1M metres later - Replacing my car with an e-bike

On November 10th 2021, I was involved in a pretty large car crash. I was rear-ended by a driver in a Dodge Ram1 in my Saturn ION. Given the size difference of the two vehicles and how fast I was hit, I didn’t have much of a back end afterwords, and even less of a functional car. Thankfully, I came out of it with a bit of whiplash in my shoulders, and that was that. I was down a car I had driven for over a decade, but I would be okay.

Vehicular violence is so common in our day-to-day life. This ranges from the small kinds of micro-aggression and road-rage we’re all familiar with, to the full-blown carnage and death that barely even makes the news cycle anymore. This violence is a huge problem, resulting in the worst case with a death toll of ~43K people a year in the United States alone.

This violence is perpetuated by a car-centric culture in North America, and is something that one has to contend with and fear on the roads of any city in North America. There’s a lot to lament — children dying, people injured, and least of all the property damage and an insurance industry that props itself upon and profits from this violence. Violence isn’t just an artefact of the system, it is baked in.

Needless to say, I’ve slowly come into the mindset of someone who hates cars. I think it’s pretty easy to become desensitized to it, after all, for a long time I think I was desensitized to it. Being involved in a violent crash opened my eyes in a number of ways, even if my friends tell me I was already pretty anti-driving / anti-car beforehand.

In part, my friends are correct in that I was never really bought into cars. To get to know me a bit:

  • I never really enjoyed driving. I enjoyed going places, but driving is stressful and dangerous.
  • I rallied for years that we should separate infrastructure. Bikes don’t like being next to cars and cars don’t like being next to bikes.
  • For pretty much the last five years, I mostly only drove if I was doing groceries or going to something specific and out of the way of transit. Even then, I’d often try to pool with others so I wouldn’t have to drive myself (see first point).
  • After studying some degree of surveying and urban planning in my Geomatics program in university I had a bit of “insider knowledge” of how traffic engineers and surveyors think about urban design. Needless to say there’s a lot of good stuff to learn, but many lessons aren’t part of the “tradition” of traffic engineering as that institution exists today.
  • Cars are expensive. There’s a lot of great videos by smarter people than me on this subject, so I’ll just link you to those. For myself, I found that between paying for maintenance and insurance I wasn’t getting much for a car that mostly helped me do groceries.

So yeah, I’ll admit, I was already pretty far down the path of hating cars and car-centrism already; however, I’m not sure I was as far then as I am now.

So I got an e-bike

Photo of my e-bike display showing I have biked 1000 kilometres

So there I was, no car, and all the freedom in the world to choose what I wanted to do next2. So I chose to get a (cheap) e-bike and use that as my primary mode of transportation for as long as I could continue to do so. The photo above shows an important milestone for me - 1000 kilometres on the e-bike. I only recently hit this (almost a year later) which should tell you how far from my house I typically went and how much of a waste a car was for me.

I live in the Boulder-Denver area of Colorado, and while not perfect, there is a good amount of cycling infrastructure. Where that is lacking, RTD (the Denver area’s transit system) and ride-sharing can make up the gap. I’ll admit that while I haven’t fully weaned myself off of cars (others still do occasionally drive me), I don’t own a car and rarely feel the need to find one.

Lessons Learned

Switching to an e-bike has taught me a lot. Some of these lessons were harder pills to swallow than others. I think it’s important I share them though, because they permeate the discourse around cars and I wouldn’t be writing this at all if I didn’t find my perspective shift from this choice.

Who I am

Firstly, I learned that my masculinity and acceptance as an adult in society is not defined by what car I own. This is something that we all kind of “know” in theory but isn’t always socially true. I’m reminded of a passage from an entirely different kind of article:

Taste in appearance is dressing for one’s peers, whomever we think they may be. My uniform of coat and tie had one meaning among the faculty and a completely different meaning to the students. The same outfit, which was a social asset to one group, became a social liability in another. One man’s meat, as they say. We feel that style is the image of character, that it reflects the person himself, while fashion gives us ideas the designer wants the clothes to convey. And, I don’t mean to get all philosophical, if we strip away the clothes looking for the person beneath, it might be rather like stripping away the leaves of an artichoke looking for the real vegetable underneath.

We latch our personalities to the things we own and the ways we use them to interact with the physical world. I think this is insightful for a couple of reasons: it certainly seems to me this is why it is so easy to become an asshole behind the wheel - the dominating, violent nature of driving multiple tonnes of steel and plastic becomes part of our personality. Those leaves means one thing to other drivers, and an entirely different thing to more vulnerable road users.

So why did I feel my masculinity and acceptance as an adult were challenged as a result of losing my car? Well, I didn’t get the e-bike right away. While I dealt with the insurance and recovered from my whiplash, I thought about it a lot. What kind of vehicle did I want? Would a normal, cheap bike suffice? Would an e-bike be an experiment I’d give up on quickly? Was it a huge mistake that I’d regret quickly once winter set in during December?

I spent a lot of time on these questions but the appeal of not paying for a new car definitely still drew me towards an e-bike. I had really started to dive into the technology at this point. I started to talk to others about the decision to avoid a car3. At this point my own father actually underscored why masculinity even comes into play here: “How will you drive your girlfriend places?” “How will you go on dates?” “What if work needs you to drive somewhere?”

While I’m sure my father believed he had great intentions, and while I can answer these questions pretty trivially (my girlfriend has her own car and is independent, I can take the bus or just bike, I work remote and Lyft exists, etc), I quickly realized that my dad was pestering me and being so insistent about getting a car because he grew up in an environment where not having a car meant that you weren’t an adult. You weren’t allowed to participate in society because you couldn’t — he was challenging my ability to provide as a man if I didn’t get a car4.

Honestly that may sound dramatic, but that’s the subtext. I think largely I realized I had also internalized this myself. I was worried that my girlfriend would see me as some kind of deadbeat if I couldn’t “just grab the car” and go. Internally, I knew that masculinity isn’t defined by the car you own (or owning a car at all), but that didn’t mean I didn’t act as if that wasn’t true. I didn’t want to be perceived as some Middle-Age-Man-In-Lycra, and I feared running afoul of not following the culture of owning a car and driving everywhere.

With reassurance of my girlfriend, and many of my friends, I pulled the trigger on a Heybike Cityscape, and the rest is history. Very quickly I came to realize that any concerns about masculinity or adulthood were put to rest. Car culture tells us that we cannot be adults without tonnes of steel and plastic. We should not let that steel become the leaves that wraps our personality, and should actively reject any message that we are lesser for not having them.

Cars take longer than you think they do

One surprise I had when starting out on the e-bike was that it was sometimes faster than taking a car. This seems counter-intuitive only if you’ve never used one. After all, cars can go upwards of 60mph / 100 km/h, so how can an e-bike limited to 33 km/h get somewhere faster?

Well, the answer is that roads are pretty inefficient due to their size. Parking lots also suck - more often than not I save time by being able to just roll up to wherever I’m going and park my bike at the entrance (or walk it inside). This is perhaps unique to where I live in Colorado - I can’t imagine every place in North America is like this but I can certainly say that parking one’s car at the local supermarket can be a much more frustrating endeavour than parking my bike often is.

I’ve mostly found that any “trip time” estimates on Google Maps or otherwise are kind of ridiculous. They are often based on a number of assumptions that rarely hold up, most importantly that the “cycling” time estimates assume that users are on a regular bike and go ~10 mph / 16km/h. Geometry hates cars and most mapping software isn’t very good at thinking outside of the big metal box.

Image showing Google time estimates for navigating by bike. Car: 8 minutes, Bike: 9 minutes

Nevertheless, there’s a good number of ways in which I can’t get places as fast. Society’s focus on sprawl and creating ever more lanes and parking has to stop somewhere before Mad Max becomes a reality. I had an interesting conversation with an Airbnb host earlier this year when I visited Calgary. He had mentioned that he just absolutely adored the massive highways put in place in places like Houston, Texas. He wanted big, 16+ lane highways going through every city centre in both North-South and West-East directions. I now realize what an awful and shortsighted concept of beauty that is. Highways this large are terrible for everyone. The noise, the pollution, and most importantly the opportunity cost of that land-use for everyone else are all reasons that stand on their own to reject that kind of architecture in our lives. And in my experience and looking at the image above it often doesn’t save time unless you’re traveling really really far.

E-bikes are pretty relaxing, actually

Unlike regular bikes e-bikes take away a lot of the strain of going up hills, gaining momentum after stopping, and pedaling in the most general sense.

This is kind of the whole point of e-bikes, but I will admit that I did believe that even with the motor it’d be pretty hard to get back into biking again after not biking since my childhood. Needless to say - they work. They’re great. Full stop send tweet toot post.

Honestly, I’m not sure I can describe how happy I’ve been with this vehicle. When I was driving, I used to loathe my trips to the grocery store, to go out to eat, or to have to drive and park and deal with traffic anywhere. Now… I kinda relish it? I don’t want people to come pick me up. Why would you take my e-bike ride away from me? It’s fun, and even if it takes me longer to get somewhere biking on a path or empty streets is just plain good fun and makes me enjoy the process of traveling.

You save a LOT of money

I’ve already kind of hammered on this point but boy howdy have I saved a lot of money. No insurance, no gas, no maintenance, no depreciation, etc. All of that money in my transportation budget has now been freed up for a number of other things.

I highly suggest that if you are thinking of getting rid of a car for an e-bike, you do it. Whether it is your family’s second car, or you’re going car free entirely, you should get rid of it and just use an e-bike instead. There’s a ton of variety in e-bikes (from cargo bikes to city commuters like my own), so there’s probably something that’s right for you.

Conversely, how much has the bike cost me outside of the purchase cost itself? The answer is very little. Even after a pretty gnarly crash in August where I messed up the derailleur I’ve still spent less than $300 USD on maintaining the bike since November last year.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t spent money on it at all though. I’ve definitely bought panniers, a helmet, etc. for the purpose of using the e-bike. Still, my total costs including the above maintenance is still well below $500, and these costs are not recurring, but rather are fixed. Even if I spent as much as I did on the bike every year, I still would never even approach the cost of car ownership.

Finally, an excellent and timeless piece:

A tweet from @Nerd4Cities that says "The fact that it’s difficult and unintuitive to calculate the
true annual private cost of car ownership (let alone the social cost) is, frankly, a very
intentional part of the personal automobile business model."


There’s honestly been a lot of mixed reception. I think part of that is due to my personality. When I get into something I’m very much the type of person who has to tell everyone about it in great detail. I’ve tried my best not to be so exhausting, but I’m sure some of my friends will attest that I’ve definitely had a “moment” or two with this whole experience. Nevertheless, not all the reactions are bad! I want to outline some of them:

So you still don’t have a car? Isn’t that hard?

I get these questions all the time. My dental hygienist feels the need to ask this every time I visit. It’s genuinely inquisitive, and she’s mentioned that she definitely has complained about finding parking at events and how if it weren’t for dealing with traffic and parking she’d easily be up to go to more venues.

Usually I try my best to respond positively. Sometimes it’s cold out, sure, but often I can also just take RTD and get where I’m going at my own pace. The bus is relaxing, and honestly if you’re in the Denver area and you haven’t taken the A-line train to the airport you’re adding too much stress to your life. Parking and paying for rideshares to the airport is a fool’s game and you always lose.

I also usually like to quip at people who say it’s too cold outside to bike. I grew up in the Calgary area in Canada — if there’s ever a place where it’s too cold, it’s out in the prairies when it’s -30°C. In contrast, the cold isn’t usually what stops me from getting on the bike, it’s more often than not some other constraint (often, time).

But how do you bike everywhere?

I don’t. I take the bus, rideshare, carpool with friends, and if I really need it I’ll rent a car. Here’s the thing you don’t really see from behind a windshield: once you own a car it’s pretty much your “transportation,” full stop. The marginal cost of driving your car almost always seems smaller than whatever other modes of transportation have to offer.

Contrast this with not having a car. I now make choices in how I get places based on what makes economic sense, as well as what makes sense from a logistics perspective. I’m going to downtown Denver and there’s no good way to park, but I can easily walk around? Cool, I’ll take the bus to Union Station and walk from there. Oh I want to visit the mountains? My girlfriend and I will take her car because there’s no buses going to the middle of nowhere.

Challenging my choices

Honestly, nobody I care about so far (sans my father, initially?) has made a big deal out of my choice to go car-lite / car-free as much as possible. I’ve received a lot of positive affirmations from friends, and even been told “yeah I didn’t think this was even a big step for you” by some. It’s so stupid that I have to repeat it: we should not let our ownership of specific kinds of property define our identity.

That said, there have been some awkward interactions. Weirdly, more than when I had a car others have offered to let me drive their car before they remembered that I don’t have insurance. This has happened with work as well as in my personal life. This never happened to me when I drove. It’s been a bit surprising since driving is so woven into the fabric of society and yet the fact I don’t drive is always a surprise. I’m fortunate and privileged enough that I don’t have to worry about social backlash due to not having a vehicle5. Either way, the “you can take my car” to “oh wait nevermind man I’d rather you didn’t” is some serious whiplash I didn’t expect to witness as much as I do.

Online there’s more trolls and bullshit artists out there who want to knock people down for not “staying in the lines” so to speak. Again, I am fortunate and privileged enough that I don’t have to worry about this at any worrying scale, but it’s out there.

Becoming the weird urbanist guy

Overall, I think the biggest reaction has been that I’m now the weird urbanist guy in my circles. I’ve always had a bit of a peek into urban planning from the surveying perspective, but I worry that layering activism and trying to convince others that living car-free is not only possible but desirable might stray too far beyond the overton window for many.

I do try to keep myself in check when I can, but I also increasingly find that harder and harder to do. Urbanism and our urban fabric are some of the most important issues we can focus on now. Between climate change, the housing crisis, all the way down to personal gripes like noise pollution and cars parked where they shouldn’t be — personal automobiles are ruining our cities and taking value out of our lives. We shouldn’t stand for this. I’m pretty bad at this activism thing, but if I can at least keep your attention, I’ll point you to folks who know better:

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of any person who gets on a bike is that they start to realize how absolutely fractured cars have left our streets, cities, and communities. They take up too much space and while we can’t get rid of all of them (ambulances and firetrucks can stay), that doesn’t mean they’re the default.

To hell with cars

A tweet from @dril saying "drunk driving may kill a lot of people, but it also helps a lot of
people get to work on time, so its impossible to say if its bad or not" in a tongue-in-cheek way

In conclusion, to hell with cars, and to hell with driving! There are better way to get around. My e-bike has been pretty life-changing and I’m very excited to get another 1M metres out of it. Not only is it more convenient, I actually enjoy riding it and save money while doing so.

There’s a funny thing that happens once you’ve gone car-free. Eventually, you start to realize that a lot of the “rules” you set for yourself (you need a car to be an adult, you are helpless to get places without a car, etc) are complete and utter bullshit. Moreover, you recognize that the trade-off you’re making is rooted in something. I know what I’m giving up by not having a car, but I don’t think that folks who have a car appreciate what they’re giving up (in both dollar value and lifestyle) by having a car. It may seem self-serving to say that; however, I’ve definitely seen it in action and don’t for a second believe I wasn’t the same a year and some time ago.

I don’t expect that posting this on the internet will change anyone’s mind, but I’ve been sitting on this article for a long while now and I wanted to get it out. I think it’s about time we stop sheltering ourselves and our egos inside giant metal boxes and we face the world directly. Don’t define yourself based on what you own, or how you get somewhere. Define yourself by what you value, and what you value by the happiness you want to inflict upon others.

My choice is easy: if I have to choose between an expensive and heavy metal box that inflicts unending violence as baggage, or a lifestyle that meets up with my values and makes me happier — I’m going to avoid that metal box as long as I damn well can. I hope everyone gets the opportunity to try as well.

  1. Fuck Dodge Rams 

  2. You always have more of a choice than you’re probably letting yourself. I’ve yet to see a clear deconstruction of defeatism that I’d be willing to link here, but if you’re reading this and think “oh wow what incredible privilege to be able to choose a bike or transit” — I’m more than certain you can choose to avoid car trips more than you already are. Most cities in North America do suck for anything-that-is-not-cars, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to reduce your usage even if you can’t outright go car-free. 

  3. Shoutout to Laura and Matt who joked I’d just get a bike and no new car, and then I did just that. Not quite a unicycle, but I think you both got a chuckle out of it. 

  4. Looking back some of the desperation in the texts we exchanged during that period are just funny now. A lot of “Get a car!” and “u should really just get an SUV, they r cheap now like $35K” and the like. Look dad - your desperation for me to own a vehicle was a lot greater than mine, and probably will continue to be.

    To others: if you want a more complete picture of this I’m totally comfortable talking about it over a beer :) 

  5. I’ve seen more than a few Reddit posts on r/fuckcars where people have genuine stories of their bosses threatening their jobs because they didn’t own a car, or didn’t own a “good enough” car. I work remote and my boss is a really good guy, so I get the privilege to avoid this kind of garbage, but I do understand that this isn’t the norm in a lot of the States. 

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