What You Need to Know About E-Bikes
Electric bikes, also called e-bikes, are still bicycles. You will still have to pedal, unless you get a model that doubles as a scooter. The motor is there to help you get speed that you can’t get on your own, or that would be difficult to maintain on your own. It’s great for older riders, those with disabilities or injuries, and commuters that don’t want to arrive at work a sweaty mess.
You can find electric bikes in every type of bike. Mountain bikes, trail riding bikes, road cycles, fitness bikes – they all have an electric version. But among all these electric bikes, there are two main options:
You can choose a crank-driven electric bike, which means that the motor is in the pedal crank. Or you can choose a hub crank electric bike, which means the motor is in the rear wheel. With either option, you can typically get up to speeds of about 20 miles per hour – though we did review one option that claims to get up to 25!
These bikes use batteries to power the motor, and the batteries can usually last somewhere between 30 and 80 miles on a single charge. How long you can ride the electric bike with the motor assist really depends on how fast you are going and whether you are riding continuously, or are stopping and starting a lot.
The good news is that most e-bikes can still be pedaled like a regular bike after the battery dies. So if you happen to run out of charge on the road, you can just bike like usual back home. In fact, there are even conversion kits that turn a “regular” bike into an electric bike.
The final thing to note about electric bikes is that they aren’t cheap items. The most affordable options will run nearly $1,000, with few falling below that price range. High end electric bikes can cost up to $10,000. And don’t think you’ll save money converting your bike into an electric model. The conversion kit costs about the same as a low-end electric bike.
Learn about the best electric bike conversion kit here.
Why Ride an Electric Bike?
So now that you understand exactly what electric bikes can offer, why are these bikes growing in popularity so quickly? Here are a few reasons to ride an electric bike:
- You’ll be motivated to ride more often. A survey of electric bike riders in the U.S. showed that owning this type of bike dramatically increases the number of times riders got out on their bike per week, compared to how often they rode before they had an electric bike. This is a great way to enjoy your favorite hobby without wearing out your legs or putting strain on your knees. It also helps you take advantage of much longer rides. If you are used to giving out at around five or 10 miles, get ready to try much longer distances with ease.
- You can use electric bikes for quick daily errands. If you want to avoid using a car for quick errands around town, electric bikes are a great option, even if you aren’t that athletic. You can carry cargo or even bring kids along in the proper seat attachments. You won’t be all sweaty when you go about your errands, and you won’t have to pay for gasoline just to run a few errands. A survey showed that people with e-bikes have been able to replace 30% of their errands with biking, that they used to do by driving.
- Get some exercise! Even with the pedal assist through the motor of the electric bike, you are still getting some exercise. You do still have to pedal, as well as balance the bike. It’s a great way to get some fresh air and sunshine, and the act of pedaling helps to boost cardiovascular health. It’s a good way to “trick” yourself into getting some exercise, because it doesn’t really feel like working out. And even those who are very fit can still burn calories on an electric bike.
- Take advantage of newly improved technology. The latest electric bikes on the market are already much better than the very first e-bikes that were ever introduced. Batteries can now reach nearly 100 miles on a single charge in many cases, if you use the motor on the lowest setting.
- There are already opportunities to race electric bikes in Europe. If you are a bike racing enthusiast and want to get into this sport from the ground floor, you have a great opportunity.
Overall, you can expect that the future of electric bikes is bright.
Safety on Electric Bikes
Because e-bikes are so new, there are still not a lot of laws surrounding their use. This means that safety is often up to the rider to determine. So, here are a few safety tips to consider when riding an e-bike:
- Always wear a helmet when on a moving vehicle. Be sure to check out the laws in your area. Some places require that anyone under 18 wear a helmet when using anything motorized. Look for a helmet that offers protection all the way around your head, and that will help keep the sun out of your eyes.
- Use the safety features the bike has to offer. Does the bike have lights? Turn them on when the sun starts going down. Does the bike have a bell or horn? Use it to alert drivers and walkers to your presence. If the bike doesn’t have lights, don’t rely on those little wheel reflectors to keep you safe. Be sure you’re wearing reflective clothing as well.
- Don’t ride against the traffic. There aren’t specific laws in place about e-bikes in most places, but most e-bike riders follow the laws for bikes. This means riding in the correct bike lane, with the traffic, not against it, and staying off the sidewalks.
- Be sure your tires are always inflated to the proper level. This helps your battery get the best range, and also keeps you in control of your bike. If you need to make a quick dodge of a car or a pedestrian, having tires at the right air pressure will allow you to keep control of the bike.
- Always assume anyone in a car is out to get you. As a bike rider, you have to ride defensively. Of course, drivers on the road aren’t really trying to kill you (we hope!). But acting as though they will never treat you as a fellow driver on the road will keep you alive. Just assume that drivers will try to cut you off, will get too close, and will not be friendly.
- Add a mirror to your bike if you ride in traffic frequently. This helps you keep an eye on what’s happening behind you so that you can ride safely. Your helmet may make it hard to see when you glance over your shoulder, so a mirror can be a vital piece of safety equipment.
- Be sure to make eye contact with drivers, even acknowledge them with a wave, when you can. Intersections are a great place to do this. Why? Because it helps you know that the driver saw you. Many accidents happen when bikers thing a driver saw them, and the driver never did. Be sure that you really know that you’ve been seen.
- Obey traffic laws and traffic signs. Use hand or arm signals to let drivers know when you are about to turn. Stop at lights and signs, just as if you were driving a car. Give pedestrians the right of way. In an e-bike, you may even want to give people on standard bikes the right of way. Be sure that you are always riding in single file, and that you are well aware of any local laws that pertain to e-bikes in your area. For example, in some parts of California, anyone under 16 may not operate an e-bike on a public roadway.
How to Shop for the Best Electric Bike for You
The first thing to note about buying an electric bike is that they aren’t really built for speed. These bikes are made to help you accelerate to around 15 to 20 miles per hour, max, and then allow you to comfortably maintain this speed. If you’re looking for something that feels like a daring ride on the wild side, consider buying something different.
That being said, if you are invested in buying an electric bike, here are the things you’ll want to consider.
- Motor Placement: The hub-mounted motor is a more affordable option, and also tends to be quieter. However, this is not the most powerful option, and won’t handle hills or uneven terrain easily. A frame-mounted motor, or the drive-mounted motor, is much better for bike stability and power. This latter type of motor is also more natural feeling as you pedal.
- Battery: The battery is the second very important part of an electric bike. It’s always a balance between how heavy the bike is with the battery on it, and how powerful the battery can be. The more powerful your battery – meaning, the farther it will go on a single charge, the more power it will supply the motor, and the faster it will charge between uses – the heavier it will be. Lithium ion batteries are typically the most popular type, which offer about 800 charges total before the battery will need to be replaced. Batteries can give anywhere from 25 to 75 miles of runtime between charges, so be sure to look closely at this spec when purchasing your bike.
- Brakes: Be sure to look into the type of brakes that come with your electric bike. Most of the top models come with hydraulic disc brakes, which do add weight to the bike, but are also important for adding stopping power to a fast-moving vehicle.
- Support: How much support does the electric motor offer to your pedaling? The best electric bikes offer up to 300% support, while entry-level electric bikes offer around 225% support to your pedaling.
- Tires: Most electric bikes have thicker tires, around 32mm, to handle the speed of the bike while maintaining stability. This is important for keeping the bike on the road with the heavier components and the speed making the bike a little more difficult to control.
Which Bike Will You Choose?
Choosing the right e-bike for you all comes down to what kind of riding you want to do, and what features matter the most to you.
Do you want to commute around town, to and from work? A portable, foldable e-bike may be right for you.
Do you want to do errands and enjoy the ride? Something with storage and a mid-range battery may be perfect for your needs.
Do you want to really enjoy the open road and do lots of riding? You’ll want the longest battery range you can get.
With so many options out there, it can be tough to choose just one! These eight electric bikes are the best on the market today, so be sure to check them out. It’s always a great idea to look at a bike in person before you buy, just to be sure you are comfortable and can easily use your favorite choice.