You never forget your first e-bike ride. Mine was a test ride with Big Street Bikers at the Viaduct Harbour, sometime around 2017. I started slow, along the calm streets. When I cranked up the battery assist I was almost flying along – it felt scarily fast so I backed off quickly. But the power and control were amazing once I was in motion, and it was easy to weave between trees, street and boardwalks. I’ve wanted an e-bike ever since.

After Lime launched e-scooters in late 2018, I often used them to scoot between Parnell and the city centre for meetings – cheaper than Uber and usually as quick. Once e-bikes joined their hire fleet, I never wanted to use the scooters again. E-bikes were way faster, safer and more stable in the rain. From my apartment by Spark Arena, I took rides up to Karangahape Rd for nights out, over to Kingsland for UDINZ meetings, or up to Epsom where my old company had their offices. These all involved climbing big hills, rides I’d never have managed on my normal bike. Hills are barely an issue on an e-bike – it really flattens them out (with the notable exception of the Beam hire bikes which have noticeably less power going uphill).

My analogue bike is a pretty mediocre one. After my $700 bike (with a $40 lock) got stolen from the bottom of Queen St, I replaced it with a $275 bike (and an $80 lock). I mainly rode it in the weekends, around the waterfront between Westhaven and Mission Bay. I didn’t have the oomph to ride it up hills.

Weekend riding with my lovely wife

I changed jobs in late 2021 and Lime e-bikes became my usual way to get up the hill to my Carlton Gore Rd office, climbing up through the Domain. I eventually started using my analogue bike – I had to push it up the hill, and it took a bit longer, but I saved the $10 a day in hire fees.

In December I moved to Mount Albert, and the thing I was most excited about was getting an e-bike. The bike parking in my old apartment building wasn’t very secure, and we’d had a few thefts – I didn’t want to put an expensive bike in there. Shoutout to Project 529 where you can register your bike so thefts can be better tracked.

I made it my mission to buy an e-bike over the summer holidays: put my deposit down for one on Boxing Day and then (bugger) bruised my tailbone the next day, coming down hard on some slippery concrete steps in Devonport. I’m not sure what was more painful: the actual pain, or the emotional pain of having to wait to ride my new machine. Actually hang on, it was definitely the actual pain.

The steps down to the sea looked like they were just wet, but turns out they were slimy. Any H&S improvements appreciated

Anyway, so I went back to work on the 9th and still wasn’t bike-ready. I drove or got dropped off in the first week. But gradually I was popping fewer painkillers, and was ready to give riding a go. Here’s what my last two weeks looked like (up to the 25th when I’m writing):

Mon 16th. My first real test ride! From home in Mt Albert to Morningside and back again. 7 km.

Tue 17th. The Morningside test run went so well I thought I could get all the way to the Carlton Gore office. It was easy along the northwest cycleway (still figuring out the best way to get through the streets at the top of Newmarket though). 18 km

Wed 18th. Morningside and back again. 7 km

Thurs 19th. Worked from home. 0 km

Fri 20th. Biked to the city centre for a meeting, down to Evo Cycles Britomart to buy panniers, up to Carlton Gore to pick up the lunchbox I’d left in the fridge on Tuesday, and home again. 24 km

Sat 21st. Morning ride around my new neighbourhood, Oakley Creek and Southwest Cycleway. 6 km

Mon 23rd. Past the Mt Albert Library and a couple of other stops, and home again. 10 km

Tues 24th. Commuted to and from Carlton Gore office. 18 km

Wed 25th. Biked to the city centre for a breakfast, up to Carlton Gore office, tiki tour past the City Rail Link construction at Maungawhau, bits of Kingsland and Sandringham and home again. 21 km

I haven’t commuted by car since the 16th and frankly, I can’t see why I’d ever want to again now I have my e-bike, panniers, child seat and some cheap wet-weather gear (which I might still need to upgrade). Next step: learn how to fix a puncture (just in case) and don’t crash into any more poles.

Summer is a great time to get on a bike – electric or otherwise – and with the Aotearoa Bike Challenge running through February, why not give it a go?

Now let’s get the party started and talk economics! $2000 is close to ‘entry level’ for e-bike pricing, as it’s a waste to bolt $1500 of electronics onto a cheap frame. The options really open up in the $2500-$3500 range, and mine was about $3300 on sale. It’s a decent multi-purpose city bike. I use it to commute, but also to nip out to the supermarket or the pub, take my son to daycare and so on. Because of that, I really wanted a step-through frame that I can hop on or off easily, and attached a child seat plus panniers for storage – it’s not a speed-optimised road bike.

It turns out the child seat legs smoosh the panniers, but oh well

Two or three grand is a lot of money to part with in one go, although it pales in comparison to the cost of a new car. This e-bike lets my family get by with one car instead of two. I can get from Mt Albert to either Newmarket or town in under half an hour: faster than driving, by the time you allow for walking from a carpark, and unpredictable congestion. I save about $15 a day on parking and running costs, get exercise which frankly I otherwise wouldn’t, and it’s great for the environment too!

So if you’re thinking about an e-bike – or even if it’s just on your ‘someday’ list – take a test ride, either hiring one in town or from a bike shop. Give it a go somewhere you can bike freely without being hit by a car (i.e. cycleways, bike paths). And know that it’s a whole lot of fun. I seriously just want to ride mine everywhere, and I can’t wait for all the adventures I’ll get to have on it.

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  1. It’s coming up to five years since I bought my e-bike – and over 20,000km on it – and I ride it most days. With either panniers or my trailer I can do the shopping – luckily where I live mainly on protected cycleways – and use the trailer to move plants and carry tools for restoration projects. E-bikes are a real game changer for transport.

  2. My partner and I cycled to work every day (have done for over 15 years now)
    Me to my partner ‘We should get an eBike’
    Reply ‘No I don’t want one of them, I’m fine’
    Me ‘We could just get a used one and see’
    Reply ‘Naa’
    I buy a low end ex-Demo for $1500
    It’s changed how we live.
    In the past we only commuted by bike. Now we don’t drive most weeks (only if with guests, or far (range is about 90km return), or we need to transport something huge).

    Today ‘Do you ever see a future where you don’t own an eBike?’
    Reply ‘No way’
    My partner is now the most vocal eBike champion, and tries to encourage everybody to get one.

    1. I enjoy puffing+panting up hills and sweating+struggling into headwinds far too much to get an e-bike. E-bikes take all the masochistic challenge out of being a Wellington cyclist!

      1. I too enjoyed puffing up and down Ngaio Gorge in all Wellingtons famous weather. And I still like getting my old 10-speed out to commute to work.
        But as the kids grew, it wasn’t practical to them up and down Welly’s hills in local traffic on their own little bikes.
        Not living in Welly at the moment, but we got a long-tail cargo bike and it is coming back there with me! Both kids adore it – and we get around town faster than driving or public transport. I’m a total convert. The only problem is finding a safe place to lock it when you are out and about.

        1. If all goes as planned, there should be an uphill cycle-lane installed in the Ngaio Gorge in the next few weeks. Should be in place for when you come back to Welly.
          Unfortunately theft of bikes is an on-going problem, here and everywhere.

  3. John,you are preaching to the converted here,not quite on an ebike yet,though. I admire your courage ,in making a change,the economics stack up as well. It is a disappointment that “courage” has to be used in the same sentence as cycling,but unfortunately that is what it requires in Auckland at present. The parts of cycling infrastructure that have been fully developed are great ,but they have plenty of hazards, getting to the good bits.
    In the “never let a crisis go to waste” there is a massive opportunity for the cars destroyed by flooding ,to be replaced by bikes/e bikes,it would reduce household spending,(petrol,maintenance,insurance) ,improve health outcomes,integrate the riders into the community better than just being another motorist,what’s not to like.
    Oh,that’s right,cyclists,bike riders are sub human,put on earth to disrupt the vitally important car journey’s, and any money spent on the roading network,that doesn’t facilitate said car journey’s,is wasteful,and must be purged from any current and future roading budgets.

    1. “The parts of cycling infrastructure that have been fully developed are great”
      I guess you haven’t cycled the K’Rd cycle path yet! What a waste of money.
      It didn’t upset the drivers, that’s why there’s been almost no media coverage of how unfit for purpose it is as a cycle lane.

      1. The K Road path is fine. Yes you have to slow down and be aware of your surroundings, but its much better than being on road.

        1. Most of it is serving my needs pretty well. As result it’s now my favourite destination for shoe repairs, second hand bookshops and op shops … The previous places I went to for those were on bus routes.

          The signals at the Grafton Bridge end are the worst bit, I think. Someone could easily get hit, because the B light means both bus and bike. But not there.

          Each signalised intersection seems to have a different set up, with different safety issues to be aware of.

        1. If a road was built to the standard of that cycle lane there would be more anger than the upper harbor cycle way.
          Most people on their commute are going from A-B, and don’t really want added hazards in the path.

  4. I love my e-bike so much. Easily one of the best things I have ever bought. I recently moved the 5 year old Bafang mid-drive BBS02 kit from my original bike onto a new frame and it still runs as good as new. The motor has never needed any maintenance which I find quite amazing and the while the battery has slightly degraded since I first got it, it still gets me into and around Wellington, and back up the hill to Karori on a charge. I find it quite amazing how so much energy is condensed into that relatively small battery. I’ll probably look at getting a new battery (~$600) and recycling options for the old one sometime soon.

    Bring on the e-bike subsidies and cycle lanes!!!

    1. When you need a new battery, get how long the old one lasted, divide by your pay frequency and such, then put a little bit of money away every pay.

      I do the same thing for maintance, which I get done every two years. Single-speed with a nexus hub lasts ages without needing a service. I line it up with boxing day too.

  5. Been on a an ebike for over 10 years and would never go back to an analogue bike. I cycle twice as much as I would without the electric assist.

    Even somewhere like Chch where hills are not really an issue, it is so good to have the assist when that easterly headwind starts up.

  6. We are a family of four, we have one car and two e-bikes (one of which is an e-cargo). Works great. About 2/3 of trips are on the bikes. My wife and I share the fast one for commuting (assist up to 46kph) and use the cargo (slower, lower geared, happiest 20-35 kph) for kids drop-off and pick up. Once you make the change you will never go back 🙂

  7. Nice article, my family will be doing something similar soon, currently doing a car run with two kids to daycare, then back home to then motorbike to the city. Once the older one starts school we’ll be looking for an ebike with a child seat so I can do the drop off and head straight to work. Only 6km ish from home to work, so luckily it’s a short distance.

  8. Sounds great! 2 things prevent me from getting an (e)bike right now: Most of my destinations are across the bridge and we don’t have good storing options if we don’t want to drag a bike inside. One day though!

  9. Had an e-bike, loved it, would love to bike to work. But honestly the part of the shore I am on I feel it’s suicidal. I hardly even motorbike to work either, as the way people drive during school term feels I’ll be hit even on that.

      1. How to change that “UNSAFE” feeling?
        I’ve ridden to work most of my working life and before that to school. I like the idea of encouraging our moko’s to come to rely on them as well. Because it was becoming hard to climb the hills with my old 2nd hand mountain bike I invested in an electric 6 years bike aged 80 and 6 years on find it great.
        In that there has been marked increase in the number of cyclists on the road (not all electric0 in the South Auckland area.
        I think there is generally a better awareness on the part of drivers of cyclists presence and respect however there are some drivers who i suspect have never been cyclists who try to scare us. I have had one person pass so close that they have brushed my right wing mirror forward without (breaking it) or tipping me off.
        Generally speaking I try to be seen and obey the rode code and have only had 3 brushes with other vehicles in 6 years. Perhaps being a geriatric and not going to fast has preserved me but i still love getting out and doing the shopping etc where I can ride to the door of the shops and talk to others of my experiences.

        The recent article on the “Swedish approach to road safety” has a really important message that I think we need to have more widely understood. (Maybe even implemented).

        1. Interesting article.
          In NZ are we still doing Vision Zero?
          “But if you have places in your system where you have unprotected road users and protected road users, according to Vision Zero you can’t allow a higher speed than 30 kilometers per hour”

        2. Heh. The management teams of all our transport agencies have never absorbed the concepts of Vision Zero and how to implement them.

          Part of their resistance results from wanting our urban arterial streets to be more than 30 km/hr, which isn’t Vision Zero. While the solutions to the situation are obvious, we’re going to need more people – consultants, officials and advocates – talking about it properly.

          Too many progressives think it’s too hard a subject to tackle, and dip out when they need to challenge BAU. Until people step up together on this, we won’t get anywhere.

  10. Tried a Volto for a test of a 30km commute between Avondale and Manukau. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t any speed advantage over my regular bike, as I wanted to be averaging 35-40kph. However, it made the ride back over Hillsborough so much more tolerable. Great if you aren’t a committed bike-nut.

    1. Unpopular comment for some e-bike fans, but I think we should limit ebikes to 25kph assist. Even with protected cycleways, higher speeds are not safe and in fact deter users who aren’t hard-out fast racers. Not to speak of shared paths (I know we should not build more of those, but they are around, and there’s just no practical way of limiting users by speed or type of bike. Really frustrated the country still has no rules for what is considered n electric BICYCLE and what is really a motorbike that has no right to be on a bike path.

      1. [“higher speeds are not safe” – to be clear, I am talking about “when using the cycleways built according to current guidance” (not even talking about those built to guidance from 5 or 15 years ago) and riding in-between kids, casual punters etc. let alone shared path pedestrians]

        1. 99% of my eBike journery is on roads shared with trucks, buses, cars. It’s much safer to travel with the traffic at a similar speed.
          I started with a 28 kph limited eBike, now have a 42kph limited bike and it’s much safer.
          Cars don’t have a limit below the legal speed limit.

        2. “It’s much safer to travel with the traffic at a similar speed.”
          The times when this applies are predominantly when parked-cars have narrowed the effective road-width so much that cyclists are forced out into the traffic stream. This is an endemic problem with our car-dominated transport system that needs properly solving. When cyclists have an uninterrupted shoulder or cycle-lane to ride on that is clear of the traffic-stream, things are a lot safer at any speed.

        3. @Dave your comment makes a lot of sense, unfortunately it is irrelevant in Auckland, journeys where you are not next to parked cars all the time are really an exception.

  11. “analogue bike” – I’ve heard “acoustic bike”, they’re both equally funny, although “manual bike” is possibly the most ridiculous

    Anyway, our family recently added a Tern GSD 10 electric cargo bike (second hand, less than 12 months old, $5K on TradeMe – to our existing $2K budget Chinese e-bike. It’s a very special piece of equipment, as you can park it vertically, meaning you can take it in lifts as well as park it easily inside.

    1. I went for a Tern, too, because I was hesitant about spending money on myself, whereas the Tern gave every member of the family the ability to ride and carry cargo. Even though we’re very different in height, the TERN geometry really works for us, accommodating people from 4ft11 to 6ft5 (excuse the feet and inches).

      As a result, getting an e bike means I’m biking much more instead of being reliant on ghost buses, and we can get all our hardware and take stuff to the recycling centre. No need to hire a van.

  12. In a way I would love to get an e-bike, but one main problem stands in the way. The cost.

    $3000 + is a ridiculously large amount of money to pay for something that is really just a standard simple bicycle with a battery and a $10 control system. Someone, probably in China or Taiwan, must be making a packet on selling e-bikes. I’m in the wrong business!!

    But also – I bought a second hand car recently for the same price – which I actually need for trips once a week to a place where there is no safe bike route. The rest of the time I walk, scoot, or catch a bus or train. I look at the vast amount of sophisticated technology in the car – and then at the bike – and I just can’t justify paying that for a bike. It’s great to hear these glowing reports – but it’s not for me.

    1. You are comparing second hand vs new and neglecting the other costs associated with a car: insurance, registration, fuel, WoF, the fact that you can repair a puncture in a bike tire yourself vs needing to go to the workshop with your car, potentially parking,…
      But yes, an ebike does not make sense for everyone and neither should cars.

    2. A good (non-ebike) bike costs 500-1000 dollars. A basic battery costs 400-800 dollars. So a barebones e-bike simply is 1.5k. Can’t really price that lower without getting crap that is unsafe or falls apart after a year (or that gives you a 10km electric assist range once the battery starts failing).

      Yes, it’s not cheap for someone poor, and if stolen, it’s absolutely gutting. But it remains a lot cheaper than most cars (even the dangerous clunkers), and has massively lower running costs.

      If it was safe enough to use as an everyday transport mode, even a lot of poorer people would find the money to buy one, just as they do (have to) find the money for a car. The issue is the unsafe roads, not the cost of the vehicle.

        1. I bought a nice secondhand bike for $50 which just needed some new inner tubes, some work on the chain, and replacement brake cables, a Bafang BBS02 e-bike kit including a big ugly battery off AliExpress for $1000, used some dutch style handlebars and a saddle and bell from an old kaput (rusted) bike, put the battery in an army surplus camo bag, borrowed a friend’s tools…followed a how-to video on YouTube and spent a couple of days (spread over a week) with my son doing a conversion during the Auckland-only lockdown (we hadn’t done it before and had to figure things out step-by-step). Looks really nice and works a treat. Total cost was around 1.3k and I don’t think you could do it much cheaper. It rides pretty much the same and has the same range, as some $3000-$4000 bikes I’ve tried. I’m planning to do another one and have bought the bike ($100 this time) and the kit…but haven’t yet found the time.

    3. Nemo, there’s a motor (as well as a battery and control system). Also, e-bikes are available at a good price secondhand sometimes (you probably need to compare a secondhand car with a secondhand e-bike). Finally, the running costs for a secondhand car, including petrol, might well exceed the purchase cost of an e-bike, which costs next to nothing to run. I agree the initial cost is hard to cover, but thereafter it saves you money each time you use it instead of a car.

    4. Cheap (and thus old) cars tend to eat money at the most inopportune times. You never know if something will break soon. The option is also only available because we are one of the only countries which doesn’t do exhaust testing.

      At some point in the future you should also be able to get electric bikes second hand so you have a more even comparison.

  13. Nice ebike story. I sold my old dunger of a car, then tried to use public transport exclusively for a while, which was not satisfactory for where I needed to go, then eventually bought an ebike for $2700, which has been awesome. Done 8000 KMs so far and still going strong. Especially good for transport of small children up hills. I never again want to be without one.

    Contrary to some opinions, I think ebikes can be safer in some circumstances (mainly among traffic) than non-ebikes, as one doesn’t hold up traffic to the same extent, so cars tend to be less intent on overtaking, and one can more easily zip out of the way of potential hazards.

    1. I would argue that with current pathetic cycling infrastructure in Auckland the e-bike is more dangerous than normal bike, simply because it is faster and cyclist is tempted to cycle on the road risking own life. I had a motorcycle in the past and quickly concluded that those who mingle on two wheels amongst cars will sooner or later end up in a plastic bag. Otherwise, yes, e-bikes are a really good option for those lucky chaps who live close to proper cycleways.

      1. Well sure, I imagine regularly riding an ebike has increased the likelihood of me ending up in a plastic bag to some degree, compared to rarely or never riding a bike anywhere. But I think the risk vs. reward calculation comes out in favour of the ebike.
        I get exercise, fresh air, it’s (usually) fun, often faster than driving, almost always faster than public transport, costs bugger all to run. I choose my routes with some care, sticking to back streets where possible (which is most of the time), and I find most drivers seem to be relatively considerate.
        The max powered speed of my ebike is 32 km/h, so I do not think the comparison with a motorcycle capable of speeds far in excess of that is valid. An ebike is a far more sedate machine.

        1. Sure, I don’t disagree. Even ordinary bike is often faster than the car. I do daycare cycles on Thursdays and it takes 10 minutes one way against 13 minutes by car.

  14. I’m definitely pro ebike as a game changer for transport. I’ve always been an avid supporter.

    I do think though that we need to debate the speed issue. On the road faster seems better but also more can go wrong more quickly. From my experience going fast on a bike, drivers often seem very poor at estimating cycle speed and pull out or attempt passes that can’t be done safely.

    On the cycle lanes and paths I’m seeing a lot more impatient car driver style behaviour, ebikers wanting to go full speed all the time and pushing through to pass in inappropriate gaps, or flying past at 30km with no warning or around kids, dogs, pedestrians. Personally I can see the appeal of wanting to go as fast as possible but I’m starting to wonder if the ~25/28kph limit might be appropriate? Based on my experience of acoustic biking that is still plenty fast enough to beat traffic and still too fast for a lot of the shared paths.

    It’s only one example but my bad experience of having my nice old steel frame Avanti single speed tourer completely mangled in a head on with an emtb made me think more this way. They walked away with a broken plastic reflector and flat tire, my bike was destroyed and holiday ruined. I’d say my speed at that point was about 15kph and I think if it happened vs a regular bike we would have seen each other in time or not done anywhere like the same damage. It definitely brought home the consequences of a very heavy bike going that fast.

  15. car/bus/truck going much faster than any eBike and weighing over 50 times the speed, that’s a scary thought. Perhaps speed limits on all roads that have mixed mode transport need to be lower?

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