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Are electric bikes worth it?
If you’re anything like me, this was one of the biggest concerns I had before buying my first ebike.
Spoiler Alert: ebike maintenance is cheaper than you think
There’s no getting away from the fact that ebikes are more expensive to buy than traditional bikes. The cost has come down significantly in recent years, through new battery technology and increased competition from the more and more companies now manufacturing electric bikes.
However, if you compare the retail prices of an ebike vs a push bike, you’re likely to have a sharp intake of breath.
Note that, if you compare them to a car purchase, then it’s a different matter entirely! More on that in a moment.
The next question that springs to mind is normally:
What are the running costs of an ebike?
Well, here, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise indeed.
…and that’s when you look at an ebike relative to a traditional bike, let alone a gas-guzzling motor vehicle!
How much does it cost to charge an electric bike?
There are four main areas to consider when you’re looking at ebike maintenance costs. I’ve outlined these below and I’ll then go into more detail on each.
Further on I’ve included a summary table which shows a couple of things:
If you’re used to keeping a traditional bike in good working order, then you won’t find ebike maintenance costs much different
If you’re considering swapping your journeys from car to ebike, then there are MASSIVE savings to be made. That’s both with the initial purchase price and the upkeep costs.
Ready for the good news? Okay, let’s go.
Key Areas To Consider For eBike Maintenance Costs
- Battery Charging cost – how much does it cost to charge a battery?
- Battery Replacement cost – how often do they need to be replaced and what’s the cost?
- Mechanical Maintenance cost – are the costs different from a traditional bike?
- Electrical Maintenance cost – what goes wrong and how much does it cost to repair/replace?
Let’s go into a bit more detail on each of these.
Battery Charging cost
People often assume that the costs to charge ebike batteries will be high. Imagining the dials on their electric meter spinning faster than they can see.
In fact, quite the opposite is true.
If you have a bike with a 400W battery, that equals 0.4KW.
In the USA, the approximate cost of 1KW is $0.12.
If you multiply 0.4KW x $0.12, you get $0.048.
In simple terms, the cost to fully charge your 400W ebike battery is only around five cents.
If you recharge your battery once a day, although in practice you’re unlikely to do it that often. Anyway, then the cost per year will only be around:
$0.05 x 365 = $18/year
Which isn’t bad at all for a full year’s fuel.
Bear in mind that you will also need to eat more if you’re cycling everywhere (wahey!) so you may also want to factor in this cost. Though you’ll then probably need to offset the health benefits vs driving a car. Eating more and being healthier? Hmm, sounds good to me.
Battery Replacement cost
The lifespan of a bike battery is measured in terms of ‘charge cycles’. This is the number of times that the battery is charged up to 100%. A good Lithium-ion ebike battery should last for at least 1000 charge cycles. This means that if you use your ebike daily, fully depleting and recharging the battery, it should last around 3 years. After this time, you may find that its’ performance will start to be reduced and it might start holding less charge. That doesn’t mean it will stop working after 1000 charge cycles / 3 years and you may be able to keep it going for longer. Especially if you don’t fully deplete the battery every day.
Interestingly, tests done on a Bosch ebike battery showed that it could last for over 1500 charges and that means that it would have been sufficient for over 35,000 miles. Not bad!
In today’s prices you can expect to pay around $600 for a good Li-ion battery when it comes to time to buy a replacement. But remember you get your first battery free when you buy your new ebike! So you only need to buy a replacement once every 3 years – which works out at approximately $200/year.
Bear in mind that battery tech is going to continue to improve, so that price is likely to keep going down.
There are a few things that you can do to prolong the life of your battery and keep it in good condition for longer:
- Buy an ebike with a good battery in the first place – look for Lithium-ion and “18650 cells”. Also go with quality brands such as Samsung, Panasonic, and Sony
- Keep it cool – store your ebike and the battery out of direct sunlight for long periods and when it’s not being used. If it’s off the bike, keep the battery in a cool dry place, ideally below 68°F/20°C
- Store it partially charged – if you’re storing your battery for a lengthy period, make sure it has a charge between around 40%-80%. Also, don’t keep it on charge for a long time, because storing it at 100% reduces the battery life
Mechanical Maintenance cost
The mechanical components on an ebike are normally the same as you’d find on a standard push bike. A regular service, a couple of times a year, should cost you around $50-$75 plus parts. If you’re handy with the tools, then you can often bring this cost down considerably.
One thing you will find is that you may need to replace a few bits more frequently than with a traditional bike. You are likely to be traveling at higher speeds on an ebike and so will consequently get more wear on brake pads and tires. Meaning that these need to be changed out more.
Interestingly, studies have shown that ebike owners tend to do more miles than traditional bike owners. So, whilst you may have similar costs per mile, you might get a slightly higher overall bill.
Electrical Components Maintenance cost
Apart from the battery, the electrical components on an ebike consist of three things:
- Display screen
- Electric motor
There’s more good news here.
To explain, I’d like you to imagine lying back in a hot bathtub with lots of bubbles and maybe a yellow plastic duck or two. Um… why….?
The bathtub is the important element here. Not the bubbles or plastic ducks.
The Bathtub Curve is an engineering term that describes the failure rate of mechanical and electrical bits and bobs. Here’s some more detailed explanation and here’s a picture of it.
The key part is the blue line, which actually looks like a vary shallow bath in cross-section. Hmm, not much room for me and the ducks, but whatever.
What it means for our ebikes, is that:
- The most failures happen at the very start just after purchase
- During most of the lifetime everything works fine
- At the end of its’ life, failures start to happen
This is great news because those early failures should be covered by any decent warranty. By the time any late failures happen, ebikes will no doubt have developed so that they’re another leap forward in terms of reduced costs and improved performance. Winner!
Summary table: Bike vs eBike vs Car
So, we’ve taken a look at the key areas where you may need to spend money on maintenance of your ebike. Think it looks pretty good? You’ve got no idea! Let’s have a look at how ebikes compare to traditional bikes and cars for lifetime maintenance costs.
Assuming you own your vehicle for 10 years, how do they each stack up?
Approx. Cost per year
$0 (not needed)
$0 (not needed)
$18 (charging 5 days/wk)
$1500 (driving 10k miles)
$0 for years 1-3 $200/yr for years 4-10
$20 (2 batteries in 10 yrs)
Average Annual cost
$318/yr years 1-3 $518/yr years 4-10
That’s quite a difference, isn’t it? Also worth noting that this doesn’t include the initial purchase price of each of these vehicles. Cars being more expensive than ebikes, the picture just looks better and better.
Are electric bikes worth the money?
The initial outlay for electric bikes is more than for a traditional bike. But significantly less than for a car. Interestingly, we’ve also seen that the running costs for an ebike aren’t significantly higher than a push bike. They are, however, a huge amount less than for a car.
The upshot is that if you look after your bike and are prepared to get your hands a bit dirty by repairing the odd puncture, then you can save a massive chunk of cash with an ebike.
Which is likely to make you, and your bank manager, very happy.