Thursday, June 26, 2008

Commuter Costs

My daily commute is more than twenty miles round-trip. I drive a VW Beetle, which gets 30-33 mpg, but I'm always wanting more. I have optimized the manner in which I drive, which is why I'm able to hit 33 mpg more often than not.

My gas tank is almost empty at the moment, and I'm not looking forward to shelling out the big bucks to fill it. I'm always looking for a better solution -- better for the environment and my health, in addition to my pocketbook.

Ideally, I'd like to walk. I enjoy walking and I used to walk to the university several times a week (more than 2 miles) when I was a graduate student. But we're talking an order of magnitude more distance here, and an order of magnitude less free time, so this isn't a viable option.

I talked to a guy I know who rides a motorcycle to work every day. The idea is appealing -- I'd get twice the gas mileage, I'd be able to park in a better parking space -- but it would require a multi-thousand-dollar investment and I'm terrified of being in a motorcycle accident. He told me about a motorcycle course you can take, and I might do that sometime, because it would be worth $75 (the cost of the course) to see if this is even an option for me.

Another idea would be to ride a bicycle to work, but that doesn't seem within the realm of possibility for me. There are big hills between here and there, and I'm no Lance Armstrong. (Also, I don't like to sweat.) Some people park just outside lab property and bike in the rest of the way (just over 5 miles), which might be doable, but it would be a big challenge for me.

I discovered recently that there are motor-assisted bicycles, which got me thinking. The motor kicks in when you're going up a hill or pedaling hard, getting you through those difficult places where I would otherwise have to get off the bike and walk it. The question that remains in my mind is whether they work as advertised.

Some cost as much as a motorcycle, placing them firmly out of my price range. But others cost as little as $800. If it costs $45 to fill my gas tank, then an inexpensive motorized bicycle would pay for itself after the equivalent of 18 tankfuls. If I fill my gas tank every four weeks, then it would take 72 weeks -- less than a year and a half -- for the bicycle to pay for itself.

But I don't know. I'm reluctant to just buy one, in case I bought the wrong thing. Furthermore, even $800 is a lot of money to spend on anything.

So I ask my vast readership: do you know anything about electric-powered bicycles?


Laura said...

Hey dude,

I've always wanted one of these, myself! Especially in the summer, on hills. Whew!

They do come cheaper -- check this out. Or this.

This is pretty daggone cool.

Or this!

And there are several more, if you do a Froogle search on "electric bicycle."

Of course, I've never tried one so I don't know how well they work; I think only the first website there has a review....

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I used to bike to work. Both motorcycles and bicycles are pretty dismal when it rains.

You also might be safer in a motorcycle if you have to bike on a busy road. Some cars will tailgate you and cut you off without signaling if you ride your bike in traffic.

Have you considered a moped or a scooter?

rachel said...

I suppose there's no bus or anything? If there were a bus even part way, could you bike to the bus, take your bike on the bus, and then bike the rest of the way? (In Vancouver buses have bike racks on the front - you probably couldn't just take the bike onto the bus, I don't know)...

I've seen a few electric-powered bikes around Vancouver, but never asked anyone about them. A good BIKE, new, will cost you $300-500, anyway, but if you got a good one, and learned to use the gears properly (Ms. Optimization!), and worked up to it, the hills may not be as formidable as you think. But you'd still sweat buckets in the TN summertime (is there a shower at work? Or privacy, at least? Scott has to change clothes when he gets to work). It's possible, as hot as it gets, that you'd end up sweating a lot even on an electric bike in summertime. (and how much sunscreen would you go through?)

That said: what about driving in summertime and biking the rest of the year?

Tatanus said...

Even though I can not directly speak to either of the two bikes you linked to and my personal experience with "motored" bicycles is a bit dated, I will provide what I do know. Many moons ago, when I did look into these mystical "motorized" bicycles, they left a lot to desire.

The motors were weak, meaning that they would lose power when faced with a slightly steep slope (such as the one to/from your house.)

Secondly, they were heavy. Well, heavier than a bicycle, yet not as heavy as a motorcycle.

Thirdly, they were loud. I mean almost "lawnmower" loud.

Lastly, you would have to share the road with cars, due to the motorized nature of the bike. Many places (when I was looking) treated "motorized" bicycles as scooters/mopeds/motorcycles. Which may also mean you would have to get it registered and licensed.

Just to clarify, many of my observations may not apply to any of the modern "motorized" bicycles that you may be looking at.

Scott said...

ou'd be better off carpooling. Or move, so that you will be within reasonable biking distance.

rachel said...

@ anonymous: Here in Vancouver, where it rains all the damn time, there's an entire industry devoted to waterproof biking clothes. In addition to jacket and pants, you can even get waterproof shoe covers (and SHOULD, unless you want your shoes to start stinking). Which is not to say biking in the rain is FUN, to hear Scott tell it anyway...