I Ditched My Car For An Electric Bike (Review 1 Year Later) blog image from jonhorton.com

I Ditched My Car For An Electric Bike (Review 1 Year Later)

If you’ve been on the fence about purchasing an e-bike for your daily commute, here's my experience of buying a Swagtron EB-5 and venturing into the world of electric bikes.

Last year, electric scooters hit downtown Raleigh, NC, and let me tell you—they were polarizing. People loved them or they HATED them. With a passion. Regardless of your stance, you can't deny how they opened up so many more possibilities when trying to commute to a new restaurant that was previously just a little too far to walk on a humid NC day. After trying them out for a few rides, (we may or may not have rented a fleet of them for our friend Evan’s birthday), my friend Erik and I started researching e-bikes.

Could we make it from our East Raleigh neighborhood to downtown Raleigh? Could we make it back home? Would it be feasible? Would we use them enough or was it just a silly fad?

How the hell would we convince our wives to let us drop $500 on an electric bike that looks like something my 3 year old son would ride?

AND while we had a new baby less than a year old?

Where we crazy?

Definitely.

But somehow it worked. I sold a bunch of stuff I didn't need, put together some money from birthday gifts, and by the end of October I had enough for an ebike. You're dying to know the model right?

Wait for it...

Swagtron EB-5.

swagtron eb 5 downtown raleigh nc sold car

Yes, a grown ass man is riding an e-bike with a name only teenagers would love. Our wives mocked us, made fun of us, compared us to children. The fact that we got more thumbs up, smiles, and shouts from 10 ten year old boys didn't help. But no matter.

The joke's on them—cos one year later, we're still riding.

The Details

Before we go any further, I have to set the stage. The Swagtron EB-5 is a foldable electric bike that weighs just 36 lbs. With 14" wheels, it folds up in under 10 seconds, has both pedal assist and full throttle mode that lets you ride without breaking a sweat.

Feature Spec
Price $499–$550
Speed 15.5 mph
Range 15.5 miles
Rear Motor 250W Hub Motor
Pedal Assist Yes
Charge Time 4-5 hours
Weight 37 lbs
Wheel Size 14"
Folded Size 26" x 15.6" x 23.6"
Battery Type Lithium
Color(s) Black / White
Gears Fixed
Max Load 264.5 lbs
Removable Battery No

After MUCH research, the Swagtron EB-5 rose to the top for its value for the price paid. For just $500 you got a folding electric bike that can reach 15.5mph and travel for a range of 15.5mph. With our neighborhood just 2.9 miles away, you could make 2 round trips and still have enough juice to visit Two Roosters (or whatever your favorite DTR restaurant may be).

The battery is not removable, but for $500, I can't complain. Besides, a year ago this was all an experiment. Who knew if I'd still be riding a year later?

TL;DR: I am.

Some Background

Let's get this on the table. I'm not a bike junkie. While I'm moderately in shape, the last time I worked out regularly was for a few months 1.5 years ago. And then another 4 years before that. Kids and job changes will take your precious routines and stomp on them mercilessly. It's my fault, I own it, but I still need therapy. Hah!

The good news is that an electric bike is a great option regardless of how in shape you are. Want to push it as hard as you can try to get up to 30mph down hill? (Hypothetically of course.) Go for it. Like the easy road? No sweat—prop up you feet and go full throttle all day long. Regardless of your riding style, it works great. If your battery dies halfway home you still have pedals, and as an added bonus it’s great therapy ;)

Being completely new to e-bikes, I spent a lot of time researching the models, the specs, speed, range, and battery options. I wanted something that was fast enough and had enough range where I wouldn't worry about getting stranded.

One day for a trial run, I rented an electric scooter and rode it home from downtown Raleigh, NC. I wanted to get an idea for how long it would take. How fast did it go? Did I seem like a complete nerd while traveling 15 mph on what looked like a child’s toy?

That first ride felt slow. It took a little over 15 minutes to travel 3 miles. Going uphill was not fun. All in all, while the electric scooters claim 15mph, in reality it felt more like 10mph with bursts to 12mph on flat ground.

Nevertheless, this helped my decision: an e-bike could only get better.

The Moment Of Truth

Trial run behind me and money in hand, I texted Erik: the moment has arrived; it’s time to buy an e-bike!

You can purchase a Swagtron EB-5 on Amazon, and with some debating between white or black, a few clicks later I was a soon to be owner of a black electric bike with the name Swagtron.

It arrived a few days later.

Unpacking was simple: remove the packaging, fold the bike into place, and wait 2-4 hours for the first charge to complete.

Once charged, I took it to the driveway, activated the motor, and started pedaling.

A few seconds later, the motor kicks in with enough torque to throw you back if you’re not paying attention. Rather than ease into things, it’s all or nothing with the motor active. You get used to it, but I warn friends about it when they ride for the first time.

After a few minutes, the verdict is in: this electric bike is fun!

Daily Commuting With An Electric Bike

Very quickly, the Swagtron EB-5 became a regular addition to my daily commute to downtown Raleigh. It took a mere 12 minutes of travel time one way compared to 9 minutes in a car—only a 3 minute difference! I could definitely handle that.

You don’t realize how much being outdoors can impact your mental health. After a long, stressful day, a 12 minute ride home on an e-bike works wonders.

Having a fun electric bike is one thing, but how does it stack up day after day while commuting? During the cold winter's and hot, humid southern summers?

During the winter, when the weather was in the 40s, I’d bundle up with a jacket, scarf, and gloves to make the commute bearable. Once the temperature dropped to the 30s or below, it was work from home for me. Your mileage may vary.

During the summer, temperatures would often stay in the mid 90s with lots of NC humidity. While no one likes humidity, the good news is that 15mph produces a nice breeze to keep you cool while you’re moving. Start pedaling and exerting energy and you’ll feel the sweat coming on! All said, summers were not nearly as bad as I expected them to be!

Pros

  • Reasonable price of $500
  • Compact and foldable
  • Easily fits in a car for transport
  • Goes nearly 16mph
  • Decent range
  • Easily add a rack to the back

Cons

  • 14” tires feel a little unstable
  • No disc brakes
  • Battery is not removable for charging

Despite some of these cons, I’m still satisfied with my purchase. Compared to other e-bike models that range from $2,000 and upwards of $8,000, $500 was a reasonable price to pay for the value I’ve received. Plus I’m not too worried if something happens to it!

swagtron eb 5 locked up

Selling our second car

At first I was commuting about 1-2 days a week, depending on the weather. During this time I was also increasing my knowledge of the city—where to park, where to work, etc.

After getting the hang of it, it became clear that I could do this regularly. Getting out of the home office and the therapy of being outside was good for my soul. I talked with my wife and we made the decision to get rid of our second car. It had sat in the driveway for months as my vehicle of choice was the bike, and was becoming a chore to maintain.

We listed it for sale, and a few weeks later, we were happily a one car family!

In time, I found a great local place called Transfer Co. Food Hall where I could buy some great coffee, eat a meal, and wrap up Friday with a tasty beverage from Burial Beer Co. Sometimes I’ll use the bike to explore new restaurants or go out in the evening with friends.

I now commute 4-5 days a week on my e-bike and I'm loving it.

Our schedule is flexible enough that I’m able to use our car when it rains, or I’ll have my wife drop me off downtown if we both need the car at the same time. While this may not work for everyone, (my wife has a full-time job raising our kids), it’s worked great with our lifestyle, and I would happily do it again.

We only have one problem: I can’t stop researching new electric bikes 😬

What’s next?

Since purchasing the Swagtron EB-5 we came across a company called Rad Power Bikes that has a model called the RadWagon. It’s a long-tail bike that can haul 350 pounds, and has attachments to fit our two kids on the back! We bought one for my wife, and now we’re able to e-bike as a family.

I’m now on the lookout for the next e-bike. Something with more speed and longer range. The search continues, but the verdict is clear: Ditching my car for an e-bike was definitely a good decision!

September 06, 2019