One Year of Commuting With a Modified Electrified Fortified Bike

A year ago, I had just completed the TK-421 modification of my Fortified e-bike, turning the sleek and solid 8-speed commuting bicycle into a powerful, motorized beast. For step-by-step instructions and my first impressions, see An Electrified Fortified Commuting Machine.

I only had a couple weeks to ride it before the air became frigid and the snow started to fall. Are there hardcore riders that forge on despite the adverse conditions? Yes, and I’m not one of them.

lucidity
If I had a fat tire bike and wasn’t primarily commuting on paths that are dominated by snowmobilers four to five months a year, I might have considered biking further into the fall and starting earlier in the spring. As it stands, my tires don’t handle snow and ice, and I’d rather not be taken out by a Polaris doing 65 mph.

Safety first.

My first year of bicycle commuting is therefore about seven or eight months of bicycle commuting, but I’ve learned quite a bit in the last year, and I’d like to share my experience with you.

I’ve also got a nice discount to offer on a couple of bike packages (and almost everything sold at Fortified Bike) and they’ll donate $25 to Cycles for Change for every bike sold. Stick around to the end for details, but if you’re not the patient type, the discount code is POFIRE.

One Year of Commuting With a Modified Electrified Fortified Bike

 

In the last year, I’ve taken my bike to work more often than not. Since I’ve been working part-time most of this time, it’s not actually all that much riding. The odometer reads just under 200 miles.

Why so low? First, I live close to work. When you take home call and go back and forth as often as I do, it’s best to live near the hospital. Location, location, location, location.

Most months, I commute back and forth to the surgery center, a 6-mile round trip, four times for a 40-hour workweek and put in a 72-hour weekend on call for our hospital, which is about three-quarters of a mile away.

Finally, a couple bonehead moves by yours truly put my e-bike out of commission for part of the summer. In those weeks, I used my road bike instead. Interestingly, having the experience of taking my e-bike to work consistently gave me the push I needed to take the road bike every day rather than drive myself a few miles each way as I often did before.

 

 

Lessons Learned from a Year of E-Biking

 

Bike Commuting Gear

 

Dress for Success. Layers are important, and one of them should be water-resistant if there’s even a hint of a chance of inclement weather. It might be 40 and dark in the morning and 80 and sunny in the afternoon.

When you’re biking at 20 to 30 miles an hour, gloves can keep your hands warm. When the temperature drops into the 20s and 30s, a skull cap and hiking boots or some kind of windproof footwear are key. I’ve also been known to wear a ninja-style balaclava and ski goggles when it’s particularly cold and/or wet.

 

warm and dry when it’s 38° F and rainy

 

Pannier bags are awesome. After years of wearing a backpack to carry my lunch, computer, ID, and any other gear I might need, I got the waterproof pannier bags from Fortified (currently OOS, but Amazon sells some). I no longer wear a backpack for the commute, the bags hold as much or more than most backpacks I own, and I can’t believe it took me this long to make the transition.

Keep your butt dry and comfy. The Fortfified bike comes with a water-resistant seat that just needs a quick wipe after a day out in the rain. That’s a great feature, but I like a little more cush for my tush. A gel seat, with or without shocks, along with a waterproof seat cover (or gallon ziplock bag) is another option if you’ll be parking your ride outdoors while at work or out and about.

 

Bike Commuting Safety

 

Lights serve a dual purpose. I have a headlight, tail light (both capable of blinking) and a third “disco light” that lights up the ground around me like the dance floor at Studio 54. The headlight helps me see, and the other lights help people see me.

For a quick video of the disco light action, see my Instagram post from one recent call night.

 

Drivers won’t see you, anyway. Assume that people in motor vehicles will not see you, despite your best efforts. They’re moving faster, have obstructed views, and will win every collision with a bicycle.

CMGBicycling legally is not enough to protect you. Expect drivers to roll through stop signs, not look both ways, and not check sidewalks or bike lanes for pedestrians or bicyclists.

When I was in Boston for the ASA Annual Meeting last year, I visited the Fortified Bike headquarters, had lunch with Tivan, the company’s founder, tested out their readymade e-bike, and borrowed a bike to tool around town for four days.

I went to Harvard. I cruised through MIT. I saw Fenway Park, the Boston Common, and the original Cheers pub. I rode the green bike lanes and had a car door flung open not ten feet in front of me.

Despite hitting both brakes hard, I hit the half-open door with force. The car, bike, and my left hand suffered minimal scrapes, but it could have been uglier. Vigilance is key, especially in a busy metro area.

 

Wear a helmet. My friends at Fortified Bike sent me a stylish matte black Thousand Helmet that is much more comfortable and less bulky than the waffle-fry style hard foam hats I’ve worn in recent years. It’s also got a “hidden” hole to accommodate a bike lock.

I don’t go to ground often, but it only takes one bad incident to change your life forever. As a father of two boys, I also want to set a good example for them. I may not have worn a helmet at their age (did anyone back then?), but I want them to wear theirs, and so I wear mine, too.

I will add that reflective clothing or tape is a good idea; if I were biking primarily on the roadways, I would be wearing it.

 

The Finances of Bike Commuting

 

Bikes don’t cost much, at least not compared to automobiles. I’ve got about $1,000 into my e-bike, although it would be closer to $2,000 if Fortified Bike hadn’t gifted me the bike and gear. You can spend $5,000 or more on a carbon-frame beauty, or you get a cheap, heavy bike for under $200. Multiply these numbers by at least 10 if you’re talking about cars and trucks.

When it comes to operating costs, there’s no comparison. Bicycles are very low maintenance. You might pay for the occasional tune-up, replace an innertube or tires every once in a while, and with an e-bike, you’ll pay to charge the battery.

How much will a battery charge increase your electric bill? About a nickel, according to cynergybikes.com. That nickel is good for 30 to 50 miles on my bike, depending on where and how I ride. Over the course of a year, charging your e-bike’s battery might cost a few dollars, or the cost of one gallon of gas.

I like to think of my savings per mile as about 50 cents per mile biked. That’s a little less than the IRS reimbursement rate per mile driven. For every 100 miles biked — and some bikers I know do this weekly — about $50 is saved. At $50 a week, you’re almost halfway to funding a Roth IRA.

There can be repair costs. For example, if you shorten the chain by a couple links and use the pedal assist on your first test ride, you just might bend the bejeezus out of the rear cassette and derailleur.

DDQI did. Parts and labor ran me nearly $200 from that gaffe.

Compare that to paying the $1,000 deductible when we hit a deer (I maintain the deer hit me, actually) or having your car totaled in a similar buck versus vehicle incident like our neighbors just did.

We were able to help our neighbors out, selling them our family van that they showed a lot of interest in at a very good price. As a bike commuter, we’re able to get along just fine with one vehicle for awhile while we shop around for our next automobile — one that will tow a travel trailer.

Could we be a one-vehicle family long-term? Not yet. Between my work, the kids’ school and extracurriculars, there are too many times when two vehicles are required, particularly in the winter months. Someday, possibly, but we’re not there yet.

In summary, biking saves you money. Lots of money. The exercise — yes, you still get exercise on an e-bike — will help keep you healthy, too.  Well, healthy as long as you don’t collide with a deer. Or a car for that matter. Safety First!

 

A Fortified Bike Discount

 

Our friends at Fortified Bike have created a couple bike packages exclusive for my readers.

 

The Nightshift (I’ve worked my share of those!) includes:

  • 8 Speed Theft-Proof Commuter Bike
  • Front and Rear (Aviator and Afterburner) Lights
  • Invincible U-Lock
  • $25 Donation to Cycles for Change

 

The package is worth $888 if items were purchased separately, but is offered for $799. With a 20% discount with code POFIRE, you can have it all for $639.

 

The Adventurer (I like to think I’m an adventurer) package has all of the above plus front and rear fenders, an $89 add-on. These are great for avoiding the mud stripe up your back when riding in wet conditions.

The price of this package, which also includes the $25 donation to Cycles for Change, would be $977. However, it’s discounted to $799 and with code POFIRE, will be $639 for you.

Clearly, the second package is the better deal as long as these prices remain as they are.

 

 

Finally, a bike that’s not a part of an exclusive package is the Invincible Electric, a rear hub e-bike built around the Copenhagen wheel. At $2099, it’s a fair price, but it’s the one item that does not qualify for the discount.

If anyone on your Christmas list has been especially nice, consider hooking them up with the bike that Mr. Money Mustache and I like to ride.

 

 

 

 

Unlike some other products that I mention or promote, I don’t stand to make any money off of these bikes. I could have negotiated a kickback, but opted instead to support Cycles for Change, a non-profit based in Minnesota’s Twin Cities focused on building a diverse and empowered community of bicyclists.

 


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Do you bike to work? Do you own an e-bike? What are your tips and hints for new or would-be bicycle or e-bike commuters? If not, what’s holding you back?

 

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20 comments

  • Awesome dude, great to hear an update of your experience. I bike commute the two days I still go to work and wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Expect drivers to roll through stop signs, not look both ways, and not check sidewalks or bike lanes for pedestrians or bicyclists.

    You forgot “and also expect them to be speeding on every road and playing with their smartphones while they’re supposedly piloting their 4000lb death machines.”

    As far as clothing, the mantra for me is “there no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices”.

    Ride on and be safe out there!

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  • At around 80 miles round trip commute each day when I throw in dropping off my daughter to school, I know this would be out of the question, but for those living in the city or work nearby this would be an awesome option instead of a car.

    Nice gesture of not taking a kickback and instead having the money go to charity. And that was a very nice gift Fortified did comping you a bike in the first place.

    On a fully charged battery what is the range? Having an electric motor would come in handy where I live where it is a bit of a challenge going up some hills near my house.

    • drg

      I got his/hers Trek ebikes this summer so my spouse could keep up with ease for long rides. Our longest ride on Long Island was to the Montauk lighthouse… the last 5 miles of which has some very challenging hills. On a full charge we made it back home with minimal juice left… total 55 miles round trip.
      I personally ride my traditional bike by myself.. but the ebike DOES give exercise and its amazingly fun to ride.

  • We are moving out to an area where the medical center I work at 1-2 days per week is only four miles away. This is tempting for that purpose. The main hospital where I work is a good 15 miles and all interstate. That doesn’t seem like it would be the best idea.

    Really interesting to think about, though! Sure would save a bunch of money on gas and traveling!

    TPP

  • I took up biking to work a couple of years ago. A friend gifted me her old bike that had been hiding under a stairwell for half a decade. All in I’ve spent about $150 to $200 on over two years of bike commuting. That’s a helmet, very silly looking basket, tune up and few tubes, brakes and tires.

    It’s nearly all weather riding for me too expect when the snow is physically on the ground. I promised the wife I wouldn’t ride in the snow. Other than a few days before the plows do their job I’m on the bike nearly every day.

    I recommend starting with a used bike. Either a free one or a $100 one off Craig’s list and make sure you actually like riding. It’s easy to drop many thousands on a bike and gear. Seems like a waste if you stop after a month. A crappy bike will get you a long way.

    Dont bother buying any spandexy bike specific clothing. You arnt racing, you are going to work. If you live where it is cold in all likelihood you have enough clothes to layer.

    The exception being some gloves, helmet, wool socks and something to keep the water off. You can get away with a scarf or one of those neck warmers for your face. Goggles are plus or minus
    It has to be on the teens before my eye balls hurt so I dont usually wear them.
    You dont need to be fancy, just warm enough. I look ridiculous in the winter.

    Have fun!

  • Wow, what a great story! Biking to work checks off so many boxes on how to do things right. It’s good for the environment, it’s healthy, and it’s frugal! Every couple of years I break out the maps and see if I can figure out a reasonable route to bike to the office.

    It’s only 12 miles one way, but the roads are harrowing. Philly drivers are not known for their conscientiousness either.

    Well done and keep it up!

  • I set out to get in shape and started bike riding. I wondered how anyone could possibly ride 25 miles all at once when I could barely do 5 miles. About a year later I rode two, one-hundred mile rides in one month. Not only can you go 25 miles, you can ride a lot more. My best year topped 3000 miles. Today my favorite bike is a tandem that my wife and I ride together on. I get date points and a work out at the same time.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

  • Timely article as I will be buying to work starting January. And clue if these discounted deals will be available then?

    I am with you in that a one car family is not going to happen. We have too much disjointed schedules for now. Still if I can save a few miles from being driven, it’s a win. Plus my new gig cahrges docs for parking so there is extra saving in commuting via bike.

  • I can totally see myself biking to work if I lived on the beach (like Venice Beach) and my hospital was within 10 miles away (like St. John’s in Santa Monica). That would be awesome!

    Unfortunately I have to drive to multiple surgery centers in a 50 mile radius. I live in the middle, so the furthest I have to drive is 30 miles. And on the freeway. My work situation is not ideal for bike commuting. But it is perfect for Tesla commuting since I get free charging at work 🙂

  • Great update POF and great to see another e-bike convert. I am in e-bike rebuild mode this year. My 10-year-old e-bike finally started to not be worth patching anymore and I moved the kit over to a new bike $500 bike. It has shocks on the front forks – makes a big difference in comfort.

    The recumbent e-trike that I made for last winter was pretty cool. Fortunately, I don’t share the trail with snowmobiles, but my winter ninja suit is similar to your photo. Except in bright yellow. Unfortunately, the bumpy ice on the trails in winter shook my trike apart and it disintegrated. It was recumbent, so I only scraped my butt and my pride. The company sent me a new frame in the Fat-trike version that I am currently working on for this winter.

    • Lynne

      Hey, that’s nice that you can just move the kit to a new bike. I currently have an ancient (35 year old) Trek bike that I love, but have seriously considered getting a new one for the shock absorption – these bones aren’t getting any younger.

      I am not certain I actually need the e-bike kit because it’s flat here, but I could see where it would come in handy if I went out too far and ran out of gas on the way back, and I could pedal on less effort.

      • That is one long-loved bike! I think the biggest thing that I have found the ebike great for is that I can consistently get places a little faster with the same effort. I bike more to work knowing that I can still boot it home at the end of the day even if tired or a bad head-wind.

  • Harjot

    A side story – I used to commute on a bike for many years and the most beastly fellow commuting cyclist was an Anesthesiologist. He was fast and he would go in and out of car traffic. And he was always yelling at car drivers.

  • DocBlu

    My experience with E-biking was great–until I got run down by a truck.
    I bought a $2,000 Juiced bike and love it. 20 mile commutes on a nice bike trail to work made me really enjoy the going to and from work. Unfortunately the bike path has a few intersections and that is where the accident occurred–broken bones but fortunately not a broken head. Despite being overly cautious I couldn’t prevent this accident.
    I did learn a lot from my e-bike experience. I became a more patient, observant driver. I’m careful not to pull into crosswalks, I take 2-3 seconds to watch for pedestrians and bikers at intersections and I’m not distracted by my phone when I drive. You have to be hyper-vigilant and assume that drivers are not going to see you. Riding bike I had lots of drivers giving me little waves with sheepish looks on their faces as they ran lights and pulled through intersections in front of me.
    I’ve had 2 friends with head injuries from bike accidents, another doctor in my community with a broken hip, another with a broken pelvis and unable to work for a year and another killed. My wife made me park the commuting bicycle.

    • Lynne

      That’s why I gave up trying to bicycle commute to work. I live out in the country and main road is a single lane highway dubbed the most over-capacity road in Florida. And they aren’t kidding. There is no bike lane (yet, but construction should be done in another 2.5 years), and I doubt that would even help unless there was a hard barrier between bike and car lanes.

      I tried driving part way to work and leaving my truck in a grocery store parking lot and biking the last 3 miles or so, but that was just too big of a pain and I still had to deal with arriving at work sticky and faced with cleaning up and changing clothes. I gave up and for a while was biking the exercise trails near my office AFTER work. That worked out much better as the trails were segregated from car traffic, and I am extra careful at all intersections.

  • I have another piece of safety advice: get a bike horn
    I have that one (though the air canister is a lot better looking than the one pictured, I don’t know if they’ve changed the product or the Amazon listing is using other pictures) and it’s saved my ass a couple times. You pump it up with a normal Schraeder bike pump, and it’s as loud as a car horn!

    In cold weather you do have to pump it outside, not inside, because the pressure inside drops as the temperature drops.

  • notadoc

    Alarming footage of a driver sideswiping a cyclist, hurling him from his bike on a Melbourne street, has been released by a bike advocacy group.

    The video, shared on the Facebook page of the Australian Cycle Alliance, shows the cyclist travelling in the bike lane along Inkerman Street when the dark car swerves to the left and hits him.
    Saw where the car driver was only fined $1000.00
    https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/grotesque-attack-cyclist-sideswiped-thrown-from-bike-in-road-rage-incident-20181030-p50cs4.html

  • I totally, totally, totally want one. Like, so bad.

    My biggest “problem” is that I really don’t have much to ride it to. No commute these days, so when I do bike, it’s usually for fun.

    That said, I want one 🙂

  • Beagler

    Looks great! I’m an avid biker. Agree safety first. Too many drivers texting.

    Lights are super, but please reconsider the all black outfit. In shady areas even under broad daylight due to contrast, black is invisible. I try to look for bikers, but if you are wearing all black I cannot pick you out of a shady area until I’m on top of you.

    I wear a collection of hi-vis jackets, jerseys and helmet. DOT reflective tape on the rims, helmet and shoes. On top of the lights of course.

    Cars don’t want to hit you so make them see you—might only have a fraction of a second to be noticed as they look up from a cellphone!

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