes require 1.5 or 2 regular-size chains per replacement.
  3. Spokes. Especially for heavier riders, you’ll be replacing spokes every few hundred miles. And, many e-bikes use non-standard thickness spokes, which incurs extra time and money.
COURT
Excellent additons! Thanks for taking the time to list them out… Do you have any feedback on which tires or brands work well? Where to get spokes and whether you use Loctite or another glue to keep spokes from coming loose? I think most people just go to their local shop for help but it’s nice to hear what brands or specific products work :)

TENBLINKERS
No surprise, I use Schwalbe Marathon Plus, and they’ve been excellent. One flat in 1,600 miles, and that was from people maliciously seeding a new bike path in town with nails. I probably went over them a dozen times before one finally stuck. My wife uses a Continental kevlar-lined tire without issue as well.
For spokes, I ended up buying a box of 12g spokes from Amazon, and taking them to one of the only shops in town with equipment that could thread them. I’m sure if you call your local ebike shop they can either thread them there or will know someone who can. I don’t use Loctite, but I’d recommend it for thick spokes. They do have a tendency to come loose. I ended up having my back wheel rebuilt with 13/14g spokes, which haven’t come loose, but several makers do use the 12g, and they did for me come loose every 300 miles or so.

COURT
Oh man, that’s such a bummer! And a waste of nails :p glad to hear the tires held up well enough until they didn’t an d that your wife is doing well. Interesting to hear your confirmation about thicker (stronger) spokes coming loose more frequently. I’ve heard that before and I guess there’s just a sweet spot between strength and the flexibility of the narrower ones that might not come loose as much. I hope your future rides are great and would encourage you to step off and kick the nails to the side next time. I know how much it can suck to change a flat, especially on an ebike if you’re far from home…

GORDON MORROW
I was a shop mechanic and USCF licensed race mechanic many years ago. We set up a well-stocked repair pit at a couple hundred races over several years including Goodwill games, US national track championships and many local races and rides in Pacific NW. Powerful racers had a constant problem with wheels coming out of true. Eventually, we figured out that massive changes in pedaling torque and extreme vibration from high speeds was causing spokes nipples to vibrate loose. Result: wheels become untrue. I experimented with several Loctite thread locking products to keep wheels true. Here is what I recommend:
  • Apply Loctite 290 to nipples of stable, properly trued, wheels. After your new wheels have been ridden hard and are ‘broken in’ (maybe the first 40 miles or so) re-true and de-stress them. (See Tip #2 in next comment below.) At this point, they should be stable. This is the time to apply Loctite 290 to keep spokes from vibrating loose and thus out of true. Simply put a small drop at the point where the spoke and nipple meet. The Loctite 290 (a green thin oily liquid) will instantly wick into the threads. After all of the nipples are treated, spin the wheel for a few seconds to encourage wicking. Wipe off any excess drips with a rag or paper towel. Wait a few hours, or ideally overnight for the Loctite 290 to ‘set’ and the wheel will stay true for thousands of miles! It really works and, yes, wheels can still be trued although you will feel a bit of resistance and sometimes a short ‘pop’ as the nipple breaks free. We treated all our neutral support race wheels and all wheels from riders we serviced in our repair pit area. We never had any complaints or issues with this method. I highly recommend it for all spoked bicycle wheels. TIP: Loctite recommends using a primer for stainless steel. I did not use a primer. It may make the bond too permanent and I don’t recommend it. See also.
  • For experienced wheel builders: When building up wheels from the component parts, first clean off any oil – often present from manufacturing – from spoke threads then dip each threaded spoke end into Loctite 242. It’s blue and oily which helps the spokes and nipples go together easily. A small bottle cap works well as a dipping pot for the Loctite 242. TIP #1: this stuff will begin hardening after about a half hour. Work with purpose so your wheel is laced, properly tensioned and true by then. TIP #2: To remove unwanted spoke wind-up as you are building your wheel, lay it flat on the floor. With hands at 3 and 9 o’clock positions lean GENTLY – straight down – onto the rim. Be careful! Too much force and the wheel will ‘chip’ i.e. distort badly. Rotate the wheel a quarter turn and repeat three times. Then flip the wheel over and repeat until the spokes quit ‘pinging’ or creaking, which indicates spoke wind-up is being relieved. This lack of pinging means everything is stable. Put it in the wheel jig and true again. Check the wheel dish too. Repeat stressing the wheel and retruing until there are no more pings and the wheel is true and dished correctly. Experienced wheel builders will know what I am talking about.
  • Purple Loctite 222 proved to be too weak. Not recommended.
  • Red Loctite 271 proved to be too strong. Not recommended.
  • NEVER apply oil to spokes! Grease is even worse and will guarantee the wheel becomes grossly untrue in a short time. I saw one wheel come completely undone during a triathlon: spokes were flopping about as the rider ran, pushing his unrideable bike with brand new wheels. Yep. His spoke threads had been assembled with grease.
  • Oil or grease on threads degrades the strength of Loctite. For best results clean it off before applying Loctite.
  • Magic Spoke Dust, a thread locker for wheels, is nothing more than powdered pine rosin. I’m not sure how well it works.
  • Dipping spoke threads into boiled linseed oil is an old-school spoke locker. It cures/dries in a day or two. Not sure how well it works.
COURT
Great tips Gordon! Thanks for spending your time to spell all of this out and help others ride longer and truer ;) I have heard about using Loctite before but wasn’t sure which types or how to apply it. Your thorough overview is much appreciated!

BIKINBUCK
Too bad I didn’t see this article a month ago. I would’ve been so much more organized.

COURT
Hope you’re doing alright, glad the article helped at least a little… better late than never ;)