These days, it seems that $20 doesn’t buy much in the United States. Sure, you can get lunch at a decent restaurant, half a dozen lattes, or maybe even enough gas to travel from one gas station to the next. But what if I said that it only takes $20 to pay for the energy to fuel a 4,000-mile road trip from New York all the way to San Francisco?

This past April, we set out to do just that, on $20 of electricity via two electric bikes. We took a pause from our usual work (Anna is an environmental scientist in Washington and I am the New York-based co-founder and CEO of Evelo, the company that made our bikes) to depart last month on the Trans-American Electric Bike Tour, stopping at various cities along the way.

Amid rising gas prices and the slow adoption of electric vehicles, an electric bike seems to be the best-kept secret in the U.S. Although 120+ million electric bikes are on the roads in Europe and Asia, they have only begun to rise in popularity here over the past few years.

So, it’s no surprise that the first question we get from many folks we meet on the road is, “What exactly is an electric bicycle?”

An electric bicycle looks, feels, and operates like a regular bike. It’s not a moped or a motorcycle, although there is a motor and a battery integrated into the design.

You ride an electric bicycle the same way you would a traditional one – by pedaling. The difference is the option to activate the electrical system, which adds a boost of power to your own efforts. This boost makes quite a difference – it essentially flattens out hills, makes headwinds disappear, and simply makes cycling easier. It’s almost as if somebody is giving you a gentle push – although it feels a lot more natural than that!

The important difference between electric bikes and scooters and motorcycles is that the electric motor never replaces a person’s own power. Instead, the motor complements it, making it possible for the rider to cycle on their own terms and at their own comfort level.

Electric bikes remove barriers such as hills, fitness level, age, and injuries that prevent people from cycling in the first place. They make biking more accessible to a wider range of people – many of whom find a regular bicycle too difficult or impractical for their lifestyle.

We wanted to go cross-country on our bikes to generate awareness about them, but most people use a bike for recreation, commuting, and just getting around town. Considering that over half of all car trips taken in urban areas are 3 miles or fewer, electric bikes provide a really good alternative to driving a car.

Recharging the battery from a standard 110V outlet takes 4 to 6 hours and costs less than 10 cents’ worth of electricity. Those 10 cents can go a long way, since a single charge can last up to 40 miles in pedal-assist mode. Just imagine being able to ride for 1,000 miles for the cost of one gallon of gas. Or, as in our case, being able to cover the entire country on less than a $20 bill.

During our tour, we cycle anywhere from 50 to 110 miles per day. Due to the distance, we carry a few spare batteries to extend the range we can easily cover in a day. Unlike drivers of electric cars, we never have to worry about finding charging stations. Since the batteries are detachable and lightweight (under 8 pounds), we can easily park the bike for the night and bring the batteries indoors to plug them into a regular outlet. Of course, even if we use up our battery supply on a given day, we can always rely on pure human power and simply pedal.

We’ve set out on this trip to get more people on bikes and show them the technology that can make it easier. Cycling is a fantastic way to get around in your city – or even within your country – but we need to accept the fact that for many people, a regular bike can be difficult or impractical.

An electric bike removes barriers, thereby encouraging more people to explore a form of alternative transportation that is kinder to our environment. Not to mention that the potential health benefits are enormous. Our hope is that the $20 we spend to power our bikes through 4,000 miles on the tour will help get more people on bike saddles and out of their gas guzzlers.

To learn more about our 4,000-mile cross-country journey, we invite you to join us at www.TransAmericanElectricBikeTour.com. To find out more about the electric bikes we’re using for the tour, please visit www.EVELO.com.

Comments

  1. Chris Karasavvas
    UK
    October 3, 2014, 3:40 am

    This is an interesting blog that you have posted, you shares a lot of things are very informative for us. Thanks

  2. Anthonasio
    Silicon Valley, CA
    July 8, 2014, 7:39 pm

    The Evelo bike is entirely manufactured in China and distributed by Jumbo Bike Company in China.

    http://jumbo-bicycle.en.made-in-china.com/product/HBixqpJDqQkl/China-Electric-Bikes.html

    The bikes have been sold under many names. “Tonaro” in China and Great Britian, “Zoco” in Australia, “iGo” in Canada, “RMartin” in US, “Hightec” in US, Evelo in US and other names. These are all EXACTLY the same bikes, with variations in paint and available rear gear / hubs.

    I am now seeing used Evelo and iGo bikes on Craigslist for sale.

    Note that the primary complaints with the bikes have been poor quality pedals and that out-of-the-box, many of the nut / screws are not snug. Other than that, these are fine bikes across the board.

  3. Gissi
    ZSiaXmKgTcQXMsb
    July 30, 2012, 12:29 pm

    the two strokes are a dying breed. Honda isn’t even pocduring them anymore, the biggest company in the business, closely followed by kaasaki then yamaha/susuki. but a two-stroke has oil mixed in with the fuel meaning no engine oil but dont let it fool you they are much harder to maintain. if you are getting dirtbikes after street bikes then you can easily ride it so i would get a 2006 crf250x or 250r. the engine size is going to be far smaller than your street bike but they have much more torque. i would definatly get your girlfriend an x but you may (if you have an interest in motocross) want to get an r they have a different tranny and the power is incredibly different than the x. i would stick with Honda and four stroke.

  4. Mike
    USA
    June 28, 2012, 10:43 pm

    I would stay as far away from EVELO as you can. The box says MADE IN CHINA, and they do not stand up for their product. Mine is a lemon and they refuse to take it back.

  5. wow!
    June 18, 2012, 9:47 pm

    U really know the facts , how much do these things cost again? and were can i get them?

  6. Yevgeniy
    New York, NY
    May 23, 2012, 7:38 am

    Bill, the question of whether one can recharge the batteries by pedaling is the single most common question that comes up when we introduce the concept of electric bikes to people.

    The answer on the other hand is not as simple.

    Let me start by saying that recharging by pedaling or by using regenerative braking is possible.

    That being said it requires a different type of a motor called a direct drive motor. There are a few technical issues that arise from this.

    First of all, direct drive motors are HEAVY and quite large. Adding one to the bike would mean it would become much heavier and our goal was to keep the essence of a regular bike in our electric bikes. We couldn’t see that happening if we were to offer 100lb bikes. We wanted to ensure that our bikes were only a little bit heavier than the traditional counterparts.

    Second, direct drive motors produce constant drag. It might not matter much when you have power left over in your batteries, but once you run out you would be fighting against the motor with every pedal stroke. Certainly not much fun for our customers and our tour riders.

    Third, it is technically impossible to regenerate a sufficient amount of power by pedaling or braking. Over the course of the trip that one charge can take you on, you would probably regenerate around 5% of your battery capacity. Is that worth the extra weight and constant drag? It was not for us.

    Fourth, regenerative braking produces a strong electrical current. Much stronger than that coming from a normal charger. It doesn’t last long but feeding this much power to the batteries in such a short period of time can damage most batteries since few are designed to be charged at this rate. You can either waste most of the energy you are regenerating in a form of heat or make the bike even more expensive by using unnecessarily expensive battery cells.

    Finally, you need to take into account the rotational forces that are generated as a result of regenerative braking and are focused on the axel of the wheel that houses your hub motor (since hub is the obvious solution when it comes to direct drive motors). They are quite strong and can easily break aluminum bicycle drop-outs. That means that the dropouts and the frame have to be reinforced with torque arms or other solutions which makes maintenance unnecessarily complicated.

    Taking all of this into account, we have decided to go with small and lightweight geared motors that produce no drag, do not require very expensive battery chemistries and generate more torque using less power than direct drive motors.

  7. BILL
    USA
    May 21, 2012, 2:57 pm

    So you have not come up with a way to recharge batteries while peddling? I would think that would be a very simple idea.

  8. Boris
    sofia,bulgaria
    May 20, 2012, 6:04 pm

    A lot more would be needed to make the casual lazy and energy-wasting american to start going around on a (electric) bike… I hope more people get the point of this before it’s too late

  9. Yevgeniy
    New York, NY
    May 17, 2012, 1:53 pm

    Frank,

    My name is Yevgeniy and I am one of the co-founders of EVELO. I am glad you like our concept and I agree with you completely that electric bikes solve some of the biggest issues we are having in this country today. They are cheap to operate and make bikes and therefore exercise more accessible for the large part of the population that would not cycle otherwise.

  10. Frank
    Los Angeles, CA.
    May 16, 2012, 8:12 pm

    What a wonderful and thoughtful way to promote awareness to a well engineered and thought out product that can help ones pocket book and waistline.