Electric bikes can cost thousands of dollars. Far too expensive for people on a tight budget - unless they are part of Pedal Ahead, a San Diego-based nonprofit launched in 2020.
"It saves me a lot of money and it saves me wear and tear on my vehicle," said Christopher Castor, a program participant.
Pedal Ahead's "Loan to Own" program provides low-income families access to e-bikes at no initial cost if they agree to ride at least five miles a day for two years, while tracking and sharing those rides for a study which will help make cities more e-bike friendly.
"With the data, you can really define how individuals are riding and not just taking a cookie-cutter bike lane and repaving it and saying, 'We have more bike lanes,'" explained Ed Clancy, founder of Pedal Ahead. "The data's going to define how people are riding and where they're going and hopefully the cities adopt that."
Participants must provide their own bike insurance, which can cost about $15 a month, but once their two years of riding has been completed, they own the bike.
For people like Carla Crudup, getting out of a vehicle and on to her e-bike has opened her eyes to the world around her.
"You're seeing little shops, landscaping, and flowers. It's just fantastic," she said.
Since the program started, Pedal Ahead has distributed 400 e-bikes across San Diego County, equivalent to 270,000 cycling miles.
Now the program's going statewide as part of a $10 million e-bike incentive program.
Clancy is excited about what expansion will provide.
"We're just seeing positive benefits across the board with communities that wouldn't think of having an e-bike, but we've seen that the e-bike can be that tool for a solution for many things," he said.
Replacing short car trips with e-bikes can help improve the environment, and the power provided by the e-bike makes cycling possible for people like Everett Crudup, who knows how restrictive life can be when a heart condition like his makes exercise difficult.
"Being on this bike is severely liberating. It gives me legs I don't have otherwise," he said.
The "Loan to Own" program through Pedal Ahead doesn't just provide an e-bike. Novice riders are provided safety training, bike tuneups and repair to encourage continued use.
But the pathway to ownership is what creates options for better financial health.
Carla Cruddup points out, "It allows people to get into a bike that may be expensive, but it sure has its benefits and longevity in the long run."
"I got a lot more freedom having one of these," added Castor. "It's like having a car. You can get anywhere. You can get on a train with it so ... it's great."