A few months ago, a friend of mine asked me to help him to choose an electric bike. I wanted to help, but I knew that I had limited knowledge in this specific area. There are a lot of E-bike models on the market, and in addition to that the technology is evolving constantly.
This is why I came to ask for advice from a friend of mine, who wrote more than 100 articles on this topic. I asked him what to pay attention to when purchasing an E-bike, where you need to start, which models should you pay attention to first, their advantages and disadvantages.
This led to an interview, in which my friend kindly shared his extensive knowledge acquired in the process of writing reviews for more than 300 E-bike models, which he began publishing in 2012.
Why would you want an E-bike?
Electric bikes have the same advantages as traditional bikes, including money saving (no need for license and insurance). They are great for you health and environment, and cycling community is one of the best communities in the world (in my humble opinion).
In my opinion, the real advantage of electric bikes lies in their effectiveness of climbing hills and riding in strong winds.
For example, if you suffer from knee injuries or asthma caused by exercise, electric bicycles can breathe new life into cycling for you.
They can convince you friend or soulmate to travel with you much more often, or they will help you to get to work without breaking a sweat even on very hot days. I used to ride cars and scooters, but nothing compares to the refreshing feeling of riding a bike away from packed roads.
Electric bikes take away many challenges and obstacles that traditional bicycle owners face, but they are not perfect. E-bikes are very expensive and complex. They weigh quite a lot, this can seriously spoil you mood if the battery dies halfway to you destination.
What are e-bikes suitable for?
Since the early days of electric bikes in United States (1999) the frame styles, design and characteristics of electric bikes have improved significantly.
In addition to simple DIY kits, systems like the “Ridekick Power Trailer” started to appear, which not only increased the performance of an electric bike, but also added carrying capacity. This system in particular, is even easier to install than any other DIY kit. In addition, it can be shared with friends and family, using ordinary bicycles or recumbent bikes as a platform.
Today, you can fully immerse yourself in the world of electric bicycles. In some cities you can even rent an electric bike.
Rocket Electrics in Austin, Texas, offers tours, as well as multi-day “SXSW” and “F1” race packages for people who want to avoid busy streets and explore the city.
Clean electric bikes (which were developed with an electric drive and not altered for it) are great for demonstration purposes. They are lighter, more durable and much more efficient than normal bikes.
If you need a folding bike that can be stored in the attic, or taken with you on a flight, a tandem to ride with friends on vacation, or a mountain bike to conquer hills, mountains and difficult routes, there is probably an electric bike that will fully meet all you needs and expectations.
As you probably already understood, I am a big fan of technologies. Thanks to the widespread use of electric bicycles in Asia and Europe, there are indeed a lot of new models on the market.
But some things are still off limits for E-bikes. For example: if you prefer mountain biking and you just only recently been allowed to ride on trails, electric bikes may seem like a threat to you, so some trails have a ban on E-bikes. This is similar to a snowboarding ban imposed by ski resorts in the 80s.
Electric bikes are still at an early stage of their development. In the end, snowboarding became very popular, and “Burton” company helped snowboards gain mass recognition by launching a viral campaign aimed at resorts that banned them.
Nowadays only a couple of ski resorts are for skiing only, and you can freely snowboard almost everywhere. It seems to me that the same fate awaits E-bikes.
As soon as people start to better understand and appreciate this technology, it will cease to seem dangerous to them. Frankly, I really like traditional bikes, and I still use one of them for “quiet and relaxing” rides.
To be completely honest, for the most part I ride my traditional bike on rainy or snowy days, or when I have to park my bike outside, in areas with a high crime rate. However, I recently got a bike insurance (“Spoke Insurance” and “Velosurance” are offering it in almost all states and it covers electric bicycles) and now I feel much more confident.
Thus, electric bikes have the following disadvantages: they are heavier, a bit harder to maintain (due to additional parts) and almost always more expensive than traditional models.
Categories and price ranges of E-bikes
Having written and published more than 300 reviews on electric bicycles, I can identify the following main areas of their use:
- cargo transportation
- relaxing trips
- riding on trails and bike paths
- mountain biking
- sand and snow (fat bikes)
I think today on market there are bicycles for any occasion. Some of them have very small wheels and are suitable for transportation by train and bus (or even airplanes, if the battery power is no more than 300 watt-hour), while other models are more like mopeds or motorcycles with a power reserve of over 160 kilometers and regenerative braking.
As for traditional electric bicycles, their prices vary widely and may shock you at first.
The lower limit is about 1.000 USD, but the recent crowdfunding campaign has attracted a lot of attention, offering a basic model for $ 700 (500 per bike + 200 for delivery).
In my opinion you should not spend you time on models cheaper than $ 1.500. I know too many dissatisfied customers who purchased a bike on the Internet and now cannot repair the throttle mechanism or find a replacement battery, because the standard turned out to be of poor quality.
In some cases, bad batteries, which lacked an electronic control system to prevent overload, even caused a fire after damage.
The price of electric bikes of the highest echelon can exceed 50 thousand dollars, but this is almost a work of art.
For about 4.000 USD, you will receive a high-quality product of German engineering that meets all European standards with a 2-year warranty and comprehensive support. Such bikes are distinguished by intuitive controls and a pleasant appearance, as well as integrated lights, wings and other accessories.
The price of bicycles in this class can go up to 7.000 USD, for bikes with professional grade components. Although this price may shock some people, it is not far from traditional professional bikes models.
Now let’s go back to the middle class and consider prices in more detail. The first electric bike cost me $ 2500 and only in the first year of use I saved $ 2,000 on parking alone (I worked in downtown Austin, Texas, where parking costs a lot).
In comment section on YouTube, I constantly see people who are upset about the high cost of electric bikes and claim that even a used car will be cheaper. It seems to me that they do not realize the high cost of car maintenance and repair costs.
This includes oil change, insurance, licensing and parking. Cars and electric bicycles are not investments, but tools or toys that drop in price as they are used. Their real value is highly dependent on the environment and the task, or the preferences of the owner.
For example, if you live near the highway, and drive 30 km every day to work, an electric bicycle will not be very convenient. In this case, you should think about renting a house closer to you workplace and the subsequent purchase of an electric bike.
Let us set aside the change in one’s own way of life and consider a hypothetical example. Let’s forget about the cost of maintenance and compare a new car for 3 thousand dollars with an electric bike for the same price.
Let’s say a gallon of fuel (3.7 liters) costs 2 USD, and an electric bike travels 30 kilometers on one charge, which will cost you $ 0.15 to recharge (even if you use electricity tariffs in Hawaii, where one kilowatt costs 0, 37 dollars).
Suppose a car travels 50 kilometers on one gallon, which costs $ 2, and since a bike can travel 30 kilometers in less than 0.15 USD, it costs much less, doesn’t it? But that is not all. A good battery costs from 500 to 800 dollars and can withstand 1000+ charges.
Let’s treat this as the cost of fuel, so by dividing 500$ into 1000 charges, we get $ 0.50. Add to this the cost of one charge ($ 0.15) and the result will be $ 0.65.
In fact, electric bikes are about three times cheaper than cars, based on current fuel prices. In addition to lower maintenance costs, they do not pollute the environment and are good for you health.
Electric bicycles are an amazing thing, just like cars, but even when autonomous electric cars will be able to reduce pollution and maintenance costs, bicycles will still retain their social significance and positive effects on health.
It is like comparing a mechanical typewriter, where you have to press hard on keys, with a modern laptop, which is much easier and more convenient to work with. You can even save the results of you work in digital form.
Some people may say that there will always be a place in their hearts for good old typewriters with their constant danger of typos. For both electric and traditional bicycles there is no such problem. We can all ride together and enjoy it.
How much distance can you travel on a single charge?
A good rule in this case is to divide the number of watt-hours by 20. Batteries for electric bikes have voltage and capacity in ampere hours. The average American battery has a voltage of 36 volts, a capacity of 10 ampere-hour and a power of 360 watt-hour.
Dividing 360 by 20, we get 18 miles (28 km.). Considering the difference between electric bicycles with belt or chain drive and bikes with pedal assist, these 18 miles are the lower limit.
For example, the effectiveness of electric bicycle is significantly increased when riding on the lower gear of the rear cassette. It’s easier for you to shift into a low gear (instead of getting up and pedaling harder) when climbing a hill. The same goes for the drive.
I have seen people riding more than 80 kilometers on a single charge of a 360 watt-hour battery, taking advantage of the low level of support (equal to half the rider’s pedaling strength). For me, this is just amazing.
How fast are E-bikes?
The speed of most cheap electric bikes does not exceed 30 kilometers per hour. Of course, you can always pedal faster or accelerate on the descents, but you maximum speed is still limited by the laws that allow classifying this vehicle as a “bicycle”.
After recently reached compromises, it was decided that a pedal-assisted electric bike can accelerate to 45 kilometers per hour, but only when its owner is constantly pedaling. In Europe, there is a similar class of electric bicycles, and they are very popular as a replacement for cars.
Do not forget that as the speed increases, the efficiency of the rider decreases greatly due to air resistance. In short, when you reach 25 kilometers per hour on an electric bike air resistance begins to decrease the range available to you, so the speed has a high price! More speed – less travel distance.
Can I repair the electric bike myself, or is it better to contact a specialist?
When it comes to electric bicycles, I always advice people to buy them in stores near you. Since in this case the bike will be assembled correctly and accordingly to customers preferences.
Workers of many stores, selling both traditional and electric bicycles, told me that people use electric bicycles 10 times more often. This figure is based on customer feedback and the amount of maintenance work they perform.
People ride electric bikes more often, farther and faster! Some part of the service can be performed by the user, but when it comes to batteries and computer systems, everything becomes much more complicated.
Electric bikes combine mechanical systems with software and electronic components. In my opinion, maintaining electric bike in a perfect working condition requires some knowledge and proper tools.
What E-bike to buy?
You can buy any, it does not matter, as long as the price range of an E-bike is approximately 1000 US dollars. It goes down to you preferences, type of bicycle and your style of riding.
Electric bicycles seem to me an amazing invention, because they complement the human body and mind, connecting us with other people.
Before you choose a bike, pay attention to how you plan to use it. First of all, you need to be patient and do not rush immediately to purchase the first model you see. Do you research.
Throttle and pedal assist
All electric bicycles have two main control methods: throttle and pedal assist. When using the second option, the torque sensor monitors rotation of pedals in order to control the voltage, which varies according to speed. Such system is the most popular and easiest to use.
As for throttle control, pedaling is completely unnecessary. It is necessary to rotate them once (in order to start moving) and then just simply hold the gas, keeping the speed and power under constant control. The sensation is the same as riding a scooter or a small motorcycle.
There are options that can work in two modes at once: both throttle control and pedal-assist.
Price of E-bikes
These products have a wide price range that starts from 300 USD and goes all the way up to approximately 7,000 USD. The greater the power of the bike (battery), the more expensive it will be. The main thing is to decide what exactly do you want from you bicycle, where it will be used and how often. However, i strongly advice against purchasing anything below 700 – 1000 USD.