Ebikes have become increasingly popular in North America and Western Europe, where amazing new designs and technologies are making their appearance. Experts project that the number of ebikes in use today will double in less than 5 years. However, choosing an electric bike should not be a challenge. Decide what you will be using it for before you begin searching for your ideal ebike.
What to Consider When Choosing an Electric Bike
Designers have produced highly efficient and innovative ebikes that provide a healthy, fun, cost-effective and eco-friendly mode of transportation.
This video gives a good overview of electric bike technology:
Benefits of an Electric Bike
Being able to use an electric bike can benefit you in a ton of ways. Think of the many times you need to visit the grocery store, run errands or even your daily commute to work. An ebike can turn your trips into fun rides. Bikers from teenagers to elderly folk can now enjoy longer rides across varied terrain for pennies’ worth of electrical power.
Let’s consider some of the benefits you can enjoy when riding an ebike:
- Quiet operation
- Ecologically friendly
- Climb hills easily
- Resist headwinds
- Ride for long distances without tiring
- Easily transport children, shopping items etc.
- Extra power eliminates sweating
- Carry extra weight more easily (laptop, lunch, sports gear etc.)
- Keep up when cycling with a fitter companion
- Travel further with minimal effort
- Yes, you can pull a trailer!
- Only cheap, basic maintenance is necessary
- You can recharge the battery in a few hours
- Much cheaper to use than an automobile
- You can still get your exercise by pedaling – in return, you’ll enjoy a longer battery life. The more you pedal, the longer your battery power will last.
Legal Requirements for Ebikes
Depending on your age and location, you might require a license and a helmet to operate an ebike; consult your local authorities to be sure. You can also find some information on electric bicycle laws on this page.
Riding Your Ebike: Turning Every Ride Into an Adventure!
Types of Electric Bicycle
Ebikes fall into 3 basic types or classes, as follows:
Class 1: Pedal-Assist (“pedelec”)
Also called a “pedelec“, the pedal-assist is the most common type of ebike. You need to pedal the bike as you would a conventional bicycle in order to activate the motor. However, once the motor senses that you’re pedaling, it kicks in and increases the power to the rear wheel, greatly aiding your pedaling effort.
As a consequence, you’ll be able to pedal with far less effort than you normally would have, even in high gears. This allows you to travel at higher speeds and climb effortlessly over steep hills. You can control the amount of assistance you desire by using the settings.
In the USA, this ebike type has a maximum speed of around 20 mph. You may legally use a Class 1 ebike on most roads and paths where they permit regular bikes.
A pedal-assist ebike may or may not also have a throttle.
Class 2: Throttle Only
Similarly to a scooter or motorcycle, a “throttle” ebike is propelled by a throttle-operated motor; no additional pedaling is required from the rider to make it run. When you need extra power, just crank the throttle and off you go. Remember, the less you pedal, the longer your battery will take to run out of power.
Most ebikes in this class can provide a variable amount of power, depending on how far you push the throttle. The maximum speed is approximately 20 mph.
Class 3: Speed-Pedal-Assist (Speed pedelec).
This ebike class has a similar design to the standard pedelec but allows for a top speed of approximately 28 mph.
For commuters, a pedal-assist ebike would be the best ebike type for someone commuting by bike.
How to Choose an Ebike Motor
Ebike motor technology has developed rapidly over the last few years. The consensus is that only two basic types of motor are now worth considering: rear-hub drive and mid-drive motors.
There are 2 types of rear-hub-drive motors:
- Geared Hub: These are best for going up steep hills and carrying heavy loads. However, they also work well for other applications such as fun riding, exercise and commuting. The geared-hub motor can pedal efficiently if the battery should run out of power.
- Direct Drive: Direct-drive ebikes work best for flat, high-speed commutes, are good for most hill climbing (not steep hills) and great for transportation, exercise and enjoyment.
A drawback of rear-hub-drive motors is that the position of the motor in the rear wheel creates an uneven distribution of weight. This might make it tricky to handle in certain situations, such as negotiating tight curves, corners etc.
These are the most efficient motors and typically give the longest range. They are an excellent choice for all purposes: speed, distance, climbing hills, exercise, commuting and fun.
Mid-drive motors weigh less than rear-hub-drives and make for much easier ebike handling, thanks to their central position. They are well worth the extra cost.
An ebike with a mid-drive motor will always be a pedelec, since the rider activates the motor by pedaling.
An electric bicycle obviously needs to have some source of power. This is provided by a rechargeable battery, usually lithium ion, that is enclosed in a case. As technology advances, these batteries are likely to become smaller, lighter and more powerful.
Because a battery’s weight is a significant factor in ebikes, battery size and placement are important points to consider. Ideally, the battery should be as light as possible, yet still provide a substantial traveling distance on a single charge.
Two common battery configurations are rack-mount batteries and down-tube batteries.
An ebike can have a battery mounted on a rack at the rear of the bicycle, usually above the rear wheel. These racks can double as a storage space for baskets and other transport items.
With the battery weight being situated quite high off the ground, it can make the bike more cumbersome to move by hand. It can also affect handling when cornering. However, the rack provides a place to mount a battery on most frame designs.
The most common mounting location used on production ebikes is on the frame’s down-tube, which extends from the front of the bike to the crank area. Positioning the battery here puts its weight low on the bike, which makes it easier to handle. It also makes it easier to wire with a center-drive system because the battery is located directly in front of the motor.
A down-tube battery can be mounted on top of an ovalized tube or standard round tube. It can also be integrated into an over-sized tube.
Choosing an Electric Bicycle That’s Right for You
The best way to choose an ebike that’s best for your particular needs is to first imagine that you’re shopping for a regular bike. Will you use it for commuting, cruising, off-road riding? Once you’ve decided what category of bike is most suitable for you, the rest should easily fall into place.
Following are the 3 most common bicycle categories, along with their features and benefits, to help you choose the category that suits you best:
If you want to go far and get there quickly, this could be the category for you. These speedy bikes are ideal for getting around town, commuting to work or getting some great exercise without over-exerting yourself. They typically have the longest range, with some of them able to reach 28 mph.
Many commuter models come with a rack for carrying your shopping items, laptop or other goods. Some models even have a lighting system integrated into the bike’s electrical system.
This category is for the recreational rider who enjoys comfort and control. You’ll be sitting with an upright posture on a super-comfy saddle, enjoying the sights as you casually ride along. It’s an ideal choice for getting some exercise or taking a quick trip to the store.
There are two frame styles in this category: the “step-through” frame and the traditional, diamond-shaped frame. The step-through design makes it very easy to get on and off the bike, as there’s no need to lift your leg high. It would be an ideal choice for someone with a handicap who would find it difficult to negotiate a diamond-shaped frame.
This category is for off-road riding on trails. A mountain ebike will take you a longer distance in less time and with less effort than a regular bicycle. These off-road ebikes climb hills like a mountain goat. They make descending even more thrilling, thanks to the acceleration you can get when you pedal.
With the battery and motor located low and to the center of the bike you will have more control and stability – and more fun – than ever.
Folding Electric Bikes
Folding ebikes are becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason. It’s difficult to beat the convenience of having a bike that can fold down to the size of a suitcase but can still provide a 20-mile commute.
Most folding ebikes cut off battery-powered assistance at 20 mph. This puts them into the Class 1 category in the US.
The majority of folding electric bikes use a hub motor. One of the main reasons hub motors are often used on ebikes is because they are small and don’t take up much space on the bike. The hub motor can be front or rear; however, a rear hub motor will allow the bike to steer more naturally than a bike with a front hub motor.
When you’re shopping for a foldable electric bike, it’s important to consider the wheel size. That dictates the size that the bike can fold down to and also the terrain it’s suitable to be used on.
Most folding ebikes use a 20-inch wheel, which allows them to compact down to a fairly condensed size that you can take onto a train or fit into your trunk. For an even smaller folded size, you can get a bike with 16-inch wheels.
If you’d like to enjoy more of that “standard bike” feel, some folding ebikes do use full-size, 700c road wheels. They deliver a smoother ride and roll more easily over bumps and dips in the road. However, they will not provide the compactness of a regular folding bike.
See our ebike video series: Choosing an Electric Bike