Electric cargo bikes are quickly becoming the vehicle of choice for many Portland families. The other day when I pulled up to a local high school’s bike parking, I saw two Tern cargo bikes already parked (I was on one too!). I later learned both were owned by the same family. They had bought one for dad and one for mom.
Despite the fact that, unlike e-cars, e-bikes have almost zero marketing footprint and get no government subsidies, sales of these remarkable vehicles is skyrocketing. We don’t have Oregon-specific numbers, but nationwide e-bike sales have grown a whopping 240% in the past 12 months. Suffice it to say there is a revolution happening in how people get around and it’s being driven almost completely by organic demand.
Unfortunately, one of the barriers to hopping on this exciting transportation trend is cost. Americans are conditioned to see bicycles as a cheap option, and e-bikes come with sticker shock for many people. There are lower-priced brands out there, but to get something that’s reliable, high-quality and feature-filled, you’ve got to spend about $3,000. Eventually we’ll have government programs to help folks purchase these bikes (some states already do!), but for now the potential of e-bikes will be limited to those who can afford it.
But there’s another option! Financing.
That’s the path Oregon State Representative Karin Power just took to buying a Tern GSD (retail around $5,000) e-bike for her family. Power, a Democrat who represents Milwaukie and parts of southeast Portland, recently shared her story on Instagram:
“Meg [Power’s partner] and I have wanted to transition to a more fun and environmentally-friendly form of transportation for a long time, but it can be really expensive to make the switch. Not only that, it has been really hard to find the time to exercise. Who knew working a full-time job and raising two kids during a global pandemic could be so demanding?
Luckily for us, Splendid Cycle worked with Unitus Community Credit Union to create a bike loan program that makes buying an eBike a lot like buying a car and doesn’t require outstanding credit. We were able to secure a 3-year loan on the eBike with a monthly payment of about 180 dollars (which ends up being just a bit more than what we spend monthly on gas for our old Subaru).
Making healthier choices doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. I’m really grateful for the folks at Splendid Cycle who worked with our family to help us make the switch. I’ll be posting more about what it’s like transitioning to an eBike in the future!”
There are several local credit unions that offer bicycle loans. We’ve reported on them and Splendid Cycles lists a few of them on their website. Most Portland e-bike shops offer some sort of financing. The eBike Store in Piedmont has it. So does Clever Cycles on SE Hawthorne and Pedego on NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.
It’s great to see so many families use e-bikes instead of e-cars — especially when they happen to be a mayor or in the case of Rep Power, a member of a powerful transportation committee.
Viva la revolución!
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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So much to love about this! First, I’m always glad to see more parents moving around by bikes with kids–and even more so when that parent is an elected official.
I also appreciate Rep Power’s transparency on financing. That’s an important part of this, and this information makes it easier for me to start moving forward with an ebike purchase for myself.
At what point do we give up hope for tax credits for ebikes? The bill earlier this year proposed up to 30% of purchase price and then was watered down to 15%… and how would that mix with financing anyway? I’ve heard there are long waits for ebikes so I don’t want to hold off too long.
Thanks for sharing Joan! As for hope for tax credits. I say why wait for feds? We have the power to do something locally. I mean, Oregon has a huge, well-funded nonprofit called Forth that is very well-connected and is all about advocating for EVs. I think they should be able to put something together with the help of a few advocates. I cannot fathom why Oregon doesn’t have some sort of e-bike subsidy program yet. Let’s go!
If there are long waits for ebikes then what is the need for a tax credit?
There are long waits right now because of increasing demand and supply chain problems, as with many things. The idea of a tax credit isn’t to support the business, but to encourage folks to use bikes instead of cars. We have all sorts of tax credits and incentives for things that the government has decided to support: kids, owning homes, investing in retirement, electric vehicles.
Yes, but if demand is outpacing supply then it’s not transforming the market, or at least not by very much. It mostly means the lines will be longer, or the pre-credit price will be raised.
Housing prices are also going up. Should we link that to a reduction in the mortgage credit on income taxes? I think a temporary supply problem isn’t an issue to create policy around.
I wouldn’t link rising home prices to a reduction in the mortgage interest deduction, though I’m open to the possibility if I understood the mechanism.
I agree that one shouldn’t build policy around a temporary condition that is expected to change. But at the same time, if the policy isn’t in place yet it seems prudent to wait until the market can respond appropriately to the incentive.
How the Supply Chain Broke, and Why It Won’t Be Fixed Anytime Soon
Exactly. This is why education is so expensive. Gov guarantees the loans, gives them to just about anyone, so the Universities feel free to charge as much as they want because they know the student will just sign up for more loans.
Same with medical insurance. All plans, with few exceptions, have to be ACA compliant – there is no “competition” to offer more cost effective plans because non-compliant plans are illegal. Thus, you are forced to buy an ACA compliant plan and they know you have no option except to pay what they demand. Result? Exorbitant premiums and high deductibles.
Radwagon4 retails for $1899, with some discount coupons floating around the internet. You don’t have break the bank for one of these types of bikes.
Yeah for sure SERider. Rad is rad and has been a huge seller here in Portland! I just didn’t mention them because, not only is $2,000 still a big lift for some folks… But I have heard so many horror stories about the lack of quality of their components. They also aren’t sold at local bike shops, so folks don’t have as great of service options for them.
What horror stories have you heard? As a recent RW owner, I’m a little worried to hear.
The frame is a tank. I’m not worried about that. They use Bafang motors and Samsung batteries, so they’re good there. The drivetrain is otherwise Shimano, so good there. The brakes have crap power. Are they unreliable too? That would be scary. Is it the controller?
I know one problem has been that RAD has been slow getting out replacement parts due to the global supply chain shortage. I’m sure they’re not the only one affected, but if their parts are more likely to break this could affect RAD owners more than more expensive options.
I’ve heard many shop employees say how hard the bikes are to work on and that because of the lower-priced parts they are prone to needing more attention… then again this is coming from bike industry folks who can’t sell them! The bikes are great and lots of folks are very happy with them. I don’t want to mislead anyone. I mean, they are way less expensive than other leading brands and their sales and reviews tell the story.
I also think that maybe RAD owners are just harder to deal with than owners of more expensive bikes. It’s hard to fork over hundreds of dollars to service a <$2K bike, but probably seems reasonable on a $6K bike.
The direct sale thing is definitely a double-edged sword. It's always good to have a relationship with an LBS, and I always want to find a way to get some money to Clever Cycles and Cat Six. But $5K+ for a Tern? Maybe after my kids are done with college.
I know in the past years, they used BAFANG motors, which are actually a conversion kit. A high quality e-bike frame will have an integrated motor (for mid drive). Also, RP uses hub drive which has two significant down sides, in my opinion; 1) it’s less natural feeling – mid drive integrates with your pedal strokes and thus augments your stroke and 2) hub motors can wreck your wheel from too much torque. Of course, the counter point to the second is that mid drive can snap a chain. Since I already have had issues (on all my bikes) with the rear wheel, I prefer to risk breaking the chain.
They still use Bafang rear hub motors. Bafang is considered to be very good. Yes, they are sold as conversion kits but then so are mid-drives.
Rear hub motor is definitely a compromise and I’d prefer mid-drive if I didn’t have to pay the difference. But honestly, speaking as someone who has ridden mid-drive ebikes since 2001 (!), the cadence sensor works just fine.
It’s not just chain snapping, it’s chain wear and cassette wear. Luckily those are relatively cheap, certainly cheaper than dealing with a ruined wheel! Though at least with my RadWagon I’m not worried about the wheels. 22″ fat wheels. They are small and overbuilt. Spokes are many, and they are short.
Smaller wheels are definitely stronger than full size wheels. Although, they tend to be more jarring. You can off-set that with tire width and pressure.
Interestingly, the cassette wear is mostly caused by poor gear choices. New e-bike riders tend to avoid shifting, they lug the gears thinking the motor does all the work. I however am a spinner, which convineiniently elicited the best performance from the Bosch. Not sure about others. But the mechanics were surprised I was still on the original cassette and chain at the 2000 mile mark.
As with most things, you get out what you put into it.
So is a “more natural feel” going to get more people on e-bikes? Or will a cheaper price point? The RadWagon is such a tank/boat, it already feels unnatural anyway.
I have almost 3000 miles on the RadWagon I bought about two years ago. Yes it take some basic maintenance, and but overall I been really happy with it. Rad also offers financing.
They can be difficult to work on for a variety of reasons: parts quality can limit how well it will work on its best day. Rad parts are pretty low end. A good example is brakes. There’s a big difference between the Rad brakes and the HD disc brakes on more expensive longtails. Additionally, not all parts are easy to get and not all shops are Bafang-friendly. That means not all LBS can help with repair/service.
BUT it is important that there’s a brand at this price point. One of the great challenges of the cargo bike market is price of entry. Lower price WILL help more folks move away from auto-reliance. I’ve been watching Rad closely since they arrived on the scene and they have been slowly refining/improving their product, which I appreciate seeing. Overall, they are a good bike for the $. In fact if you’re going to mail order any brand, Rad is probably one of the safest purchases. But, comparing them to a Tern is like comparing a bike bought at Freddy’s to a bike bought at a LBS. Not a big deal as long as the buyer knows what they are getting and has appropriate expectations for performance, durability, and repair-ability.
Wouldn’t it be like comparing a $2K bike to a $5K bike? Neither should be classified as department store bikes. LBSs sell bikes at different levels too.
Radwagon definitely has cheaper brakes than I would like, but for the price point I assume they had to save money somewhere.
I live in Seattle, so I guess it’s less of an issue finding people to service them.
I know they partner with Velofix for builds, I’m guessing Velofix could also do repairs?
FWIW for people who live in PDX, they also have a mobile repair service. It can be overbooked (there’s a lot of demand) and they also partner with Velofix (or contract with) for repairs too.
You get what you pay for. Rad makes good budget bikes, but there are trade-offs when comparing to something like a Tern or a Surly Big Easy.
So is the point to get more people to replace car trips with e-bike trips? Or are we going to continue to make this a luxury only for someone who can afford a $4-6K bike.
Just seems odd to have an article mostly about affordability of cargo e-bikes and not include the best budget models (but I guess I understand Jonathon’s arguments). ~$2K was a price point that got my family interested in getting one. $5-6K definitely would not.
Love it! This is a great use for ped-elec, and Tern is a great brand.
BTW, Karin Power’s district includes a good chunk of SE Portland, too, including Sellwood and Eastmoreland.
Nice article…and Great to hear ‘your’ banks are issuing e-bike loans….though it is sadly still rare, as I checked our family’s credit union / bank and could not find one that had such an an option list on their site / loan forms, yet:
– Umpqua Bank (nope)
– FirstTech FCU (nope)
– IQ FCU (nope)
– UH FCU (nope)
– Hawaii State FCU (nope)
It would be so nice if an e-bike loan could have the same interest rate as an eco friendly car (1.2% APR) as one of our FCUs offer thru their ‘Green Auto Loan’ that reduces the rate by a full percentage (1%) point. So much better than a personal loan (~4% to 5%) or credit card rate (10% to 18%).
I looked up the bike loan recommended by Splendid cycles and the 9.9% rate was higher than for a personal loan. I hope that Rep Powers got a better rate.
Yes, but that rate is FAR lower than in-house (eg.:90 DSAC) financing or credit cards.
There are also e-conversion kits for those that are comfortable wrenching their own bike and really on a budget. Not for everybody for sure, but they can be a very cost-effective alternative. I’ve got a bomb-proof old Giant TCX (CX bike) that I currently use as my crap-weather/commuter/gravel bike, but I’m planning on eventually getting a mid-drive kit to convert it. I wouldn’t recommend the ones on Amazon, since they’re usually older versions of what you can get on Ali Express, and often more expensive as well. From the people I’ve talked to about it and the installation videos I’ve watched, if you’re comfortable removing/installing a crankset then putting on a mid-drive kit isn’t too difficult, and you can use a bike you’re already familiar with :-).
I’m thinking of doing that myself on an old city bike of mine. I have to decide whether I’m up for a project, because I’m sure things will go wrong. I’m not terribly mechanical…
There should be more kits for converting cars to EVs too.
Converting cars is fairly impractical though, given the needs to hold a heavy/large battery that will give the range that most people want. The cars really need to be designed around being an EV.
Also cost and expertise required is a lot higher than for a bike conversion.
There is a strong consensus, based on multiple “cradle-to-grave” life cycle assessments, that replacing an ICE vehicle with an EV reduces net CO2e after several years of ownership just about everywhere in the USA. Ironically, some of the strongest objections to this science-based consensus come from progressive-lefty people who tend to repeat fossil fuel industry anti-electrification propaganda while continuing to drive their SUVs/subarus/trucks to the forest so they can hug trees.
PS: Yes, extractive lithium/transition-metal mining is horrible and should be abolished. The perfect is also still the enemy of the good.
Should we also abolish ALL metal mining? Metals are important to our economy. Are you advocating a return to the stone age?
This article just came out yesterday – interesting in light of your comment:
Great comments on most Zerohedge articles.
ICE vehicles equal what we call cars, mostly. As somebody pointed out, a significant increase in electric cars means manufacturing a lot of new stuff. In the US, conversion to EVs would require at least 150 million new 1500 Kg manufactured objects. That’s a lot of factory space (some of it redundant because of branding), a lot of human time, a lot of extracted materials, a lot of our societal credit capacity. (We can borrow money really cheaply right now but that borrowing reshapes our economy)
If we’re going to save the planet with EVs an equal standard would require actual billions of electric cars. Can we reasonably propose climate actions that entrench a standard of living that doesn’t scale world wide?
I’m not shilling for fossil fuels. I’m saying that the things we make should not all look like cars because we can only make a finite number of things.
No disagreement from me. My main point was that many of the progressives/leftists who fret about the climate crisis are unwilling to make even the smallest sacrifices in their own transportation consumption.
“There is a strong consensus, based on multiple “cradle-to-grave” life cycle assessments, that replacing an ICE vehicle with an EV reduces net CO2e after several years of ownership just about everywhere in the USA. ”
reduce doesn’t mean eliminate
your framing is emphasizing(whether purposeful or not) potentially negligible reductions as being the most important thing. It’s pretty clear we need more radical change than what that kind of idealogy suggests
Electrification of fossil-fuel-burning vehicles is only a “negligible reduction” if one discounts the UN IPCC scientific consensus.
I support a rapid and near-immediate restructuring of the ecocidal USAnian socioeconomic system. But let’s be serious — this is not going to happen any time soon so I’m also willing to support a transition to EVs on a harm-reduction basis (3 C of global heating would be far more ecocidal than 2 C).
So: USA Capitalism is inherently unable to address any issue that has dangerous implications more than 4 quarters of a year into the future. The US government has a similar attention span except that it only applies about 1 year in 2, between election cycles. Neither syndrome compensates for the other.
I think we agree on almost all points except that the EV bandaid actually helps a bit, or is less bad. Making several dozen new kinds of cars because those are the new thing and potentially profitable looks to me like a huge waste of resources and talent.
Manufacturing capacity is finite. Interest rates won’t stay low forever. Rare earth minerals are–not thick on the ground? Every EV that we make is 1500 Kg of stuff we did not make.
Capitalism chases a rate of return. Period. It doesn’t care if it makes breakfast cereal, or winter coats, or crystal meth. That doesn’t mean that government is always the best way to decide things. Perverse incentives abound. The boom in synthetic methamphetamine manufacture is an artifact of our attempts to legislate morality.
It’s customary to offer a solution or you’re just complaining. We need to make it hip to choose to consume less. We need to find people aspiring to govern who don’t believe that the economy needs to grow 6 percent a year and hold their hands up. We need to go to local precinct party meetings, sit in the back with our mouths shut, and vote the bastards out. Keep doing this until you start to feel better!
Capitalism does not care that manufacturing is finite as long as the imperialists-class get theirs. This is why I expect dysfunctional corporate-oligarchies will rely mostly on EVs, wealthy less dysfunctional nations will shift away from the “cage”, and the global south will be forced to do with less.
Hey Jonathan! Thanks for such a great article. I’ve read folks’ comments below and have a little bit more information to share that might help others who are looking to make an ebike transition.
First, Unitus doesn’t require you to be members already; we joined just for the loan, which carries a 6.99% APR. There’s no prepayment penalty, so this allowed us to finance an expensive cargo ebike (Omar, if you are reading this, thanks for being so amazing to work with at Unitus!).
Second, we did test out a friend’s Radwagon and it was great. What sold us on the Tern is that it’s the only longtail cargo ebike with a full kid enclosure. I’m riding 13 miles roundtrip to drop my kids off at kindergarten and daycare in the morning, so I needed something that would keep them warm and dry. It can also stand upright on the back frame and will minimize taking up our garage floor space. Our five year old loves it so, so much. Say hi to us in the mornings if you see us on the Trolley Trail!
Finally, when we were shopping at a couple of bike stores, we had no trouble getting an ebike within a few weeks. Supply chain disruptions are affecting component parts but there was not a long wait (in our experience with the Tern, anyway).
Happy to answer any other questions, or feel free to email me at email@example.com! Oh, and if you have any punny names, we’re still looking to come up with a good one for the bike.
The Rad Runner Plus is a great option for people who only have 1 kid, the rear rack is designed to perfectly hold the Yepp Maxi seat, and comes with a nice rear cushion seat and rear wheel leg shields for when you kid gets older. My 4 year old loves when we go “off road”, exploring all the muddy back alleys in SE and zipping across open fields. And he actually enjoys riding in the rain, just get some quality rain gear. 20 inch fat tires with heavy duty spokes can handle the hub drive torque just fine.
If my wife and I had decided to pull the trigger earlier this year, that was probably the bike we were going to get. The only thing that gave us pause about the “Plus” model is that it only has a single-sided kickstand, as opposed to the original that has the double. The double makes loading things (especially heavier things) more stable, but then with some of the hills nearby we didn’t know if the single speed gearing of the original would cause problems. Ended up overthinking and decided to put off getting an ebike for a bit longer.
That was a concern of mine also, but it’s not too bad. I usually put my foot on top of the kickstand when it’s down for a little extra stability when lifting my kid into the seat. Sometimes he likes to climb up using the rear footpegs. I guess they had to use a single stand because the double leg would interfere with the chain/derailleur.