Long Distance Bike Commuting
When I decided to start biking regularly for transportation, I realized the location of my house is not ideal for a beginning commuter. I am 14 miles from work, and I am 6.5 miles from the closest shopping area with a good grocery store and gym. I tested the waters, biking the 6.5 miles to the gym a few times with an old mountain bike, before upgrading to my $25 Craigslist road bike. The road bike improved the overall riding experience and speed, and I continued to ride 1 or 2 days per week. Despite my cursory conditioning, I found it difficult to do the 13 mile round-trip ride more than twice per week, and I was scared of attempting the 28 mile round-trip ride to work.
To help energize my commuting efforts, I decided to spend the significant sum of $700 on an electric bike trailer from a relatively new manufacturer, RideKick (located in my home town!). The cost took a while to stomach and budget for, but I believe it has been a worthwhile purchase. I can now ride to work and back once or twice a week without fear that it will take me an exceedingly long time or completely exhaust me, and I regularly use the trailer space to help haul groceries and get me out and about on the weekend.
The RideKick isn’t a dedicated electric bicycle or an e-bike conversion kit – it’s a detachable trailer containing a battery & motor that connects to the rear wheel axle of most bicycles, and provides a helpful electric push. I won’t give you the full sales pitch, but it’s a pretty cool little machine, and you can read more details on the RideKick website. The thing I like the most about it is that I can upgrade my bike later on and freely and easily move the RideKick to whichever bike I am actively using.
I purchased the RideKick in early August, and have been riding with it regularly since then. Overall, my experience using it has been very positive. It helps me keep a higher average speed, and it supplements my leg power on large hills and at the end of a long day. I find that it saves me time, and motivates me to ride my bike more often than I would if I had to rely on only myself to go the long distances. It also adds a little bit of fun to riding by giving you a little bit of speed that isn’t routine.
The lead acid battery has great range (especially when switched into lower power mode or “P1”). When used mostly as an intermittent supplement to my own power, it has taken me 20 miles without running out of juice – I believe it can go further, but I haven’t tried any longer distances yet.
The controls are easy to understand, the hitch and cable were easy to install on my bike, and recharging it is as easy as plugging it into a regular wall outlet. Cold weather conditions don’t seem to slow it down or have any detrimental effect (I recharge and store it inside, though). In the warmer seasons it did overheat (and automatically switch itself off) more often than I’ve experienced this winter, but that’s to be expected occasionally when it’s 90+ degrees outside and you use the motor a lot (like after climbing a hill). Thankfully when it does overheat it automatically stays off until it’s ready to go again, and it cools down quickly.
Because the trailer I purchased was one of RideKick’s earlier built units, it did have a faulty controller board that caused random error codes to happen during my first few rides. Thankfully, the RideKick staff were very quick to reply to my request for help on the matter, and they helped me troubleshoot and eventually swap out my control board for a new one without question. Since the repair, things have been running smooth, and I am happy that I got a chance to chat with and meet RideKick staff member Mike Wilkinson.
If it helps you ride when you’d otherwise drive, the RideKick will pay for itself; here are my estimates:
- 1 day per week to the grocery store/gym: 13 miles
- 1 day per week to work: 28 miles
- 2132 miles per year, using $0.25 per mile for car travel = $533 ($10.25 per week)
Using these numbers, my RideKick will have paid for itself in about 68 weeks, or roughly 1 year & 4 months of regular use. Of course, this only factors in the offset mileage cost of driving, and not the health benefits of being on my bike – I’ve lost weight and feel more energetic now that I ride regularly.
Would I be more bad-ass if I worked my way up to riding without electric motor assistance? Definitely, but this luxury item is also practical, and the RideKick has gotten me out there riding when I realistically wouldn’t have otherwise and allows me to build my biking endurance and experience while still living outside of town.
If you are having trouble taking the leap to commuting long distances by bike, I definitely recommend the RideKick; it seems to be a cheaper and better option than buying an electric bike, and the cost is similar to many conversion kits but the RideKick proves to be more versatile. It helps keep your average speed up, makes riding a little more fun, and doubles as a waterproof trailer, making groceries and work clothing easy to haul. It’s a well built piece of equipment, and mine has been running strong for 6 months.
Have you ever ridden an electric bike? Have you seen or used a RideKick trailer? Let me know your thoughts, questions, or reviews in the comments below.