Is a folding electric bike worth it?
November 20, 2008 10:47 PM   Subscribe

Folding electric bike to supplement my BART commute - genius or folly?

I am sick of driving to work (from San Francisco to Fremont - a suburb about an hour away by car), but my work is far enough away from the two closest stations that this proves difficult without a $12 cab ride each way.

I am not an active person, nor skilled with the biking. There are also slight hills and winds between BART and work that would be challenging.

But a folding electric bike, I could bring it on transport even during commute hours and the electric could get me there with some assistance, right?

Experience with electric bikes - are they worth it?
Experience with folding bikes - are *they* worth it?
Any recommends as to which to buy or avoid? (A Google search yielded the eZee Quando as the most likely option. The one electric folding bike mentioned on askme seems to be unavailable in the states.)

Are there solutions that I'm completely missing here?
posted by Gucky to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Batteries and electric motors are heavy. The bike you mention is over 50lbs. I don't think you want to carry any bike, folded or not, that weighs 50lbs. onto transit with you. Is there bike storage available at the station near your work? If you could store an electric bike at the station and charge it at work, you'd be able to enjoy riding an electric bike without having to take it with you every day.
posted by ssg at 11:58 PM on November 20, 2008

you're aware of BART's restrictions on bikes during commute hours, right?
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:08 AM on November 21, 2008

I assume you want a folding bike so you can take it on the BART exclusively for the ability to take it on the train during commute hours. Up front, I'll say I've never experienced a folding bike.

I rode an electric bike once, and it was totally rad. It was basically homemade (somebody else's engineering senior design project), but it was cool.

Check out for this folding electric bike ( $700--you can't beat that. AND if it sucks, you can just return it to Walmart. They also have non-folding electric bikes for $350.

The thing is, though, electric bikes are heavy. Folding bikes are heavy. Electric bikes (such as the ones from are heavier and usually have wider wheels for a softer ride. There's also the suspension. What's this all equate to? Energy losses.

If you got a road bike (or put low resistance tires on a hybrid bike), locked or removed any suspension forks or seats, and got some click-in pedals, you'll greatly improve the efficiency of every push of the pedals. This is usually less expensive than the electric bike route (unless you're talking about the ones at Walmart). And THEN you're talking about a totally energy independent mode of transportation (no electric or gas power).
posted by rybreadmed at 12:08 AM on November 21, 2008

My guess is that you have, but...have you checked to see whether there's a bus that would take you from one of the BART stations to work? (Google maps has a really handy feature for figuring that out.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:14 AM on November 21, 2008

Without seeing your route it's hard to say but I wouldn't rule our the possibility of getting in shape to tackle what seem to be unconquerable hills. I say this as someone who went from 0-500 miles to LA on the AIDS Lifecycle - and I did most of my training in the East Bay Hills. The hills aren't as hard as they seem. I know everyone says that, but really, they're not. What's your actual route (roughly) on both sides of the Bay?
That said, since your question was regarding electric bikes, my pal at My Electric Ride might be able to help you out, since she's done a ton of research, although her bike is not folding. One of the things I really like about her blog is that she talks about when she uses the assist and when she doesn't, which is a nice user level view of things.
posted by smartyboots at 12:32 AM on November 21, 2008

You will be in shape for the commute within 2 weeks of starting cycling. The thing that is likely to put you off the commute long term is likely to be the weather and hassle of carting a bike on and off a bus, not the exercise. Worth bearing that in mind before stumping up on an expensive electric bike.
posted by bifter at 1:03 AM on November 21, 2008

I don't know what your time constraints are, but...
the option you're not considering is: riding a regular bike at a leisurely pace.

I know that nobody likes increasing the amount of time it takes to commute, and that the electric bike is supposed to zip you along at a reasonably car-like speed, but I posit that this is not a solution.
Commuting cyclists generally seem to start out as efficiency nuts, because [biking is hard, commuting takes time, etcetera] but a good portion mellow out with time and discover the joys of riding slower and taking the scenic route.

Done while in the proper frame of mind, cycling doesn't so much increase the time it takes to commute as it does *transform* some daily drudgery into something enjoyable. I swear I am not lying to you.

To more fully answer your question:
-folding bikes are heavy, and more expensive than regular bikes.
-so are electric bikes

A folding electric bike will compound both the heaviness and price problems.
I do realize the need to deal with rush-hour transit rules, but carrying a heavy, expensive thing everyday to work may make you feel more awkward and resentful and less likely to follow through with this long-term.

tl;dr summary:
The option you haven't considered is to get two beater bikes [garage sales, craigslist, etc. will have two functional bikes for you for less than $100] and lock one up near work and one up near home. Once in a while you will find your bike stolen or vandalized, and you can always have the backup option of the cab you already take, but [!] most days there will be a real, human-sized bike waiting for you to ride!

If you live or work in a low crime neighbourhood, upgrade your lock and go nuts with the electric bike on one or both ends of the trip. Or for deluxe comfort and low gears for the hills, maybe even something like a recumbent tricycle!

[good luck. You get a big thumbs-up from me for taking the bus and even thinking about cycling.]
posted by Acari at 1:06 AM on November 21, 2008

you're aware of BART's restrictions on bikes during commute hours, right?

Folding bikes are exempt from BART restrictions on bikes during commute hours.

That being said, have you tried biking your route from BART to your home? I only say this because I know that Fremont is NOT bike friendly. If you're going to have to dodge homicidal car drivers all the way home in the dark, then it might not be worth it. Have you talked to your neighbors about carpooling to and from work? Someone close to you must drive to BART!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:06 AM on November 21, 2008

I'm going to 2nd this:

The thing that is likely to put you off the commute long term is likely to be the weather and hassle of carting a bike on and off a bus, not the exercise.

I bought a folding bike so that I could ride 1 mile to the metro, take it on-board and rail 3 miles to work, and ride another 1 mile from the Metro to my office. I found that dragging and packing even my small, folding bike on the metro and its escalators was an enormous hassle -- far greater trouble than the uphill pedaling in office attire.

I have a $250 Dahon folding bike, the cheapest/best quality I could find. It was affordable for me but it's not small enough to be useful in any way. Maybe if I lived in a super-tiny apartment or a boat. Other makes/models (Brompton) can get much smaller but can also get far more expensive. And these folding bikes do take a lot more energy to get around than a normal-size bike because of the small tires, hence your idea about electric ... But, I'm telling you -- a 50 or 60lb cube of metal is not going to be easy to tote around and you're going to get scared someone will want to steal it for the battery if you ever lock it up. I say

I like the idea of buying two beaters, one to go home-metro, one to go metro-office ... but that wouldn't work for me having no safe place to lock up. Maybe your mileage would vary. Good luck.
posted by metajc at 9:41 AM on November 21, 2008

I don't know anything about BART or the area you'd be riding in, but I do have and love an electric bike. It's a now-discontinued Giant model that uses the motor to match the effort that you put into pedaling. The result is a bike that's twice as easy to pedal.

You still have to pedal to go anywhere, but the motor flattens the hills and helps you go faster in general. It also makes it easier to load up the bike with library books, groceries, and so forth. It's a 40-minute hilly ride from my place to most places I go, and now that I have some help from the motor I ride it a lot more often.

I would not consider this an easily portable bike. It weighs a ton. The one folding electric bike that I'm aware of also weighs a lot--50 lb.

You might consider a non-electric folding or regular bike, assuming you can take it on the train. You could slowly get into shape with it by taking a cab only part of the way from the station to work and riding the rest. Increase this distance until you're riding the whole way.
posted by PatoPata at 9:47 AM on November 21, 2008

Seconding bifter's comments -- you will be in decent enough shape after the first two to three weeks of bike commuting. Also, electric bikes are heavy, which will make them more of an annoyance to haul up and down BART steps

Folding bikes are excellent, by the way. I bike commuted every day on BART for three years on a non-folding bike, but would have switched to a folding bike if I could have afforded it. I was envious of commuters that had folding bikes, because they had no restrictions on when they could ride BART.

My advice: decent-quality folding bike, non-electric, and a decent set of rain gear so you can cycle comfortably when it's wet out.
posted by zippy at 11:01 AM on November 21, 2008

I commute (weather permitting) on a Bike Friday Tikit, which is BF's compact folder. It weighs just under 24 pounds, but I wouldn't say it feels like a heavy bike. It also folds and unfolds faster than almost every other folder on the market (The Strida may be faster - but I wouldn't want to ride that as far or as fast as I ride the Tikit).

I also wouldn't say I notice much extra rolling resistance from the small tires - I do run the stock Marathons at the top end of their pressure range, though. It's easy for me to maintain 20-25 km/hr on the tikit, which is plenty fast enough for me to get to work.

I also briefly considered an electric assist, but I couldn't justify the price or the extra weight, and none of the electric kits will fit on a tikit and still allow it to fold up.
posted by Crosius at 1:37 PM on November 21, 2008

I have a similar situation to you. I ride 1.5 miles to the rail stop - ride the rail to a stop by my office - then ride less than a mile to the office. This is in Houston, and while it is not the friendliest bike city by any means, it has been working for me (though I don't think there are anything that you would call hills here...)

I found a Dahon on ebay for $130. It is the boardwalk model - a single speed bike with coaster brake. I used if for a few weeks and then found a deal that I could not pass up on a Dahon Speed 7. While the boardwalk was nice and worked fine - the upgrade to the Speed 7 is great. Both these bikes are the low end of the line for the Dahon brand. The Speed 7 retails for $430 or so and I more than pleased with it.

I was worried that they would be a little flimsy but they are solidly built. The smaller wheels make it a little more sensitive when steering - but nothing at all bad - and it is very easy to get used to.

I also found that while you can fold down the handlebars and the seat and the pedals fold up to a pretty small size, all I ever had to do is just the main fold that folds the bike in half. That makes the bike a small enough size to walk on the rail with. When I arrive at my stop I step off the train and swing the bike open and I am ready to go. And while I really do think mine feels very solid, I saw some of the other Dahon models in a shop the other day and they look rugged. Of corse they are a little more expensive as well.

If this is a consideration that you are thinking about, I would definitely recommend looking at a Dahon. Find a place that has a few and will let you ride one. They seem less expensive than some of the alternatives, and after riding mine for a month now, I would say that it is a good way to go.
posted by robot rex at 2:41 PM on November 21, 2008

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