3000 Miles on a Hybrid Electric Bike by Matthew Zoll

The following piece is a guest post by Matthew Zoll, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager for Pima County, Arizona. Matthew’s piece describes his experience purchasing and owning an electric bike in Tucson, Arizona. We will have more and more pieces dedicated to e-bikes in the coming weeks and months after learning about lots of the great e-bike technology at Interbike. Additionally, we will have some future posts about utility cycling in the Tucson area. In the meantime, please enjoy Matt’s piece!

After 18 years of commuting by bike in the heat in Tucson, I decided in 2008 to try out a new approach. A friend had introduced me to electric bikes, which I always thought were not much more than an oddity and just a great way to cheat as a bike rider. How could I let my compatriots down by wimping out and going electric?

Bike Portland E-Bike CartoonImage Credit: Bike Portland

But then one day I realized it was the commute home in the heat of the summer that was getting to be a real drag, especially because I always commuted the four and a half miles to work each way in my office clothes (change clothes to cycling gear sometimes but still didn’t find it quite cool enough). Little did I know that my new approach was going to be a nice little life-changer, or at least commute-changer.

I’d been keeping an eye on various electric bikes and in summer 2008 a new bike became available. I called the shop owner and asked if I could try it out. He very generously offered for me to use the bike for a week, given in part it was the first of this make that he had gotten into his shop and he wanted someone to test it out.

The next day it hit about 96 degrees and after riding the bike home I immediately called the shop owner and said I’ll take it. I was surprised and pleased by the fact that with this bike I could pedal very easily and cruise along at about 20 mph, keeping around 10 degrees cooler than a regular bike due to the fact I wasn’t exerting myself (boy I didn’t feel guilty about cheating!).


Matt with his e-bike.

I call the bike a hybrid electric because the other part of the hybrid is me, although it’s really the lithium ion battery and electric motor doing 90% of the work. This one’s a pedal-assist which means you have to turn the pedals–but can do so lightly–to move it along.

Within about two months after buying the bike, gas prices spiked. For the heck of it, I decided to figure out how many miles I could ride on $4 worth of electricity, about the price of a gallon of gas at the time. When I ran the numbers I couldn’t believe the results, so I asked a much-smarter friend if he could double check them and he confirmed what I found out: I could travel 1,200 miles on $4 worth of electricity. And no that’s not a typo.

So in two years I’ve used the bike an average of about 5 months of the year from mid May through mid October on a pretty continuous basis for commuting, going to the grocery store with a bike trailer, and other utilitarian trips. I typically don’t use it more than a half-dozen times between November and May when instead I use my other bike(s). In early summer this year I turned over 3,000 miles on the electric, almost exactly two years since buying it. And I’ve spent about $10 in electrical costs for that 3,000 miles.


If I utilize the common average for the personal cost of driving a car, which is around 50 cents a mile excluding external costs such as pollution, I’ve just paid off the $1,500 cost of the bike (this is assuming of course the bike displaces the need to own a car or to own a second one). So from here on it’s a free ride! Actually, not quite; in about two or three years from now I’ll likely need to replace the battery, which should cost around $400. But by then I’ll have essentially earned another $1,500 or so by riding the bike instead of having to use a car, so the battery replacement cost will be quite manageable.

So besides essentially cooling off the hot summer, the electric bike has a few other advantages. I tended to drive to work a few times a month before getting the bike, but in the past two years I’ve driven to work only four times total. The bike’s a lot of fun, and because of that you just can’t not ride it. You’ll avoid the need for putting expensive miles on your vehicle or even perhaps having to own one at all.

With the BP spill, oil use is on many persons minds and perhaps their consciences too. Besides reducing our over-reliance on a substance that can have devastating impacts on the planet and our lives, when we use non-petroleum forms of travel including electric bikes we can also reduce our dependence on oil supplies that in large part come from dictatorial countries.

Electric bikes can be used easier by persons who may have bad knees or other disabilities that prevent or limit them from riding conventional bikes. For persons who just won’t consider biking to work because of the sweat factor, this deals with that issue very well. And mid-day meetings away from the office, even in summer, are a breeze to get to on the electric.

goodisebikeImage Credit: Good/ Matt Manos

So if you’re interested in going electric, check out the models offered in various shops and by local distributors. You’ll be pleasantly e-mazed/ at how they work!

Matthew ZollBicycle and Pedestrian Program ManagerPima County Department of Transportation201 N. Stone Ave, 5th FloorTucson, AZ 85711Phone: (520) 243-BIKEMatt.Zoll@dot.pima.govBikePed.Pima.gov


Quotes:I love my new electric hybrid, a.k.a. Cadillac bike. It’s a smooth ride, cooler in the summer and easier on the body with long commutes. Mine has three assist options, so I can choose to work harder or let the bike take up more effort – all with the joy of pedaling required.

– Andrea Lightfoot, 2-month electric bike user

“The electric bike solves many of the challenges associated with commuting by bike. It keeps you fro
m getting sweaty when you’re headed to work or to a meeting, it helps you when you’re tired and commuting home after a long day, it helps you carry a lot more stuff, and it’s fun so you ride it more often!”

– Jan McDonald, 4-year electric bike user

Matthew Zoll’s Biography: Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, Matthew Zoll is the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager for Pima County. Since its inception in 2002, this program has been successful in bringing in over $10.4 million in federal funding to the region and leveraging an additional $14.8 million in local funding for bicycle and pedestrian safety projects and programs.

Matt manages a variety of projects including two federal Transportation Enhancement projects, the Pima County-Tucson Safe Routes to School Program and the Pima County-Tucson Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety and Education Program. Together these projects total over $1.2 million in local and federal funds. More information on various projects and programs managed by the Bike and Pedestrian Program can be found at bikeped.pima.gov.

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