Electric bikes are one of the newer and most popular trends as they offer the perfect balance of one of our favorite pastimes and modern technology. E-bikes have taken what all of us have started out on and transformed them into more reliable, practical and entertaining modes of transportation. Taking what once was a conventional ride and turning it into a safer, more economical alternative is something users have come to appreciate.
Cycling has made its way back to the forefront and will continue to increase in popularity as people look for a greener, cheaper alternative to getting around. Aside from being a reliable mode of transportation, electric bikes provide a form of entertainment that was lacking in traditional bicycles. Adding features such as a display which gives you real-time metrics and the ability to hook up your smartphone allowing you to tune in, while riding out.
What is an Electric Bike?
Clearly defined, an electric bike is a conventional bicycle that integrates both a motor and battery. The defining factors of a bicycle are still seen such as pedals, seat, handlebar, and at least two tires, but are battery powered which assists the user and acts as an alternative to pedaling. The battery and motor doesn’t take the place of manual operation, but assists the rider giving them the option for electric or manual.
There are many advantages of an e-bike over a traditional bicycle which provides the user improved efficiency, more power, and faster speed. Traditional cycling is still a wonderful option, but there’s limitations which are noted with both recreational and personal use. There are numerous benefits over conventional travel such as cars and trucks that you may not have considered.
Some of the most notable advantages of an electric bike include:
- More fun to ride than a traditional bicycle
- Less demanding physically than pedaling a bike
- Easier to park than cars and trucks in the city
- Cheaper to operate; doesn’t require gas and expensive ongoing maintenance
- Health benefits with improved cardiovascular endurance
- In some instances, can be a faster mode of transportation with city driving, especially over public transportation
- Electric motor makes it easy to get up hills and to move over difficult terrain
- Stress free commute
- Helps improve any sedentary lifestyle
- Offers a stylish, unique way to ride
Some of the most notable disadvantages of an electric bike include:
- More expensive than traditional bikes
- Has limitations such as distance if depending on battery power only
- Battery maintenance such as charging and max charges
- Weight is about double when compared to traditional bikes when factoring in the weight of the motor, transmission, and battery
- May be a learning curve depending on the ride and the e-bike itself
Types of Electric Bikes
Electric bikes resemble the functionality and style of their conventional counterparts such as mountain, road, commuter and sport bicycles. The style is relatively the same except for motor and battery which are often concealed from the naked eye giving it more of a stylish look.
Aside from the style package, electric bikes can be classified into one of two categories including hub motor and mid-drive e-bikes which differentiates the motor’s location.
The motor of hub motor e-bikes is located off the front and rear tire with each helping define the drive system itself. Those with the motor located off the front tire give it a front-wheel drive propulsion where the rear wheel turns, helping pull the front wheel. This is the most popular type and are typically seen in commuters, sport, and road e-bikes.
Conversely, e-bikes with the motor off the rear wheel provide more torque to the rear tire which gives the rider more power and are best suited for off-road riding such as electric mountain bikes. The frame is usually a bit larger which must support the higher torque and power capacity.
The motor of a mid-drive e-bike is attached to the middle of the bike and can usually be found on, or near the bottom bracket. Because of this, there’s a better weight distribution, has a better center of gravity, and is easier to do routine DIY repairs.
The biggest advantage of mid-drive models is that it uses the standard drivetrain of the bike which uses the gears already in place. This equates to a more efficient ride as the motor itself dials in on more precise RPM’s, or speed. This makes for smoother gear changes that help with on the fly changes such as riding uphill or over different types of terrain.
Electric Bike Batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are not only found powering e-bikes, but are the battery of choice for most battery powered products. Lithium-ion, or Li-ion batteries are more efficient and hold longer charges than other types of rechargeable batteries. As is the case with other products, you get what you pay for as higher-end e-bikes come standard with Li-Ion batteries which use less juice and gives you longer run times.
The battery capacity of lithium-ion batteries is classified in amp-hours or watt-hours. Most electric bicycles run motors at least 36-volts and determining the watt-hour per battery is as easy as multiplying the volts of the battery with the amp-hour of the battery itself. For a battery of 10 Ah or 10 amp-hour running on a 36v motor, you have a 360-watt hour battery.
Most batteries powering e-bikes are in the 7-10 Ah range, but have been high as 20Ah for high-performance models. Most bikes come standard with a 7-10Ah battery which may give you 30 miles of use on a single charge, but can be upgraded to a larger battery for longer use. Of course, the maximum distance in miles depends on other factors such as Pedal Assist use, weight, terrain, and other factors.
As is the case with all batteries, they have a max usage and naturally loses its efficiency over-time. The importance of the battery cannot be understated, and why it’s a good idea to only consider reputable brands such as Panasonic, LG Sony and Samsung.
Probably the single most important spec of an electric bike is the max range on a single charge. There is a varying degree of range which can be anywhere from 20 – 50 miles conventionally speaking with some higher end batteries giving you up to 70 miles on a single charge.
The max range depends on many factors including the quality of the battery, riding mode (Pedal Assist or Twist and Go), how many times used, and weight of the rider and bike itself. One thing to do that isn’t exactly science, but will give you a good idea is to divide the battery watt-hours by 20 which will give you a minimum range in miles.
Sticking to the minimum max range is always best unless you’re ok with pedaling an e-bike which is heavier and bulkier than a conventional bike all the way home. Making simple adjustments to the pedal assist levels will help maximize the battery’s efficiency.
The typical charging time of the battery relies on the quality of the battery itself and how long you’ve been using it. Charging time can vary between 2 – 6 hours and it’s always a good practice to charge overnight so you always wake up with a bike with full juice.
Are E-Bikes Street Legal?
One of the biggest questions we get are electric bikes street legal? In most countries such as the US and UK the answer is yes, but there are some local communities which have laws which may supersede this. For instance, to be considered street legal in the UK; a bike must have pedals that can move the bike which helps give it the name electric assist.
For those in the UK, Scotland and Wales there’s some fine print to consider when looking at the motor and power output requirements:
- Motor must have a max output of 250-watts
- Should not be able to move the bike when moving faster than 15.5mph
Check out the full details on whether electric bikes are street legal in the UK, Scotland and Wales being street legal can be seen on the Gov.UK website.
Here in the US it’s not so clear and there’s a lot of confusion on whether e-bikes are street legal in the US. Federal law supersedes state law, but unfortunately, the law itself pertaining to e-bikes doesn’t exactly clarify use by consumers, only point of sale by retailers.
Confused? So were we when we first interpreted the federal standards regarding electric bikes which centers on the intended use by consumers. In 2001, Congress passed the only law pertaining to e-bikes titled 107-319 which exempts them from being considered a motor vehicle if they possess the following:
- Pedals which operate a motor under 750-watts which is limited to 20 mph
For this reason, electric bikes are not classified as a motor vehicle and are not required to meet the same safety standards such as front/rear lights, turn signals, seat belts, and brake specifications. The law itself pertains strictly to product sales which is governed under the Consumer Product Safety Act and mitigates the manufacturer from having to comply with safety requirements at the time of production, and point of sale.
State and local laws in the US better define e-bike use on streets and may offer a better definition, so it’s highly recommended to check locally. If you’re still not sure, it’s always better to go to your local DMV for the best interpretation of you can search by state through this link: https://www.dmv.org/dmv-office-finder.php
Difference Between an Electric Bike and Electric Scooter
Electric bicycles have many names including e-bikes, pedal assist bikes, electric assist bikes, and many others, but they’re not to be confused with electric scooters. E-bikes and e-scooters have one distinguishing factor that makes all the difference and it all starts with a pedal.
E-bikes which are also called pedal assist for a reason still incorporate the pedal and gives the rider the ability to manually operate entirely, pedal with assistance of electric power, or use electric power exclusively.
How Much Can You Expect to Pay?
When looking at the price of an electric bike, they offer a wide range of prices to suit virtually any budget. For basic e-bikes that will get you back and forth and offer nothing on-top, you can expect to shell out around $500 – 700. On the other hand, high-performance models that are lightweight and integrate features such as front/rear lights, display screen, larger battery and more power, you can expect to pay anywhere from $2000 - $3000.
Things to Consider When Buying an Electric Bike
Where and who you intend on buying an electric bike from makes all the difference. Some consumers see the price and look for cheaper alternatives, which end up being just that. Of course, there are Chinese knock-offs that offer similar specs, but a poor design and build quality that will have you regretting your decision hours after getting on.
Some of the most reputable manufacturers including Pedego, ProdecoTech, Cyrusher, Enzo and many others have developed a great reputation for a reason. Sticking with a proven name will save you a great deal of frustration on the back-end and assures your front-end investment will give you years of enjoyment.
Other off-brand manufacturers will make it difficult to find replacement parts and reputable e-bike technicians which can now be found in most major cities worldwide. These technicians can provide a wealth of details on maintaining and helping you get the most out of your e-bike, but only if they’re familiar with the model which won’t be the case with something out of China.
For starters, feel free to browse our huge selection of Electric Bike Reviews through the links below.