3000 Miles on a Hybrid Electric Bike by Matthew Zoll

The following piece is a guest post by Matthew Zoll, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager for Pima County, Arizona. Matthew’s piece describes his experience purchasing and owning an electric bike in Tucson, Arizona. We will have more and more pieces dedicated to e-bikes in the coming weeks and months after learning about lots of the great e-bike technology at Interbike. Additionally, we will have some future posts about utility cycling in the Tucson area. In the meantime, please enjoy Matt’s piece!

After 18 years of commuting by bike in the heat in Tucson, I decided in 2008 to try out a new approach. A friend had introduced me to electric bikes, which I always thought were not much more than an oddity and just a great way to cheat as a bike rider. How could I let my compatriots down by wimping out and going electric?

Bike Portland E-Bike CartoonImage Credit: Bike Portland

But then one day I realized it was the commute home in the heat of the summer that was getting to be a real drag, especially because I always commuted the four and a half miles to work each way in my office clothes (change clothes to cycling gear sometimes but still didn’t find it quite cool enough). Little did I know that my new approach was going to be a nice little life-changer, or at least commute-changer.

I’d been keeping an eye on various electric bikes and in summer 2008 a new bike became available. I called the shop owner and asked if I could try it out. He very generously offered for me to use the bike for a week, given in part it was the first of this make that he had gotten into his shop and he wanted someone to test it out.

The next day it hit about 96 degrees and after riding the bike home I immediately called the shop owner and said I’ll take it. I was surprised and pleased by the fact that with this bike I could pedal very easily and cruise along at about 20 mph, keeping around 10 degrees cooler than a regular bike due to the fact I wasn’t exerting myself (boy I didn’t feel guilty about cheating!).


Matt with his e-bike.

I call the bike a hybrid electric because the other part of the hybrid is me, although it’s really the lithium ion battery and electric motor doing 90% of the work. This one’s a pedal-assist which means you have to turn the pedals–but can do so lightly–to move it along.

Within about two months after buying the bike, gas prices spiked. For the heck of it, I decided to figure out how many miles I could ride on $4 worth of electricity, about the price of a gallon of gas at the time. When I ran the numbers I couldn’t believe the results, so I asked a much-smarter friend if he could double check them and he confirmed what I found out: I could travel 1,200 miles on $4 worth of electricity. And no that’s not a typo.

So in two years I’ve used the bike an average of about 5 months of the year from mid May through mid October on a pretty continuous basis for commuting, going to the grocery store with a bike trailer, and other utilitarian trips. I typically don’t use it more than a half-dozen times between November and May when instead I use my other bike(s). In early summer this year I turned over 3,000 miles on the electric, almost exactly two years since buying it. And I’ve spent about $10 in electrical costs for that 3,000 miles.


If I utilize the common average for the personal cost of driving a car, which is around 50 cents a mile excluding external costs such as pollution, I’ve just paid off the $1,500 cost of the bike (this is assuming of course the bike displaces the need to own a car or to own a second one). So from here on it’s a free ride! Actually, not quite; in about two or three years from now I’ll likely need to replace the battery, which should cost around $400. But by then I’ll have essentially earned another $1,500 or so by riding the bike instead of having to use a car, so the battery replacement cost will be quite manageable.

So besides essentially cooling off the hot summer, the electric bike has a few other advantages. I tended to drive to work a few times a month before getting the bike, but in the past two years I’ve driven to work only four times total. The bike’s a lot of fun, and because of that you just can’t not ride it. You’ll avoid the need for putting expensive miles on your vehicle or even perhaps having to own one at all.

With the BP spill, oil use is on many persons minds and perhaps their consciences too. Besides reducing our over-reliance on a substance that can have devastating impacts on the planet and our lives, when we use non-petroleum forms of travel including electric bikes we can also reduce our dependence on oil supplies that in large part come from dictatorial countries.

Electric bikes can be used easier by persons who may have bad knees or other disabilities that prevent or limit them from riding conventional bikes. For persons who just won’t consider biking to work because of the sweat factor, this deals with that issue very well. And mid-day meetings away from the office, even in summer, are a breeze to get to on the electric.

goodisebikeImage Credit: Good/ Matt Manos

So if you’re interested in going electric, check out the models offered in various shops and by local distributors. You’ll be pleasantly e-mazed/ at how they work!

Matthew ZollBicycle and Pedestrian Program ManagerPima County Department of Transportation201 N. Stone Ave, 5th FloorTucson, AZ 85711Phone: (520) 243-BIKEMatt.Zoll@dot.pima.govBikePed.Pima.gov


Quotes:I love my new electric hybrid, a.k.a. Cadillac bike. It’s a smooth ride, cooler in the summer and easier on the body with long commutes. Mine has three assist options, so I can choose to work harder or let the bike take up more effort – all with the joy of pedaling required.

– Andrea Lightfoot, 2-month electric bike user

“The electric bike solves many of the challenges associated with commuting by bike. It keeps you fro
m getting sweaty when you’re headed to work or to a meeting, it helps you when you’re tired and commuting home after a long day, it helps you carry a lot more stuff, and it’s fun so you ride it more often!”

– Jan McDonald, 4-year electric bike user

Matthew Zoll’s Biography: Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii, Matthew Zoll is the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager for Pima County. Since its inception in 2002, this program has been successful in bringing in over $10.4 million in federal funding to the region and leveraging an additional $14.8 million in local funding for bicycle and pedestrian safety projects and programs.

Matt manages a variety of projects including two federal Transportation Enhancement projects, the Pima County-Tucson Safe Routes to School Program and the Pima County-Tucson Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety and Education Program. Together these projects total over $1.2 million in local and federal funds. More information on various projects and programs managed by the Bike and Pedestrian Program can be found at bikeped.pima.gov.

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15 thoughts on “3000 Miles on a Hybrid Electric Bike by Matthew Zoll”

  1. Drew Cronyn says:

    I’ve been riding an electric to work for the past two months. There’s no way I could ride a regular bike… I’d be sweaty and hot when I got to work… and my biking strength is nowhere near where it needs to be to ride (I actually learned to ride at 21… prior to that I’d been told I’d never ride because of a childhood neuromuscular disease.)

    While looking for an e-bike, I stopped at a local bike shop that I usually love and asked them. They said “we don’t work with e-bikes. For that money you should just hire a coach.” Won’t be shopping there any more…

    I had some internal ‘wimpiness’ discussions with myself prior to buying the bike… but now that I have it, I don’t have any more of those. I just love it!

  2. Ken Sanders says:

    19000klms on a Bion x Assisted Trek Navigator

  3. Great article! I’m a biologist with an interest in sustainability. After seeing my first scooter-style ebike I fell in love with the concept. Now, in addition to teaching, I’m selling ebikes! I started with scooter-style ebikes but am moving more into the pedal-assist style. For both types I’m focusing on the Veloteq brand–a small player, but with great bikes. I’d love to help anyone anywhere in choosing an ebike.

  4. Matthew Zoll says:

    The way I estimated cost was to look at the current drawn by the recharger in amps, multiplied by 120 volts (the line current) and the time to recharge in hours, then divided by 1,000. This gives kilowatt-hours consumed to recharge; then multiply by the electricity rate at approximately 11 cents per kilowatt-hour with taxes, etc.

    I have a 1.2 Amp max. charger (50 – 60 Hz). It takes about 5 hours to recharge if the battery’s discharged.

    So (1.2 amps x 120 volts x 5 hours) / 1000 Watts per Kilowatt = 0.72 Kilowatts x 11 cents = 7.92 cents.

    My average distance per charge on the bike was 24 miles at the time shortly after I bought the bike and did the calculations. Now it’s about 21 miles after 3 years of service.

    So if I divide 7.92 cents into $4.00 I get 50.5 and multiply that by 24 miles per charge (at the time) = 1,211 miles on $4.00 worth of electricity.

  5. @Drew – yes, I know what you mean that some bike shops are somewhat resistant to selling e-bikes. I hope this will change with time, as more and more shops recognize how useful e-bikes can be. Actually, compared to many expensive high-end bikes, e-bikes are actually quite reasonable!

    @Kevin – thanks for the comment. Good luck with your scooters up in Utah!

  6. […] Zoll, Bicycle and Pedestrian Manager for the Pima County, Arizona Department of Transportation, converted to a hybrid electric bike (he calls it a hybrid, because he uses his own energy as well as electricity) a couple of years […]

  7. Great article! I like how the electric bike has made it more convenient for you to commute during the warmer months.

  8. […] 3000 Miles on a Hybrid Electric Bike by Matthew Zoll […]

  9. […] 3,000 miles of commuter use on his electric bicycle in Tuscon Arizona. From his article over at Utility Cycling, Mathew reviewed the energy use calculations for us in the comment section: The way I estimated […]

  10. Don Zoll says:

    Looks like fun Matt

    Don Zoll
    Dubuque, IA

  11. […] Utility Cycling – ‘3000 Miles on a Hybrid Electric Bike by Matthew Zoll […]

  12. […] our demo A2B Metro E-Bike poised for an electric bike commute in the slushy spring conditions we are having this week in Flagstaff. The A2B Metro handled well in […]

  13. Randal says:

    To who this may interest,
    Since 2003 when I set out to spread the word around that solar and wind transportation is something that is a viable way to save in gas emissions and costs as well as minimizing noise pollution and toxic emissions. I first built a Hybrid electric bicycle and rode it for the first time to the top of the 10,005 ft Haleakala Volcano on Maui to the creator rim in about 2 hours and 40 minutes in the Cycle To The Sun bicycle ride in 2003 to prove that it can be done on solar power and leg power in record time. The batteries were charged from the solar panels and a small wind turbine at my home in Napili, Maui. Since then Segway legislation made motorized bicycles illegal. For the last 4 years of Electric bicycle legislation in Hawaii this is the first year that the bill has made it to the Senate to be heard in the transportation committee on this Monday 3-19-2012 in which Kalani English is the Chair. Ironically Senator English did not hear this bill two years in a row when he was the chair of the transportation committee in the house after the bill passed all the other house committees unanimously.
    Hawaii is the only State in the Nation besides New York where electric bicycles are illegal to ride.
    Imagine all the ways people in Hawaii can benefit by using a electric hybrid bicycle instead of a car.



    Thank you, Randal Draper

    Here is a very interesting story on his ebike(Source):

    Solar-powered electric bikes
    Clean, affordable energy for everyone
    Randy Draper – inventor
    By Jan Welda-Fleetham

    Reliable, efficient, affordable – all these words could be used to describe longtime Napili resident Randy Draper’s new invention – a simple, long–lasting solar powered electric motor attached to an ordinary bike frame.

    The bikes can go “up to 20 miles per hour, create no pollution, are totally silent, can go up any hill, are simple to repair, and the batteries can be recharged with energy from two things we have an abundance of here on Maui – sun and wind,” Randy explained.

    I visited his workshop in his home in Napili recently, where he showed me the solar panels and windmill he had set up on his roof about sixteen years ago, and said he has saved over $200 a month on his electricity bill ever since then. At the time, it cost him about $3,000 to get the system fully operating, but he says “it would be cheaper now because some of the components cost less.”

    He said he’s “always wanted to do something with electricity,” and in 1993 made an electric motor, which he had patented as an “electric submersible motor,” and used it on a fiberglass kayak that he sailed to Lana‘i and back.

    It’s quite an experience just talking with Randy Draper; he leaps rapidly from one subject to the next with amazing speed. His workshop is filled with hundreds of projects, thousands of components, reminding me of descriptions of Thomas Edison’s, bursting with creative ideas and inventions.

    Randy says he grew up playing with nuts and bolts; his father was an electronics engineer who made the first starter motors for Boeing’s jet aircraft engines; he later developed guidance systems for the aerospace program while working at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California.

    His grandfather owned a bike shop in Salt Lake City, Utah, and later a washing machine and lawnmower repair shop in Provo, Utah; every summer the family would visit, where Randy developed his interest electronics and mechanics.

    He says that when he was in seventh grade, he built an electric motor with thread, spools, magnets and wire, for a science fair that was held at his junior high school in Redondo Beach, California. The teacher was so impressed that he asked Randy if he could keep it, and used it for years after that to show to his other students.

    Last month Randy had the opportunity to make a bicycle for Maui’s annual Cycle to the Sun, a race billed as the world’s steepest, climbing nonstop from sea level to the very top of Haleakala.

    He started building the bike about a week before the race, in between his job as a boat captain on Hawai‘i Ocean Raftings’ snorkeling cruises to Lana‘i, and ferrying Navy personnel to and from their ship near Lahaina. He says “I didn’t sleep for the last 48 hours, didn’t even get a chance to try out the bike or the batteries, but it worked out perfect.”

    You can visit http://www.evworld.com/databases/storybuilder.cfm?storyid=562 to read the article written about it for EV World Magazine.

    This article generated an enormous amount of interest in his invention; he’s gotten email from people in Germany, China, New Zealand, etc., and has been corresponding with representatives of several major battery and bicycle manufacturers in the United States about mass producing these bikes for worldwide distribution.

    A company called New Energy Electric, in particular, whose co–founders are Carroll Shelby and Lee Eastman, has offered their Lithium/Ion battery technology (as used in the electric Shelby Cobra automobile) is very interested in working with him on these innovative bicycles.

    Randy says he could have “a million bikes manufactured in a year or so” if he had the orders for them.

    “The ideal situation would be a series of juice stands or snack shops in various locations here on Maui that would be refueling stations with solar panels and windmills on top of the buildings, where you could rent, lease or buy an electric bike.

    “You could go to one in, say, Hana, rent a bike and ride to ‘Ulupalakua, trade your battery for a fully charged one, ride to Pa‘ia, Kihei, Lahaina, wherever you wanted to go,” Randy continued.

    Retail price would be about $1,000, with an additional $200 a year for batteries. Randy says they would be ideal for ecotours, and that private ranches could purchase them for their employees to use; they could go places that most other vehicles wouldn’t have access to.

    So, all in all, this seems like one of those ideas “whose time has come.”
    “What we need is more people who specialize in the impossible.” – Theodore Roethke

  14. I just had a $2500 electric bike stolen ($$%&**) but I have. A 24v curried battery pack & a front 24v tire w/motor 3 wires coming out green yellow & blue. I need. A throttle & controler + Charger I have the lithium battery charger (trade? ) also have new mongoose ledge mens bike (disc brakes) trade? Please. Call. Me 520-307-8553 or 520-789-0616 Randy c. MUCH THANKS! !!

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