I ditched my car and used the Aventon Level.2 e-bike as my sole mode of transportation in one of the most expansive, densely populated, and car-dependent cities in the United States.
As a relatively new Los Angeles transplant, I took on the challenge of riding every day for 2 weeks on the latest iteration of the commuter e-bike.
Along the way, I came to understand the appeal of e-bikes and learned how the right accessories can unlock missions well beyond just the office.
The Plan for Ditching My Car
My approach for this experiment was simple. I gave my fiancé the keys to our shared car (which she loved) and vowed that from Monday, Dec. 5, to Sunday, Dec. 18, I would not drive or accept any rides or assistance from a vehicle. I was to fully embrace L.A. living on two pedal-assisted wheels.
So, what exactly does that mean?
It meant that I would use an Aventon Level.2 e-bike exclusively for all of my day-to-day transportation needs, including my commute to work, grocery runs, errands, hobbies, and social activities. I wanted to see exactly how much my life would change, or stay the same, without a car in L.A.
LA Geography & My Daily Distances
Los Angeles County covers more than 4,000 square miles and is one of the most geographically expansive major metro areas in the United States.
But even with its vast and extensive nature, research conducted by Streets For All suggests that 66% of commutes in Los Angeles are 5 miles or less.
I live in Santa Monica, a coastal city on the Westside of Los Angeles. The Westside is unofficially bordered by Interstate 405 to the east, Interstate 10 to the south, and the Santa Monica Mountains to the north. To the west of the Westside is the Pacific Ocean. While Los Angeles County is sprawling, Santa Monica is small, only occupying 8.4 square miles.
I took inventory of my activities and obligations, mapping out the travel distance and routes I normally take. Here’s what I found.
Commute to Work
My commute is a mostly flat 5-mile ride with a handful of route options to avoid highways and major roadways. Easy.
Within 3 miles of my apartment, I counted at least six options for groceries. These nearby stores range from larger chains to small (and incredibly expensive) boutiques and natural food shops. All of the stores could be accessed via bike-friendly routes.
Three out of the five courts I play tennis at are within 5 miles of my apartment. The other two courts are 10 miles and 17 miles away. When I drive to these courts, I take the highway; biking to them would be a challenge.
Most of the gyms in my basketball league are between 10 and 20 miles away, and the games are always at night. Getting to my games safely and in a timely manner would be difficult.
The surf breaks and beaches that I frequent most often require a 10-mile ride each way. If I wanted to surf up north in Malibu, I would need to brave a sketchy 10-mile ride along the shoulder of Highway 1 — probably not the best option. With that said, there are a number of breaks in closer proximity.
Social Activities & Accessing Different Neighborhoods
In general, any neighborhood west of Interstate 405 (aka “the 405”) or north of Interstate 10 (aka “the 10”) is very accessible via e-bike. Anything east of the 405 or south of the 10 generally requires a less bike-friendly route, consisting of long-distance rides on busy roads with smaller and fewer bike lanes.
Some of my social life such as basketball, tennis, restaurants, and visiting friends at their homes require me to travel neighborhoods further east in L.A. Pending on the bike access, it dawned on me that I might need to make some new friends or pick up new hobbies.
This exercise of tracking my movements helped me set expectations for the coming days. I realized that some of my daily transit patterns would go unchanged, while other aspects of my life would be altered. It also helped me identify my needs, both for route-planning and bike-customization purposes.
My Cycling Experience: What I Liked
I enjoyed many aspects of using an e-bike as a daily driver.
I generally prefer to be on the move. Getting fresh air and extra-low-impact exercise is a nice perk to cycling.
I found myself frequently taking different routes for my commute and various errands.
This might sound cliche, but riding the Level.2 around town really did help me explore the city of Santa Monica and surrounding neighborhoods. I found pockets of the city that I didn’t know existed, parks (some with free tennis courts), and trails throughout the Santa Monica Mountains.
Bikes are reliable. Sure, an e-bike requires maintenance, but even if there’s an issue, you can still pedal without assistance, just as you would a normal bike.
With traffic and congested roadways out of the equation, travel times became more exact. During rush hour on my way home from work, I found myself cruising past cars gridlocked in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
You know that feeling when you’ve just circled around the block half a dozen times in search of a spot, waiting for someone to pull out, only to watch someone zip in front of you and nab the spot that was rightfully yours?
Well, I no longer had to deal with those road-rage-inducing scenarios, paid parking garages, parking meters, Santa Monica Parking Enforcement (who are notoriously quick to write a ticket), or valet services.
In some ways, it is easier to surf when you take a car out of the equation. You don’t need to deal with parking or worry about making a sandy mess in your vehicle. In many coastal California towns, e-bikes are the preferred mode of transport (see Trestles).
While certain breaks up north were too far for biking, there were still a handful of easy-to-access local options. Instead of driving north on the PCH, I biked south along the 22-mile Marvin Braude Bike Trail and found plenty of fun beach breaks.
The furthest I traveled to surf over the 2-week period was a 13.4-mile ride to El Porto in Manhattan Beach. The ride took about 50 minutes each way. Overall, I was very pleases with bike-to-break surfing in Los Angeles.
The weather in Los Angeles is unbeatable for cycling year-round. In the winter months, the average daily high temperature stays slightly above 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average daily low temperature hovers right around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
In my 2 weeks of exclusive e-bike commuting, I never encountered any inclement weather.
Los Angeles has one of the highest costs of living in the country, so every dollar saved matters.
Gas prices and parking costs are high, and maintenance and insurance-related costs are expensive. If you can cut down on your driving and rely more on a bike instead of a car, your savings can be material.
Inconveniences: What I Didn’t Like
Naturally, there were some drawbacks to being car-less in L.A.
You know that feeling when you’re riding a bike on a shoulder-less road with three lanes of cars driving like Vin Diesel’s stunt doubles? Fortunately, most of my daily journeys didn’t require me to ride on major streets void of bike lanes.
But there were plenty of instances where I ended up on wide two- or three-lane roads with cars whizzing by me.
The limited number of dedicated riding lanes connecting the Westside of Los Angeles to communities east of I-405 and south of I-10 were an inconvenience. They limited my desire and ability to travel to certain places during this two-week period.
This overlaps with my last point, but as previously mentioned, Los Angeles County is huge, covering over 4,000 square miles. As a result, some places were just too far to regularly access via bike.
Select surf breaks, social gatherings, basketball games, tennis matches, and big-box stores were too far, and many didn’t offer convenient or safe bike routes.
No Passenger Seat
If you don’t have a passenger seat, you can’t give anyone a ride. Sometimes it’s a good thing. But sometimes it’s an inconvenience — like when my fiancé wanted to go out and grab dinner together.
Locking Your Gear
When running errands or shuttling gear, anything of value needed to stay with me. Otherwise, it would sit outside on the street unprotected.
I never had any issues with theft, but having to take everything off the bike and inside every time I ran an errand was less than ideal.
Crime statistics point to the fact that it was only a matter of time before something left unattended on the bike would be stolen.
Limited Cargo Space
Cars can carry more gear more easily than a bike. The e-bike is easy for those times when you’re just missing a few items at the grocery store, but it’s not optimal for larger grocery stock-ups, trips to the hardware store, or lugging heavy, cumbersome equipment.
What I Learned: Takeaways & Key Information
Overall, my experience riding the Aventon Level.2 as my daily driver for a 2-week period throughout L.A. was informative. While I don’t think I’ll be able to entirely kick my car dependency, I do think the e-bike suited most of my transportation needs.
After 2 weeks on the Level.2, here are the statistics I pulled (from the Aventon app):
- Total cycling time: 13 hours
- Odometer: 185 miles
- Total calories burned: 1,331
- Max speed: 34.2 mph
- Average speed: 14.2 mph
- CO2 reduced: 29.5 kg
From an economic standpoint, I made some calculations to determine the approximate savings that riding an e-bike provided on fuel and parking. I based these calculations off of my personal vehicle, which averages about 17 mpg in the city.
According to AAA, the average price per gallon of high-octane fuel (aka premium 91-95) in Los Angeles as of Dec. 21, 2022, is $4.71 (down from $5.78 last month!).
All told, after 2 weeks on just the bike, I saved approximately $51.26 in fuel.
Parking presented another cost-saving opportunity. In L.A., the going rate for parking is $1-3 per hour. Driving to surf in the morning ends up costing $6-9 per session. Over this 2-week period, I surfed five times (we didn’t have much swell), which saved about $37.50 in parking.
Potential savings, including car maintenance, keeping your vehicle’s mileage low, and insurance costs, are harder to quantify over the 2-week period. But they’re potential savings worth noting.
Aventon claims its bikes offer the following savings:
- Car: $1,600 per year
- E-bike: $0
- Maintenance & Repairs
- Car: ~$1,000 per year
- E-bike: ~$200 per year
- Parking Fees
- Car: ~$125 per year
- E-bike: $0
- Car: ~$1,200 per year
- E-bike: ~$60 per year
This is a broad overview and does not account for all the nuances inherent in this lifestyle change.
E-Bike Overview: Aventon Level.2
Launched in September 2022, the Aventon Level.2 is the latest e-bike from Aventon. It’s the company’s flagship commuter e-bike aimed at anyone who might want to ditch their car — or at least use it less.
Key features of this model include with a torque sensor motor system, integrated lights, and a full-color display screen.
Aventon’s torque sensor motor system changes the amount of motor assistance based on how hard the rider pedals. It aims to match a rider’s power, so the harder they pedal, the more power and assistance they receive.
The Level.2 has four integrated lights to improve visibility. The light package includes a headlight, two rear brake lights, and a fender light.
Finally, the Level.2’s full-color display screen provides the rider with a dashboard to track speed, battery life, mileage, level of pedal assist, and more.
It enables the rider to connect to the bike with their smartphone to register their bike, track rides, and control some of the features via Aventon’s app.
Additional specs of the Aventon Level.2 are listed below.
Aventon Level.2 Specs
- Wheels: 27.5″ x 2.1″ hybrid tires
- Range: Up to 60 miles with pedal assist; 30 miles on throttle only
- Weight: 54 lbs.
- Pedal assist: 5 levels
- Cassette: 12-32T, 8-speed cassette
- Brakes: Hydraulic disc brakes, 180mm rotors
- Charger: 48V 3A fast charger, 4- to 5-hour charging
- Water-resistance rating: IPX4
- Weight limit: 300 lbs.
- Price: $1,949
Accessories, Gear for E-Bike Commuting
One of the biggest hurdles I had with ditching my car was figuring out how to handle errands and hauling gear. I participate in myriad activities that require a decent amount of equipment.
Fortunately, many e-bikes, including the Aventon Level.2, are compatible with a range of commuting accessories. There were a number of options for outfitting the bike to suit my needs.
For grocery runs and daily hauls, I used a pannier set totaling about 22 liters of extra storage space. These affix to the rear rack (standard on the Level.2). Aventon advertised this size will hold approximately 1.5 bags of groceries.
For hauling large loads, I also received a trailer that can hold upward of 100 pounds. I used this for big grocery runs and trips to the hardware store.
And there are even racks to carry surfboards — both long and short.
The gear you use will be based on your individual needs and the type of bike you have. For the Level.2, Aventon sells a range of gear, including compatible bags, trailers, and racks.
Once I equipped the bike with these accessories, I had everything I needed for e-bike life in L.A.See the Aventon Level.2 Commuter E-Bike