If you show up at The New Wheel, an electric bike shop in San Francisco, the store will give you a chance to trade in your old car for a new e-bike.
As you browse or take an electric bike for a spin up one of the city’s hills, staff at the store will take notes on the condition of your car and mileage. Forty-eight hours later, after they send the details to Roadster.com, an online service for selling used cars, you’ll have an offer. If you choose to accept, the bike shop will come pick up your car and give you a check. You’re not required to spend some of the proceeds on a new bike, but that’s the idea.
“We’ve always been in the business of trying to figure out ways to get people out of cars and onto bikes,” says cofounder Brett Thurber, who opened the store in 2012. The proposition for e-bikes is simple: If you have a long commute to work or one or more of the city’s 74 hills is in the way, an electric bike means that you won’t show up at the office sweaty or exhausted. Meanwhile, you can avoid some of the annoyances of driving.
“With all the traffic and even parking, it’s not convenient anymore, in many instances, to own a car,” says Thurber. “I think the thing we’re up against is just habit.”
Recognizing that people’s expectations of vehicles are based on cars, the store has long taken inspiration from the car industry. If you don’t want to pay for an e-bike outright, the store offers financing. If you get a flat tire, the store offers roadside assistance, and will pick you up and give you a free lift (up to 30 miles, twice a year). If you want to trade in an old bike, that’s possible. Trading in a car seemed like the next logical step.
Depending on the age of your car, a new bike might be roughly the same cost. At the bike shop, e-bikes range from $2,500 to as much as $10,000. (Thurber doesn’t think budget electric bikes are worth it: “I guess the comparable car would be a Yugo or something like that,” he says.) Roadster.com takes a cut of the proceeds in exchange for the convenience of not selling a car yourself, so you’ll get less than you might on Craigslist.
To sell people on e-bikes, he says one key is getting them to just try it, and see what it’s like to ride up hills without effort. The other key is helping them realize that a bike can be the functional equivalent of a car. The trade-in program is designed to underscore that point.
“The fact that you can trade your car for your electric bike kind of puts it on parity to some extent,” says Thurber. “That’s what we’re attempting to show people.”