Hi, I’m Kurt. I’m one of the founders of Bikes Make Life Better. I spend most of my time managing the company, which sometimes means heading to Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park where we run a large bike program.

I’ve done the commute to Facebook every way imaginable — truck, van, shuttle, bike, motorcycle, train. Most days I take a company-sponsored shuttle — a nice perk since there’s wifi on board, and the shuttle can use the carpool lane. Other days I ride my bike to the train station, board the bike car, and then ride to Facebook’s campus on the other end. Sometimes I ride there on a bike, which is energizing, but eats up a huge chunk of time.

One day, while riding my bike to Facebook with a group of likeminded bikers, I started to wonder about testing an e-bike on this long commute. More specifically, I was wondering how quickly you could do the 33-mile route on a fast but legal e-bike. I’d used an e-bike for casual errands in the city, but hadn’t used it for longer rides. Assuming I’d have enough battery power to get me the whole way, I thought it would be comparable in time to taking the motor-powered modes listed above.

So I borrowed a Trek CrossRip Class 3 from our inventory and hatched a plan to ride it for the commute.

The E-Bike

The CrossRip reminded me a lot of my road bike — drop bars, lightweight aluminum frame — but with some serious added kick: a high-performance Bosch system that helps riders sustain speeds of up to 28 mph. 

The CrossRip has integrated lights, a rear rack, and fenders, so although it feels like a road bike, it’s tricked out for commuting. I decided to add a pannier on the rack to carry all my work stuff.

Fully charged, the CrossRip’s 500wh battery lasts about two hours if the bike is turned all the way up. I could set the pedal assist modes to Eco, Tour, Sport, or Turbo. I planned to do the ride in Sport and Turbo for maximum speed.

The Theory

Essentially, this bike can do one mile in just over two minutes. With traffic and intersections, you can still do each mile in three minutes or less. So if your commute is five miles, that’s a cool 15 minutes to work. Given that average traffic speeds around the country are dropping — with Seattle at 24 mph and San Francisco just 18 mph — many people are already commuting at speeds an e-bike can achieve, especially a Class 3 e-bike. As a point of comparison, a Class 1 e-bike stops giving you pedaling assistance at 20 mph (here’s an e-bike class explainer for the curious), so it can’t average as high a speed; more like 15 mph.

The Bike Commute Route

Door to door, my commute is about 33 miles using city streets and bike paths. I also knew the route, the Bayway, as it’s called by Silicon Valley kitted-out super commuters who ride it everyday, so I wasn’t going to waste any time getting lost.

Riding to Work on an E-Bike

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The first hill — my driveway — is no match for Turbo mode!

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I’ve already reached the “Courtland Hurl,” that memorable fives blocks of uphill in the Bernal neighborhood that makes you wish you hadn’t eaten that blueberry scone at the coffee shop ten minutes before. It’s just “Courtland” today!

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The next hill, San Bruno Avenue, is upon me already, but I barely notice it. Onward!

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Do I have time to stop for that doughnut?

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I’m skirting along the airport, a spot where I typically battle a crosswind. With Turbo mode though, I feel nothing but steady forward motion.

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I’m already halfway there — oh look, a heron!

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The battery slinks down to the last bar, so I switch to Sport mode. Even so, I still haven’t broken a sweat.

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89 minutes later, I’m here!

Early morning: I put on a regular shirt, jeans, and regular — not bike — shoes. I wanted to be the “everyman” for this commute, so no lycra or padded shorts.

7:03 AM: I roll the CrossRip out of the garage. It’s nice to not have to carry anything on my back, as was my usual tradition when riding south for work. The morning is cool, but sunny. I set the level of assist to Turbo.

7:11 AM: Oh wow, I’m already at the “Courtland Hurl,” that memorable fives blocks of uphill in the Bernal neighborhood that makes you wish you hadn’t eaten that blueberry scone at the coffee shop ten minutes before. Normally I’d be winded when I reached the top, but not today!

7:14 AM: The next hill, San Bruno Avenue, is upon me already, but I barely notice it. Onward!

7:34 AM: Solidly in South San Francisco now, in record time. Usually it takes 50 minutes to get here. So far, I’ve been relaxing in Turbo mode, the battery needle hasn’t moved. I’m averaging about 22 mph.

7:42 AM: I’m skirting along the airport, a spot where I typically battle a crosswind. With Turbo mode though, I  feel nothing but steady forward motion.

8:01 AM: I’m at the Coyote Point water stop, the typical halfway marker between home and Facebook’s campus. I’ve barely hit my water bottle since leaving, so I don’t stop to fill up. Breezing down a section of the Bay Trail, I see a heron launch itself from the brackish water. The sun is breaking up the morning chill now, so I slip out of the jacket.

8:09 AM: The battery slinks down to the last bar, so I switch to Sport Mode, one level lower than Turbo. Now I’m dedicated to not working too hard.

8:32 AM: I’ve arrived and declare victory, shocked that my 33-mile bike commute only took 89 MINUTES! That’s a lot less than the 120 it takes to ride using just my own human power, and so much easier. As it turns out, later in the day the return trip on the corporate shuttle is 91 minutes!

Looking down at the controls, I see that I have 20 percent battery life. I could have stayed in Turbo! My average rolling speed was 23 mph. I park the e-bike, and skip out the door again to grab breakfast before my 9 AM meeting.

Takeaways

E-biking to work was not only faster than the typical shuttle commute, it was a much more enjoyable experience: I wasn’t stuck on a highway, lurching in stop-and-go traffic. Instead, I was treated to fresh air, sunshine, and a little exercise. The e-bike was also much faster than a regular bike, and meant that I didn’t have to spend additional time showering after I arrived. 

With a Class 3 e-bike — one with a top-assisted speed of 28 mph — anyone can handle doing a long bike commute without special gear or big fitness. The bike provides the ooomf for hills, wind, and distance. And perhaps more importantly, commute times are completely predictable. Having experienced delays many times, the security of knowing how long it will take to commute means a lot.

I’ve long believed that e-bikes were a commute game changer, and one that’s accessible to anyone, not just serious cyclists. Theory proved!

Bikes Make Life Better is dedicated to helping employees at large organizations use bikes for healthy sustainable transportation.