Los Angeles by electric bike: An alternative, alternative commute


  • Photo 1 of 11

    A view of downtown Los Angeles from behind the handle bars. That's the Disney Concert Hall in the foreground.

    - Matt Berger/Marketplace

  • Photo 2 of 11

    Next stop, Chinatown. The foggy skyline view from my handle bars: Los Angeles City Hall, the district's dragon arches, and cars lining Broadway.

    - Matt Berger/Marketplace

  • Photo 3 of 11

    On the edge of downtow, my bike ride takes me over the heavily congested Interstate-5. Here's a scene of a Friday morning commute from the view of my handlebars.

    - Matt Berger/Marketplace

  • Photo 4 of 11

    About a block away from the Marketplace office is the legendary Second Street Tunnel. If you see a car commercial in a tunnel, chances are it was filmed here.

    - Matt Berger/Marketplace

  • Photo 5 of 11

    Riding down North Broadway in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles. This primarily Latino district features colorful murals at every turn.

    - Matt Berger

  • Photo 6 of 11

    About a mile into my ride to work I pass by this auto shop where a happy sculpture made of mufflers greets me every morning with a friendly wave.

    - Matt Berger/Marketplace

  • Photo 7 of 11

    A Los Angeles Unified school bus is parked outside Lincoln High on North Broadway. I'm always amazed these old-school buses are still in use when I see them billowing down the road blowing clouds of black smoke.

    - Matt Berger/Marketplace

  • Photo 8 of 11

    I start my ride on a tree-lined street in the suburb of South Pasadena, California, located seven miles from the office in downtown Los Angeles.

    - Matt Berger/Marketplace

  • Photo 9 of 11

    Here it is, my Giant Escape hybrid roadbike aided by a battery-powered electric hub motor. This conversion kit from the company Clean Republic adds an electric boost to any normal bike.

    - Matt Berger/Marketplace

  • Photo 10 of 11

    A close-up view of the lithium ion battery strapped to the rear rack on my bike, which powers my electric bike motor. The battery offers about 20 miles of use per charge, and takes a few hours to recharge.

    - Matt Berger/Marketplace

  • Photo 11 of 11

    A close up view of the Clean Republic hub motor, which comes built in to a front wheel that can easily be exchanged witht he stock wheel on your bike. The motor tops out at about 15 mph, and works independently of your pedaling, essentially turning the bike into an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

    - Matt Berger/Marketplace

Here it is, my Giant Escape hybrid roadbike aided by a battery-powered electric hub motor. This conversion kit from the company Clean Republic adds an electric boost to any normal bike.

A close up view of the Clean Republic hub motor, which comes built in to a front wheel that can easily be exchanged witht he stock wheel on your bike. The motor tops out at about 15 mph, and works independently of your pedaling, essentially turning the bike into an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

TEXT OF STORY

BOB MOON: Last weekend, we brought you a special broadcast of Marketplace Money all about you and your car, direct from the streets of Los Angeles.

At the top of the car show, we made sure to mention the show was not about alternatives to cars. But, that didn't stop you from writing in to remind us that there are other options to get around that are cheaper, more efficient, and better for the environment.

One of those comments came from our very own Senior Web Producer, Matt Berger. He downsized to a one-car family more than a year ago.


MATT BERGER: I ride my bike to work.

Well, sort of...

TESS VIGELAND: Um, that's not a real bike.

Ok, it's a bike with a motor on it. But it gives me some ooomph up the hills. And despite the office scorn, I have reasons for riding 15-miles every day from my home in South Pasadena to downtown Los Angeles. Yes - Los Angeles - where there are one-and-a-half cars for every person.

MARY BERGER: Because you're a cheapskate.

That's my wife, Mary. She has full use of the one car we do own. About a year ago we moved to Los Angeles from rural Connecticut, with our two kids.

MADDIE: Nina, Nina, Nina, Nina, Nina, Nina...

NINA: What?

MADDIE: Nothing...

Everything is more expensive here: groceries, housing, our daughter's pre-school. And we couldn't sell our house in Connecticut. So now we own there and we rent here.

MARY: I think if we had just decided that we had to have a car, a second car, we would have bought one and the only difference is that we'd be in a lot of debt now, that we're not necessariliy in.

[SOUND OF BUS]

Every day I woke up to catch the 6:47 bus outside our house and an hour and two transfers later I'd be downtown at the office.

MARY: You hated the bus. You always had to run to catch it, or you missed it, or you complained bitterly about it.

I was never too proud to beg for a ride - but it was a long shot since it meant convincing the kids to get dressed and in the car by 7 a.m.

MATT: You guys want to give me a ride, Maddie?

MADDIE: No.

Sometimes I could pay them off by giving them my bus fare. Mary, on the other hand; not so easy to convince so early in the morning.

MATT: Can I have a ride to work today?

MARY: No. I'm tired. I'm sleeping.

So each day I made the best of the LA Metro system. The idea of paying off the first car and being able to buy a new one kept me motivated. But then one day, it was clear.

MARY: I think we always thought we'd have more money later, in a couple months, like when we got our tax return. And then we just never really seemed to have enough money to go buy a new car, or even a used car.

With the rising price of gas, insurance, car payments, parking ... my future was with the bus.

Until Robobike.

[SOUND OF BIKE]

Now my commute takes about 30 minutes, and I actually enjoy it. We use the $300 a month we would have spent on the car on things like ballet lessons for the girls. My wife is happy about it too. She gets to sleep in.

MARY: Have fun!


MOON: That was Marketplace Senior Web Producer Matt Berger. View a slideshow of scenes from his commute. Plus, watch a video to see how the bike works, and read a comparison of three LA commutes Car vs. Bike vs. Bus in the Makin' Money blog.

About the author

Matt Berger is the former Digital Director at Marketplace.

Here it is, my Giant Escape hybrid roadbike aided by a battery-powered electric hub motor. This conversion kit from the company Clean Republic adds an electric boost to any normal bike.

A close up view of the Clean Republic hub motor, which comes built in to a front wheel that can easily be exchanged witht he stock wheel on your bike. The motor tops out at about 15 mph, and works independently of your pedaling, essentially turning the bike into an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

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