The other day when I was out riding (and breaking) my ebikes in the snow I started trying to calculate how much it cost me for every ebike ride. In my head, I decided “Eh, it’s probably about $5 a ride”. That was a hopelessly optimistic number, when I started to really crunch the numbers it was about 10 times higher than that. I am something of an ebike horder, and I tend to purchase and repair my ebikes and bikes myself. After I wrote this article it suddenly became clear that ebikes were substantially more expensive than pedal-powered mountain bikes. I also came to realize that if I wasn’t so committed to fixing my ebikes myself, riding fatbikes with 2500W peak mid-drive motors in deep snow would quickly become financially untenable. (I’d actually have to actually start working to support my bad habits)
How much does my not-so-electric-pedal-powered mountain biking sport cost me per ride?
For at least 8 months out of the year, I ride without a motor. The reasons for this are many and varied, but the biggest reason is that my wife won’t make love to me if I get fat. Although I don’t like slogging uphill without a motor, I actually prefer going out and riding a 25lb bike than riding a 60lb ebike. In the winter I don’t have any choice, if I want to ride in the snow, I just have to ride electric fatbikes or it’s just completely miserable.
Here is a list of the mountain bikes I have bought in the last 20 years
- Giant Marlin XXL $500 from Cayuga Ski and Cyclery in 2000
- Full suspension Sette Ace $1000 from Pricepoint in 2009
- Front suspension 22″ Sette Razzo $1200 from Pricepoint in 2010
- Full suspension open box Carbon Prescott for $1300 from Lunacycles in 2018 (MSRP $3400)
That brings the grand total up to about $4000 plus lets tack another $2000 on top of that for repairs, taxes and upgrading parts over a 20-year span. Keep in mind that I am incredibly frugal, most of the people I ride with are on $4000+ bikes and think nothing of dropping thousands on new forks and carbon wheelsets.
I try as hard as I can to ride every day, but realistically over the last 20 years, I have probably pushed pedals about 150 days a year on average. That means that I have about 3000 sessions in the last 20 years and those sessions cost me about $6000 so I paid out of pocket about $2 a ride. Most of those rides were about 2 hours long so that breaks down to about $1 an hour. This is about what I would have expected the costs to be.
How much does my ebike habit cost per ride?
This number is a little harder to calculate because when I started out with ebikes the industry was at its infancy. I spent about $2000 on cheap Chinese batteries and hub motors that were quickly destroyed riding in the snow. I also experimented with Lipos, but found they were too difficult to deal with and didn’t last long enough to be worthwhile. I’m not going to include any of that expense in this article because that was just money I had to burn through to learn what really didn’t work. (Hub motors, LifePo4’s, and Lipos)
My entire reality changed with the first BBS02 and 18650 battery I purchased. Using a higher power (1300W+ peak) mid-drive that was geared way down allowed me to use my cheap fat bikes in the deep snow. California Ebikes released an extra-wide BBS02 axle conversion that I ended up getting 3 of and converting cheap Chinese bought BBS02s with by myself. Here is a list of bikes I have bought and built into ebikes.
- Bikes Direct Single Speed BBS02 Deadeye $765
- BD Deadeye BBS02 Monster $900
- BD Bullseye BBS02 Monster $1750
- BD Boris BBS02 X9 $2200
- BD Bullseye BBS02 Bluto $2050
- BD Deadeye Monster Cyclone $890
- Soul Stomper Cyclone $1270
- BD Lurch BBSHD $1800
- BD FB5 2.0 BBSHD $1850
- 2 additional BBSHD units ~$1400
- 3 more BBS02 drive units for about ~$1500
- Christini Fat-E 2XL, Ultra Max and backpack batteries ~$6000
Keeping track of the batteries is a little more difficult, as I have bought and sold a lot of ebike batteries over the last 6 years. I have destroyed about $2000 worth of batteries in the last 6 years from abuse and neglect so I think that is an accurate number to add to the total.
This means the total amount I have spent on ebikes is around $22,375 + another $2000 in dead batteries putting the total at $24,375. In the wintertime, I go out and ride literally every day so a good estimate on riding days is about 100 days a year for the last 6 years. This breaks down to about $40 a ride, but does not take into account the cost of repairs and maintenance.
Calculating the cost of repairing bike components is the hardest number to come up with. I would say on average I break a bike every 2-3 rides and the repair usually costs about $25 on average. This is to be expected when you are running 1500-2500W through an ebike drive train that is designed for less than 400W of power. It is compounded by the fact that I beat the living crap out of my ebikes. If we add another $25 for every 2.5 rides then we end up with an additional $6000 in ebike repairs over the last 6 years. It also adds another $10 to the costs of every single session bringing it up to a painful $50 per session. Since most of my rides are 2 hours long on average that means that it costs me about $25 an hour for my ebike habit.
You can see how having to deal with paying your friendly local bike shop to fix your ebikes would quickly cause your snowbiking habit to escalate out of control. These repair numbers are also not indicative of any normal ebike usage, this is my usage which I regularly am riding in conditions that normal people would just not even attempt. On average I ride in 2-4 inches of snow, but sometimes it can be over 8 inches deep. Uphill. These conditions just destroy bicycle equipment, there is really no way around it.
There is only one ebike I have that really shines when it comes to reliability
As a side note, I’ll mention that the Christini Abominable Fat-E 2XL (available here for $6295) has been remarkably reliable for reasons I can’t really fathom. Adding the smaller custom chainring has really helped take the load off the motor and I think the AWD system tends to just work better with less effort on components like the rear freehub than a RWD system does.
I’ve had problems with the crank bolts repeatedly falling off the Ultra Max and have had to replace them with longer M15 x 14mm Titanium bolts from ebay here (I couldn’t find the longer bolts in steel). Locktite the crap out of these bolts, and be aware that the stock Ultra Max crankbolts are just not long enough and can strip out easily. Also, the needle bearing on the man driveshaft got water and salt in it and started to seize up so I had to take it apart and lube the crap out of it. These issues are solidly Bafang’s shortcomings not Christini’s.
I have had no issues with the rest of the bike, and this is the ebike I always take out in the worst conditions, as the AWD system tracks amazing well in poor conditions. If I could only have one bike in my collection for snow riding, this is the ebike I would buy. Having AWD in snow makes it way more fun and safe than without and this ebike is shockingly reliable compared with the cheap Chinese Bikes Direct crap. I did a review of this ebike when I first got it here and there is also a BBSHD version available that I reviewed here. It should also be noted that the stock Ultra Max puts out about 1500W peak and I’ve been running it with the Ludicrous controller from Lunacycles which puts out 2500W peak. If I can’t seem to break this ebike properly running it at 2500W, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to break it with only 1500W.
How does a Sur-Ron compare with ebikes on a cost per usage expense
So I wanted to keep the Sur-Ron Light Bee completely separate since I never trail ride with it, but I do use it on the farm several times a week. The Sur Ron I bought 3 years ago for $3300 from Lunacycle. I have added about $100 in fenders in front headlights, but other than that the bike is stock. Surprisingly the Sur Ron has need absolutely no repairs in the 3 years I have had it. I have had about 400 sessions in total with the bike, but rarely ride it for more than 15 minutes at a time. This breaks down to about $8.50 a ride, but since my average ride is only 15 minutes long it works out to about $34 an hour. The interesting thing to pay attention to is that while my ebikes are pretty well thrashed on, with several having broken frames and similar issues, the Sur Ron literally has no issues at all (except I really need to bleed the rear brake at some point, it’s more squishy than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man). I think that it will likely last another 10 years as long as I take care of the battery and keep it inside in the winter and don’t abuse it. As I own the Sur Ron for longer, the cost per usage will continue to decrease very dramatically over time. Also to be clear, using the Sur-Ron for getting around the farm is a lot less abuse than riding singletrack and jumping with it. Your mileage will vary.
This whole article is an interesting experiment in evaluating the costs associated with doing what we love. I really enjoy riding electric fatbikes in the snow, so I can accept the costs that go along with it. If I had to do it all over again I would not buy anything but Ludicrous powered BBSHD and fatbikes that can support Snowshoe 2XL tires in the front and rear. I think having 2 bikes is probably enough for most people, as when one bike breaks you will have a backup and as long as you stay on top of doing your bike repairs in a timely fashion then you should always have something to ride. I have all 4 of my BBSHDs in rotation and most of the time I can find something to ride that isn’t broken.
Ride, Break, Fix, Eat, Sleep, Repeat.
Here’s hoping that my wife never reads this article, I’d never hear the end of it.