E-bikes! The Next Big Thing

As a special treat, I have a guest blogger for you tonight! I originally envisioned this blog as all things transportation, but it has (quite happily) morphed into my cycle chic blog. So at long last I have managed to coerce The Mechanic to write something for me. No fashion here, but cool stuff to read.

By way of introduction, I live in Fairfax County which makes up much of the lower-density part of the DC metro area, and means that motorized transportation is very often necessary (or extremely useful, at any rate).  I’ve been getting by for the past couple years without a car and relying solely on a fleet of two-wheelers that includes several bicycles and a 650cc motorcycle named Helga.

Meet Helga

I’ve recently been kicking around the idea of a small 50cc or 150cc scooter to replace the motorcycle.  But right when I get to the point of thinking I could actually make the swap I inevitably come to the conclusion that it’s just not the economical choice that it seems.  So I made the following chart to help put things in perspective.  This is not remotely intended to be a rigorous study but just a snapshot of some data that I gleaned from Fuelly.com, or just made up myself.

You can see that I picked a 650cc bike that gets better than average fuel economy for its engine size class.  I used Fuelly’s numbers when I was motorcycle shopping and my observations have been pretty close to the site’s average.  The problem with small engine scooters is that real-world fuel economy never approaches the often advertised values in the 110-120 mpg range (for 50cc), but top speed plummets to a point that even fast-moving surface streets can be a challenge to ride on.  Importantly, gas-powered scooters are not allowed on bike paths or trails.  I should note that the speeds shown are *max* speeds at wide-open-throttle and not comfortable cruising speeds.  This means that a 250cc scooter is only barely capable of riding on interstates and certainly not with a passenger.  So a 50cc scooter is more of a bicycle substitute than a motorcycle substitute.  Personally I think a 650cc engine is about the smallest engine suitable for safe cruising at over 65mph.  The lesson here is the Law of Diminishing Returns.

I love bicycling, but I live 12 miles from the university that I attend and my knees start getting cranky as the miles pile on (no century rides in my future).  So what am I considering now?  An E-bike!  There are already quite a few options on offer, with major bicycle manufacturers like Trek joining in now on what had been the domain up until quite recently of mostly just DIYers.  Austrian motorcycle maker KTM has developed an electric offroad motorcycle (here it is in action) intended to help a traditionally very noisy activity survive in increasingly crowded Western Europe.  At any rate, money and research invested into electric motorcycles will directly benefit E-bikes as the implementation is only a slight difference of scale.

An E-bike has the distinct advantage of being allowed on bike paths/trails.   A small gas-powered scooter doesn’t quite get good enough fuel economy to make up for its limited capabilities, but an E-bike or electric motorcycle could be the perfect commuter tool of the future.  So Helga is safe for now, but my fleet of two-wheelers could always make room for one more.

Commuter of the future!

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