Swapping my car for an e-bike

E-bikes have enabled some people to ditch their second car and reduce their mileage.  For others, an e-bike has meant they can live completely car free.  If more wide-spread, the effect on the nation’s health and carbon footprint could be significant.  Mukti Mitchell has decided to take the plunge and go for an all out swap.  Here he explains his excitement.

I love my car!

I have often said that if I could choose ANY car in the world, I would choose my car – a BMW i3.  If someone was going to give me a car, I might choose a Tesla, because they have the longest electric range and I like their driverless capacity, which will come into its own when governments approve driverless cars.  But then again, it wouldn’t fit into my garage!

Why I love my car…

It was perfect for me when I was doing around 12,000 miles a year, and most of my journeys were under 100 miles. It does 120 miles on the battery, which covers almost all my needs.  However, once every couple of months I had to do 200 or 300 miles in a day, and for that it has a range extender.  This is a small petrol generator under the boot and a 2 gallon petrol tank that gives me an additional 80 miles of range, and which I can keep topping up at garages. I once had an important meeting in Cambridge and the train broke down, depositing me back at Tiverton Parkway, Devon. The next train would have got me there too late, so I drove the 350 miles – stopping once to charge and topping up on fuel twice on the way – and I got to the meeting on time.

I use the range extender so little that the total carbon footprint of the few litres of fuel I use per year is much less than running a bigger electric car that has a longer range.  Carrying around a big car with a big battery on a daily basis gives me a bigger carbon footprint, when I only need the extra range every couple of months. A small electric car with a smaller battery has a much smaller carbon footprint, both in manufacture and in usage.  Using a few litres of petrol on an occasional basis is much more efficient overall.

Finally the BMW i3 is a beautifully crafted piece of engineering, a real pleasure to drive, it is smooth, comfortable and feels safe.  The acceleration is also exceptional.

What’s not to like?

The problem is that I don’t use my car very much these days.  I used to do a lot of surveying for Mitchell & Dickinson, but now my work is mostly desk-based I am doing less than 3,000 miles a year.  The car’s original value of £37,000 cost me £400 per month to lease through my company.  Because electric cars are cheap to run I was saving about £100 per month on fuel, making the cost per year similar to running a petrol car like a VW Golf.  However, now  that I use the car so little and mostly for short journeys to shops, the beach or to visit family nearby, it is simply not cost effective.

Why cars only go 15 mph…

Have you ever thought about how many hours you work just to pay for your car? For example if your car costs £5,000 a year to run and you earn £20 per hour then you have to work 250 hours a year to pay for it.  Add those hours to your travel time and they slow you down a lot!  Depending how much you travel, you will find your car probably only “goes” 15 mph.  When I did 12,000 miles a year my car’s average speed was 16 mph but at 3,000 miles the speed is just 7 mph!  Much slower than an e-bike.  Let me give you some examples of the comparative costs and travel times of my e-car and an e-bike.

Why the latest e-bike could replace my car

The best e-bike technology enables you to go up to 100 miles on one charge – that is nearly the same range as my car.   I have tested out some of the latest e-bikes and they are fantastic. On one test run I did 8 miles in 20 minutes – which is 24 mph. Add the hours I’ll work to buy and insure it over five years, and the average speed works out at 14mph.  This swap will also save me around a tonne of CO2 and £5,000 a year.

Having been an avid cyclist for many years I am used to cycling in all weather – I once had a waiting job and had to cycle 6 miles each way in all weather, including at night in winter in thunderstorms, so I know from experience that good waterproofs keep me warm and dry – it’s good to have waterproof panniers too.

I am a bit lazy when it comes to cycling to the shops and the beach, and not having a car would solve that problem.  But cycling to my parents’ place 15 miles away takes 1.5 hours, which is a bit too much for cycling home after dinner in the dark. The e-bike will do this journey in just 40 mins and in a car it is half an hour, so the difference is minimal.  For occasional use I can always take a taxi or hire a car, which will make both the cost and carbon footprint far lower than having my own vehicle.

Added health benefits

I’m also excited about swapping to an e-bike because I know that being out in the fresh air makes me much happier and will keep me far healthier. I have found it’s more of a challenge to keep healthy since my work has become more desk-based, and regular cycling will make a big difference.  I have been chatting to people riding their e-bikes on the local cycleway and hearing stories of how e-bikes have been key to major health breakthroughs, especially for retired people with ailments such as MS and hip problems.

Can e-bikes help the UK reduce its transport footprint?

E-bikes won’t work for everyone but some readers might find that an e-bike can replace their second car, and a few may find that an e-bike replaces their need for a car altogether.  Folding e-bikes are also an exciting option, as you can put them on the bus or train.

I believe that, if a proportion of people could replace their second car with an e-bike, and another proportion can replace their car altogether, then e-bikes could overall reduce the nation’s carbon footprint, possibly by as much as 15 %.

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