Long time followers will know I’ve had a love affair with ebikes for many years, and more generally, with compact light weight electric transport options. Their efficiency is second to none, and to this day it remains remarkable that a proper powered vehicle can be as small, light and affordable as ebikes are.
However, electric vehicles are expensive to get into when you’re a broke college student. That’s why my very first electric vehicle was a $350 electric bicycle with a 24 volt, 450 watt motor and lead acid batteries. It could do 12 miles a charge with brand new batteries, which quickly fell to 8 miles by month 2, then 4 miles by month 4. By month 6 they needed replacement.
It was…not great. But I got what I paid for. These days almost no 24 volt ebikes exist and almost none of them use lead acid batteries. Imagine my surprise when recently, while shopping for a lock and 240 volt splitter at Home Depot, I saw that exact model of ebike locked up in the parking lot:
See those battery packs on the side of the rear wheel? There’s two, though it’s hard to tell from this angle. The bike only came with one, but there are two slots so you can add a second battery for increased range…which was absolutely necessary to get a useful range out of the thing, haha.
The specs of this model can all be found here. As you can see below, it wasn’t much to write home about. You got alot for $350 because at the time ebikes were more of a novelty and not yet in high demand, but it still had some serious limitations:
Still, I felt a nostalgia bomb fall on me and detonate when I saw that bike. It looks like it’s in good shape. It can’t be new, can it? Last I saw, they were still selling that model but it had lithium battery packs. I wonder if that’s what the bike in the pic is using.
I hope so. You learn very quickly when you try to get into electric vehicles on the cheap that lead acid is the worst hell. It is a cruel siren’s song that lures you in with low upfront prices but then fucks you in the ass with range that decreases rapidly, then needs to be replaced in half a year.
If you need to replace a $180 lead acid battery pack 10 times in 5 years, that’s $900. Compare that to $350 for a 36 volt, 13.5ah lithium ion battery that will last 5 years and get much better range. I’d attempt a more apples to apples comparison but I don’t see many lithium packs smaller or cheaper than that.
That’s a 486 watt hour lithium battery with higher voltage that costs less than half what you’d pay for all the 24 volt, 168 watt hour replacement batteries over the same 5 year period. It doesn’t take much math to reveal which of these is the better deal.
However, when you’re a broke college student, pulling together $350 all at once is a challenge. That’s what the entire bike cost after all. Pulling together $180 is more doable. This is the sense in which it’s expensive to be poor. The longer lasting, money saving alternatives are just out of your reach. So you buy what you can afford, even though you wind up spending more that way in the long run.
Anyways I still had a blast and learned everything I needed to know about electric bicycles on that thing. I wound up building a bunch and selling them to locals I knew that were interested in ebikes. I turned a tidy little profit that way and got many people into electric vehicles in the only truly affordable way available back then.
It’s sobering to realize how far I’ve come in the decade since then. Now I’m cruising around in an electric car, and the custom ebike I built myself absolutely shits all over the iZip Trailz from low Earth orbit. Where will I be in another decade? Rocking a Tesla, maybe?
Time will tell. Until then I’ll keep proclaiming the merits of electric vehicles, of whatever type fits into any given individual’s budget. It is indeed possible to get in at the extreme low end. That’s what I did, and how I got started. I made some fun memories that way.
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