You Should Probably Buy An E-Bike

Christopher Schmidt
7 min readNov 25, 2021

In March of this year, I purchased an e-bike. It’s the single most transformative purchase I’ve made for my personal transportation in my lifetime, and I’m not alone: immediately after another friend purchased one, he described the experience as there being a “before e-bike, and after-ebike” era of personal transportation. If you currently own a car, I think you should probably consider buying an e-bike.

The Basics

Most e-bikes look and operate pretty much like regular bikes: you get on, you pedal, the bike goes. The difference is that when you pedal, the bike does some of the work. (How much of the work is up to you.) They typically go up to about 20mph. They have a range of around 30–50 miles depending on the type of riding you’re doing. The batteries are typically removable so that you can bring them inside with you to charge.

Generally speaking, when riding an e-bike, you can put in as much or as little effort when riding as you want. Most of the time when riding, I leave my bike on pedal-assist level 3; this means that I put in very little effort, and the bike does almost all of the work. I can ride for 35 miles like this without breaking a sweat, and after I get home, I don’t feel tired. It is a very different experience than riding a bike.

They are more expensive than a regular bike, but typically in the price range of annual transit pass costs, or one year of gas cost for a car.

Ebikes are typically heavier than a usual bike. (My bike is around 65 pounds.) When riding it this is not a serious concern, but carrying a bike up stairs in order to store it, or lifting it to a roof rack on a car, are likely to be difficult.

I own a Rad Power RadCity Step-Thru 3. It is currently on sale for $1500. I really enjoy it. In the past 8 months since I got it, I have ridden 1500 miles on it. It has a rear cargo rack and is advertised as being able to carry up to 300 pounds of payload (including rider).

A photo of my RadPower RadCity Step-thru 3 e-bike.

Why is it good?

The E-bike has drastically changed my view on local transportation. It has significantly reduced my use of a car, especially for short errands, and it has changed a lot of what parts of the city are accessible for me.

Driving in Boston is annoying. Traffic moves slowly; you can’t always get to where you want; parking is troublesome or expensive; and connectivity on roads is limited such that there are a lot of places where driving isn’t an enjoyable experience. An e-bike changes all of that.

Parking is typically no problem; in many parts of inner Boston, businesses will have dedicated bike parking, but when it isn’t available, street signs can fill in, and you don’t have to circle for a few blocks to find a space. When arriving at a store with a large parking lot, I’m able to park the bike right near the entrance, rather than far away.

Traffic is less of a problem: typically when biking, you will find you can pass many cars at a stop light, and pull up directly to the line. On many streets in urban areas, there is reserved space for bikes that can let bikes move faster than the speed of traffic; when in a less traffic dense area, an ebike will usually move at around the same speed as cars.

Biking is often a more enjoyable form of moving around the city. First, you just experience more of the city: optimized driving routes will prioritize high-speed corridors that are separated from the commercial and lively parts of the city, while bike routes will typically do the opposite: the ideal bike route is through areas where car traffic moves more slowly (or not at all), and will provide more direct access to businesses and more vibrant parts of the city.

Bikes also have access to routes that aren’t available to cars: greenways, bike paths, and other routes that are designed for recreation also form a transportation network that can move from one place to another in a more enjoyable/less hectic transportation experience. In the Boston area in particular, many bike paths take former rail routes that acted as primary connections between towns, so they’re often even better connections to downtowns than highways built later.

Ebikes eliminate many of the difficult parts of biking for novices. Hills, headwinds, and carrying heavy loads all put significant strain on a typical amateur cyclist. The ebike eliminates these costs: you can bike over a hill just as easily as biking on a flat road, and you won’t notice heavier loads slowing you down. Accelerating from stop lights and stop signs is often faster on an ebike than in a car. (This eliminates a lot of the troublesome car conflicts at intersections that a bike brings.)

So, ebikes are:

  • Faster than cars in traffic
  • At parity with urban traffic speeds otherwise
  • Have better direct connections to good parts of town
  • Are more enjoyable as a form of transportation
  • A solution to many of the parts of cycling that are difficult for amateur urban cyclists.

These factors are a big part of what makes bikes more enjoyable as transportation in general; and for a driver like myself, the ebike offers the benefits of the bike without the physical costs: I can ride a bike a few miles, but the ebike typically lets me run a 10 mile round trip of errands significantly faster than a car, and do so in an environment which is typically less isolated and more enjoyable as well.

How much does it cost?

E-bikes are available at a range of prices. I purchased mine from RadPower: A RadCity Step-Thru 3 (current price, $1500; save an additional $100 with referral code before Dec 31).

There are models that run around $1000 (Lectric XP 2.0 folding bike, RadMission 1 step-over bike), as well as higher end models (Specialized brand models for $3750+) and cargo bike models in various forms, like the longtail Radwagon 4 from Radpower ($1900) or a cargo basket style Urban Arrow Family E-Cargo ($7000). I mention this variety to note that just because some e-bikes are expensive does not mean that all e-bikes are expensive, and you may be able to find one that’s a good fit for your budget.

Who should I buy from?

I have only bought one e-bike. I bought it from Rad Power Bikes. I was happy with the process; I am happy with the product; and I think the company is pretty great. I have so far referred 7 different people directly (and several indirectly) to buy a Rad Power bike; nobody has complained. Rad Power is a common brand (I would say about 40% of e-bikes I see on the road are Rad Power in the Boston area). Their product is an attempt to be a reliable and affordable product. I usually describe Rad bikes as being the “Toyota Corolla” of e-bikes: they’re not fancy, and they’re not high-end, but they are affordable and reliable. They are not always the cheapest bikes available, but they are on the low end of the price curve and I fully support buying from them.

They are a direct-to-consumer brand selling online (or in a handful of stores on the West Coast). They are partnered with local bike shops for assembly and repairs, though assembly of a Rad Power e-bike is not significantly more difficult than building Ikea furniture, and I think that most folks can put their own together. Not all bike shops in the Boston area like doing maintenance on e-bikes; E-bike Rehab in Newton is a local shop that multiple friends have had good luck with for repairs.

I like Rad Power Bikes. I would encourage folks considering an ebike to consider them. (And until December 31st, you can save $100 on a bike with my referral code). But I also know that they’re not the cheapest out there, and they may not even be the best for everyone. But I can speak personally to mine, and it’s good.

Are E-Bikes legal?

In most states (though not Massachusetts), e-bikes are regulated under a 3-class system: Class 1 e-bikes go up to 20mph, and only give a boost while you’re pedalling. Class 2 e-bikes go up to 20mph, and give a boost while pedalling but also have a throttle control (a twist throttle, in most cases). Class 3 e-bikes go up to 28mph, and do not have a throttle. If you’re new to e-bikes, I recommend not thinking about Class 3 e-bikes; especially in an urban environment, there isn’t a lot of need for the higher speed, especially riding in bike lanes and bike paths.

Technically, in MA, ebikes are regulated as mopeds. In practice, this means that a lot of ebike riding is not technically legal. To date, I’m not aware of any significant enforcement activity as a result of this, but Massachusetts residents should contact their state legislators and ask them to support H.3457 and S.2309.

In the end…

I think e-bikes provide a more enjoyable, practical, and useful form of transportation for folks who currently depend on cars for short vehicular trips. If you make these trips today, I think you should consider an e-bike.

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