Electric bikes (or e-bikes as they are commonly known) are becoming increasingly popular on the roads. Perhaps you have been panting your way up a hill, only to be passed by someone who is seemingly exerting no effort or on your commute into work and a fellow commuter whizzes past you while hardly pedalling. Or you are new to cycling and are wondering if investing in an e-bike is worth it. Let’s have a look in a little more detail, so you can decide for yourself whether an e-bike is worth the investment.
What is an Electric Bike?
An e-bike is simply a bicycle supercharged with a battery and motor. A few years back, they used to be rather ugly, and the huge battery pack made them a cumbersome alternative to your standard bike. However, thanks to continuous innovation and rising demand, e-bikes have evolved into efficient modes of transport, bringing the joys of cycling to a whole new demographic.
Naturally, the best e-bikes are those with higher price tags, but there is now a wide range of e-bikes and designs to satisfy most needs and budgets.
How much does an E-bike cost?
It is eye-watering the cost of some bicycles. E-bikes are no longer out of the average joes price bracket, and you could be spending just as much on a “manual” bike, with prices ranging from £500 to £9,000. There is an e-bike out there for everyone.
Generally, top of the range e-bikes will be lighter, have a higher range and look more discreet (with concealed batteries and motors). You can get some road E-bikes that have the motor and battery all within the frame, so to the untrained eye, it looks like a standard road bike. If you buy second hand, you may be able to get an e-bike even cheaper than £500. However, do be wearier buying 2nd hand e-bikes, as with use the battery life is reduced and with more components that could go wrong, make sure you have a look and test ride before parting with your cash.
The most popular e-bikes retail for £1,000 – £1,500. These offer the best value giving you a decent range per charge and high-quality build quality.
How does an E-bike work?
There is a misconception surrounding e-bikes, that you do not have to do any work, so are only appropriate for the lazy cyclist. However, the majority of e-bikes come with a pedal-assist motor, not twist and go acceleration. Meaning you are still exercising and will feel the burn in your legs after a long ride. The benefit is that you can ride faster and longer than on a standard bike.
Fundamentally an e-bike is a traditional bicycle at its core. When looking for the right e-bike for you and your budget, you still need to consider riding style, geometry, gears and tire tread. Despite their similarities, e-bikes have three additional components that put the “E” in e-bike!
An e-bike will have a display on the handlebars, to show you how much battery you have left, your speed, distance and what assistance level you are using. The more advanced e-bike displays will come with features such as fitness tracking and GPS. So you do not have to buy a separate bicycle computer, to track your rides.
2) Motor – Crank Motor or Hub
There will, of course, be a motor on all e-bikes, the most popular is a crank motor. It is part of the mechanism that allows you to pedal and is often discrete. A crank motor works by adjusting the amount of assistance (helping to spin the pedals, which in turn moves the wheels) depending on how hard you pedal. Pedal-assist motors feel more natural than the alternative hub motors. Hub motors drive the wheel itself, rather than helping you to turn the pedal, they turn the wheel for you. #
Hub motors offer excellent value for money but can be more dangerous, as the acceleration is erratic, especially from a standing start. They also take away the natural cycling feeling that makes crank motors so popular.
The more advanced (more expensive) motors will output more torque. The more torque your motor has, the more power you can get out of the bike.
Unlike your traditional bicycles, e-bikes do not rely on you to provide all the energy to get it moving. Electric bike batteries are heavy and take at least 3 hours to charge. You plug them into the mains like you would any other portable electronic device. Unless you have a garage or easy access to a power supply, look for an e-bike with a removable battery, so that you are not left lugging your e-bike up and downstairs. You can purchase additional battery packs. As with all lithium-ion batteries, the capacity will deteriorate over time, but even with regular use, this will take years before there is a noticeable reduction in range.
E-bikes with more expensive batteries will offer an increased range (and longer charging time) than cheaper less efficient batteries.
What are the disadvantages of an e-bike?
With more components and parts on e-bikes, it does mean that more can go wrong. So you will have to maintain your e-bike. E-bikes are often heavy, so if you are looking to get one, but live in a 2nd floor flat, get a waterproof cover to keep it safe and dry no matter the weather. Most e-bikes are of course waterproof, but with all those electrics, you cannot leave it to the mercy of the elements all night like you can get away with a standard bike.
Electricity is a wonderful invention that has revolutionised and shaped our lives. However, batteries do need recharging. Some of the cheaper e-bikes only have ranges of up to 20 miles (always be sceptical of the advertised range, these are often in perfect conditions and as we know life is not perfect. As a general rule of thumb take 15% off the advertised range). Consider the logistics of how you will charge your e-bike if you have a garage or an office that you can park and plug your bike into then perfect. If not, then consider e-bikes that have removable batteries.
People say that e-bikes are dangerous; however, e-bikes are only as dangerous as the rider. Just like standard bikes, if you are going too fast for the weather conditions or not paying attention to the roads, then you are putting yourself at risk of an accident. The most dangerous e-bikes are those that you “make” yourself. There are wheel conversion kits all over the internet (often imported from China) that allows you to convert your current bike into an “e-bike”. These are often “twist and go” throttle operated, which is not only illegal (unless it cuts out at 3.7mph) in the UK but can also be very dangerous.
What to look out for when buying an E-bike?
Firstly, make sure you can ride your bike legally on the roads. For example, in the UK (and EU), the motor cannot be more powerful than 250W, and the pedal assist has to cut out when you reach speeds of 15.5 mph. If it assists you when you’re riding more than 15.5 mph, you would need to register your e-bike, and it would need to be insured and taxed as a motor vehicle. Fortunately, all the reputable retailers know these rules, so if you are buying from your local bike shop or a well-known cycling website, all their e-bikes should comply with the regulations.
When you are looking for an e-bike, consider the range and distance you will be riding before you can charge it (with such large batteries, they usually take 5 hours+ to fully charge, so do not think you can stop for a coffee and reset the odometer). If you are planning to use your e-bike to commute with, a range of 30 miles may be sufficient. However, if you want to have a proper adventure and go all day (or week), then you should be looking at bikes with a higher range.
As speed has been dictated to you by the laws of the land, the only other primary consideration is the design and build of the electric bike. Will you be using it for off-roading, or going to the shops. Do you need a basket built-in or a pannier rack on the back? Do you want to go incognito and have an e-bike that looks like a standard bike? Just like traditional bicycles, electric hybrid bikes are a versatile option, perfect for your commute or adventure on gravel tracks.
Where to buy and repair an e-bike?
Although you can buy e-bikes online or second hand, it is preferential to find a local bike shop that sells e-bikes. Not only will you benefit from the bike being assembled and tested ready for when you pick it up. But also most reputable bike shops will often throw in maintenance deals when you buy a bike from them. Whether that is free or discounted six months check-up /service, it goes a long way to increase the life of your new e-bike.
With the rising popularity of e-bikes, there are even cycle shops that specialise in e-bikes, selling their own brand of electric bikes and scooters. They are the best places to go for servicing and repairs as they are experts in e-bikes specifically and will not treat it the same as a standard bike.
Whether you are sold on the hype or not. E-bikes eliminate the barriers that lead to so many traditional bikes collecting dust in garages. Get out on the roads, keep fit and ride more than you thought possible.
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