How to replace your car with an e-bike

If you’re looking to go car-free, an electric bike may be exactly what you need

Clock16:17, Saturday 30th December 2023

Globally, the average length of a car journey is just 15 minutes, and in Europe, 60% of car journeys are under five miles. That means that most of the cars we see every morning and evening idling at traffic lights, filling up car parks and polluting urban areas could probably be replaced by silent, space-efficient, non-polluting bicycles. Doesn’t that sound much nicer? And with the advent of e-bikes, it’s becoming even easier to go by bike instead of car.

Granted, you can't really carry the weekly shop on an e-bike, which is why we think an e-cargo bike is the way to go. With a meaty motor, loads of luggage space and a relaxed, upright riding position, these things can replace your car for all but the longest and most heavily laden of journeys.

But it’s not an easy transition to make. Jumping in the car is so easy: it’s warm and dry; you can chuck loads of stuff in the boot; you can sing along to the radio without embarrassing yourself. Even with the best intentions, when bad weather kicks in, you might find that shiny new e-bike languishing in the garage while you continue to dash around on four wheels.

However, if you do want to spend less time behind the wheel and more time in the saddle, read on. We’ve outlined everything you need to know to help you leave the car on the drive. Ultimately, it’s about making the switch easy and convenient for you, with the right bike, the right gear, and the right approach.

Know why you’re doing it

When the weather is bad and the warmth of your car is calling to you, it’s essential to remember why travelling by bike is better. Here are a few reasons why you should stick to your guns and leave the car keys at home.

1. Cheaper

Despite the initial outlay, an e-bike or e-cargo bike will save you money by keeping you out of your car. Granted, they cost about the same as a used car, but think about the savings in terms of running costs. With a car, there's insurance, tax, parking, and of course the big one: fuel.

Switching to a bike for short journeys can have a huge impact on your fuel costs. Cars are inefficient when the engines are cold, meaning they burn more fuel per mile on short journeys around town than they do on long trips, so those quick errand runs are probably more costly than you think.

By contrast, you can probably run your e-bike all year for about the same amount of money you'd spend on a single trip to the gas station. Our very own e-bike devotee Si Richardson reckons he spends about £5/$6.5 to keep his e-bike charged for an entire year. Even with an annual visit to the bike shop for a service and a tune-up, the cost of running an e-bike is virtually nonexistent when compared to a car.

2. More enjoyable

Sitting in traffic jams isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. Cycling, on the other hand, is an enjoyable activity. Ditching the car for an e-cargo bike will turn even the most arduous chores into a fun outing, as you whizz through the city streets, fresh air in your lungs The powerful electric motors in modern e-bikes add some serious pep to these otherwise heavy bikes, making them fun and agile to ride, and really not all that much effort.

3. Healthier

Just because you’re not doing all the work yourself doesn’t mean you don’t get a health benefit from an e-bike. Even with a powerful motor assisting, you’re still moving your body and raising your heart rate, something that many of us find few opportunities to do throughout the day.

Then there’s the health benefit of avoiding pollution and emissions. On a bike, you can steer clear of the more congested roads that you’d use in a car, taking in quiet bike paths or back roads instead.

4. Quicker

On a bike, you can filter through traffic and take different routes, so for most short journeys, especially through built-up areas, you’ll get there quicker on two wheels than four. That electric motor means you can keep a high average speed as you move through your local area, without getting hot and sweaty.

Then there’s the time savings you make when parking up. In a car, finding parking can be a long job, and often you end up a decent walk away from where you want to be. On an e-bike, you can ride right up to your destination and usually park wherever you like.

5. Better for the environment

One less car in a big city might seem like a drop in the ocean, but in fact, it’s a fantastic way to reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to cleaner air in your hometown. As we’ve said, cars are less fuel efficient on short journeys, when their engines never get a chance to warm up. That means more fuel is consumed, and more pollutants are emitted from the exhaust.

It may only be one less car for now, but you’ll be part of a growing trend, and as more and more people choose to leave their vehicles at home, the impact will only grow.

Choose the right kind of bike

To replace your car with an e-bike, you need to get the right tool for the job. There are loads of different types of e-bikes out there, but for a true car replacement, you’re best off with a cargo bike. These are bikes that are built for the rigours of city riding and bad weather, but crucially, they’re designed to carry a load, whether that’s your kids, your shopping, or your briefcase.

Broadly speaking, cargo bikes can be grouped into two categories.

Front loader cargo bike

Seen by many as the classic cargo bike, and a common sight in cycle-centric northern European countries like Denmark and the Netherlands, front loader bikes put the cargo capacity in front of the rider, and put the front wheel right out in front of the bike. The steering is controlled via a linkage system between the bars and the front wheel.

On a front loader, the cargo is low to the ground, giving a stable ride. Plus, with the cargo out front, you can keep an eye on it – helpful if your cargo happens to be two unruly children.

Front loaders are available with varying sizes of cargo compartments. The smallest are pretty close to a regular bike, often with just a small front wheel to accommodate a large rack on the forks.  The largest ones are substantial load-carrying machines, with capacity for three children and loads of over 100kg/220lbs.

On the downside, bikes of this style are very long, which can make them tricky to store or turn around.

Longtail cargo bikes

Then there are longtail bikes, which look and feel a lot more like a normal bike. Longtail bikes have a longer wheelbase and longer chainstays to make room for a rack over the rear wheel.

Again, these are available in various sizes. For those of us who are restricted on space for storage, or who don’t need room for everything plus the kitchen sink, there are compact options that are essentially heavily-built city e-bikes with purposefully designed racks.

Then, for people who need more carrying capacity, there are longtails that live up to their name, with room on the rear rack for two children or a large bag on each side of the wheel.

Even the biggest longtails don’t have the versatile, flat cargo space that you get with a front loader, but they do have the advantage of being a little more compact, especially if they have small wheels, as is often the case with longtail cargo bikes.

Dress for the occasion

As the phrase goes, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. To get through all four seasons on an e-bike, you need to dress the part. Things like a waterproof jacket and trousers, a decent pair of waterproof shoes, and some gloves to keep your hands warm will help you stick to the bike, whatever the weather. Rain and cold weather are inevitable, so be prepared to avoid just jumping in the car for ease.

Make it easy for yourself

To encourage yourself to use it as much as possible, try to reduce the number of hoops you have to jump through to get your e-bike on the road. Give some proper consideration to where you store it: it needs to be easy to charge, easy to get out, and easy to put back. If it’s less convenient than jumping in the car, it’ll be hard to resist when you’re in a hurry or just feeling lazy.

Think about security

E-cargo bikes aren’t exactly cheap. Whatever make or model you get, the chances are you’ll be spending north of £2,000/$2,600, and leaving something of that value locked up outside your workplace all day can be nerve-wracking.

Thankfully, most e-bikes have built-in security measures, like digital locking or a simple bar lock through the wheel. Regardless of what your bike comes with, the best way to set your mind at ease is by getting some proper bike insurance and a decent lock.

There are even e-bike-specific insurance policies out there that come with breakdown cover, so if your e-bike packs up you can get a ride home.

The most important thing: change your mindset

Anyone who’s got into the habit of riding their bike for transport will tell you that really, it’s a mindset. Once you’re in the groove, the bike will be the automatic choice for virtually any journey, just as your car once was. Getting to this point might take some time and persistence, but once you’ve fallen in love with your bike, and become used to the benefits that come with cycling, it seems mad to take anything but the bike.

The benefits for both you and the environment are clear, so if swapping the car for an e-bike is an option for you, it’s definitely worth making the switch. And with our tips, you’ll be able to do it as smoothly as possible.

For more buying advice, head over to the GCN website, linked here.

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