With gas prices surging across the country, many Americans are seeking alternatives. And the White House knows this, which is why it is encouraging people to switch to electric vehicles.
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There is just one problem with this advice: It’s not practical to solve the problem at hand. Electric vehicles are very expensive and not widely available for purchase or delivery soon, in part because of the microprocessor shortage and high demand. For example, Tesla’s cheapest car, the Model 3, starts at $45,000 and has an estimated delivery date of July. More expensive versions of the Model 3 and Model Y are available around May at the earliest. (According to Electrek, you can get bumped up the line if you purchase the $12,000 add-on that lets you cosplay as a self-driving car safety driver.)
The picture isn’t much better with other EVs sold by traditional dealers. Although information there is harder to come by due to the decentralized dealer system, EVs are typically working through the backlog of reservations from when they were first announced. It is possible, but difficult, to get an EV right now if you didn’t place a reservation months or years ago. And the used market, like for all types of cars, is not much better unless you’re willing to buy a much older generation with lower range. But even if EVs were more available, most Americans cannot simply buy a new car at the drop of a hat.The White House obviously knows this—it does say this is the “long term” solution—but Americans are looking for quick fixes to ease the pain. Fortunately, there is an electric vehicle that is widely available and much more affordable. It is not going to get you absolutely everywhere you need to go, but for millions of Americans it could probably substitute for several trips a week if not more. It doesn’t require any special equipment to charge and costs just pennies in electricity every month. It’s an electric bike.E-bikes, which have a battery and motor to make pedaling easier and the bike move a bit faster, come in all shapes and sizes. You can get a crazy expensive one that looks like a road bike or a giant cargo bike that can carry kids and groceries. You can get an electric mountain bike for extra comfort and versatility or a stylish urban e-bike with all the bells and whistles. Most have a top speed of somewhere between 17 and 25 mph. Your local bike shop may well have e-bikes in stock right now. They are easy to ride. Hills require no additional effort to pedal. They make you feel really good. And they are enjoyable as hell, so much so that people all over the world ride them just for fun.
Most Americans do not live in areas with decent bicycle infrastructure. That is unfortunate because that would be incredibly useful right now. But even without those measures, it’s still possible to e-bike places. People bike on roads all the time. Maybe there’s one store you go to that would be easy and relatively safe to bike to. Or the gym is a few miles away via back roads. Replacing just one or two trips a week with an e-bike would not only have a measurable impact on your gasoline consumption, but it would also be better for the environment. It would almost certainly be more fun, and you just may find you want to e-bike more places, too, like New York Times opinion columnist Jamelle Bouie did. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is a college town but not exactly unrepresentative of many small cities across the country.
Don’t want to take Bouie’s word for it? Here are more stories of North Americans who ditched their cars for e-bikes in places like Edmonton, San Francisco, Albuquerque, and Raleigh. Here is a whole Reddit thread of people raving about ditching their cars for e-bikes. Here is an article specifically with tips for commuting on an e-bike in the suburbs on roads without bike lanes. The verdict of all of these articles: It’s great, e-bikes are great, they wish they had made the switch a long time ago.But you don’t have to completely ditch your car with an e-bike. Most people don’t. They buy an e-bike, ride it some places when it makes the most sense, and find it works for more trips than they previously thought. If you’re paying an extra $50 per fill-up now than you were two weeks ago, it won’t take long to pay off that e-bike in saved gas costs, even if you’re only using the bike for a few trips a week.I wish the Biden administration took e-bikes more seriously. I wish e-bike subsidies were a pillar of his climate goals as they are in other countries rather than the first thing that always gets cut from any proposal. But the good news is most Americans don’t need that. We can go out and buy a great e-bike right now that will make our lives better and save money. Or you could take the bus. That’s good too.