Do you really need that Tesla? $500 says maybe not.

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It ain’t so slick and it’s a few months too soon to call it durable, but with gasoline prices over $4 a gallon in Northern California, my $500 Swagtron EB-5 folding electric bike (shipped by Amazon) has become my main grocery getter, volunteer op commuter and laundry tub hauler. I count a lot of public smiles per mile when I use it, and the ride, range and speed aren’t bad for a discount electric vehicle (EV) — like cheaper than two diecast model (toy) Tesla cars cheap. Plus, it doesn’t seem to be tracking and sharing my whereabouts or other personal information (ahem, Tesla, etc.). In a word, priceless!

Tricked-out Swagtron EB-5 discount electric folding bike. I added a front basket and seat post rack plus some panniers from the late 90s to pull off some mighty impressive cargo hauls (use your judgement).

Not just due to surveillance capitalism concerns, Teslas are on my mind (I “swagged” along with one in stop-and-go traffic yesterday) as I currently live in arguably the Tesla Motors capital of the US if not the world. As a 40-something, I grew up loving cars (Herbie!), so I get and probably am targeted by the Tesla appeal. And consider the competition — Prius folks are just terrible drivers. The Nissan Leaf? Man. A Mitsubishi I-MiEV? Perhaps. An electric Fiat 500?  Well ….

Teslas are pretty cool compared with other rides offered since 2000 (not just other e-cars), and my wife digs their looks. I’ve enjoyed Tesla’s urban storefronts (are there any left?) like a 5-year old loves the ball pit at a McDonald’s, but here’s the thing — we don’t need a Tesla or any other new or newish car / data harvesting platform … and you probably shouldn’t let your kids play in the ball pit, either.

It’s not lost on me that Tesla employment, when it lasts, is often located in places that, by design, realistically can only be reached by private auto (north of San Jose is just wow). You could say the same thing about Toyota manufacturing in San Antonio and likely lots of other car industry employment / “innovation” hubs in the US. Silicon Valley, though, is woefully car-dependent, and it shouldn’t be surprising that the cutting edge vision thus remains moving people cargo (120lbs-1200lbs?) by vehicles that weigh more than 3,500lbs, are roughly the dimensions of a 1999 VW Passat and roll on four tires that can cost more than my Swagton EB-5.

As a suburb dweller in a place with public transit links to airports and jobs, private buses running routes to distant cities and “old-timey” urban design (think short blocks, street tree canopies, apartment buildings next to single houses, wide sidewalks, main commercial streets, corner shops, plenty of pedestrian crosses and speeds limited to 25mph), who needs a “nice” car if a personal car at all? Let’s be honest — this is a car- and other technology-destroying coastal environment, and if you’re driving a Tesla, you’re probably not parking on an urban street beyond the occasional avocado toast dash or school drop-off. If you do live in a city like San Francisco (actual San Francisco), your Tesla ownership likely contributes to or at least signals the “easy parking” car-dependent suburbanization and gentrification of that city and the overall growing socioeconomic divide.

True, I can’t take the $500 Swagtron out to Sacramento or down to LA without the assistance of Flixbus and a carrying case, but I am getting roughly 15 miles per (roughly 4-hour, 110v / standard household plug) charge. At $500 for a vehicle that can be outpaced by an honest cyclist, you might call the EB-5 somewhat elite or at least foolish — but I wouldn’t have ridden 25 miles mainly into headwinds this week without one. Lazy, sure, but at least not car to the cornershop lazy.

It’s not a fab bike or ebike, but as one reviewer calls it, Swagtron’s EB-5 (that name) is a “surprisingly good” discount if not widely recognized EV.  Is an EB-5 better than a Tesla?  My wallet says yes, and an EB-5 has helped me to bypass a lot of nonsense (including potential six-month repair delays and privacy and hack concerns) to make real progress towards “ending driving as we know it” in the US.


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