Electric Bikes Buyers Guide

There might be super fast cars and self-driving cars, but nothing matches the fun of riding a good old bicycle. Taking the bicycle up one level came the bicycles with gear and other add-ons. Now there is one other trend that is popular in the bicycle segment and that is the electric bike.

Here is a comprehensive guide that will help you learn all the basic information you might need to know about electric bikes. Therefore, if you plan to buy one any time soon or if you simply would like to know about them, this is a good place to start.

What is an electric bike?

When you use electrical energy to reduce your efforts and the amount of energy you spend pedaling your bikes, then it is what an electric bike is all about. There is an electric motor used to power the bike so that the rider doesn’t have to pedal all the way. As always, this one is an application of technology to reduce human efforts. While there is an electric motor like the one you would find on an electric motorcycle, the electric bike can still be used in the manual pedaling mode.

A brief history behind the electric bikes

The concept of using an electric motor powered bicycle has been doing the rounds since the 1890s. A patent was filed by Ogden Bolton Jr. in the year 1895 for a ‘battery powered bicycle’ design.

There have been several developments in the field from thereon. There was a ‘double electric motor’ powered bicycle, rear-wheel drive bike, the addition of torque sensors and other features. The production and commercialization of electric bikes increased in the 1990s.

How does an electric bike work?

To know how an electric bike works you should know the basic parts that constitute an electric bike. Any e-bike comes with a motor, a battery that powers the motor and a drivetrain for torque. The positioning and functionality of the motor could vary from one bike to another. The capacity of the battery is also a factor that differs. The battery powers the motor and the drivetrain delivers the torque essential to get the wheels moving.

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How is an electric bike different from an ordinary bike?

Other than the evident difference that you would find a motor and a battery on an electric bike there are other design differences between an e-bike and a traditional bike. The frame and brakes on the electric bikes are a little different from what you find on a conventional bike. The weight of the bike influences the power that the motor would need to push the bike. Also with the added weight of the battery and the motor, it doesn’t make sense to have a heavy frame. Therefore most of the electric bikes are made of light materials like some alloy of aluminum. This brings down the overall weight of the bike and provides a better battery life as well.

The other major difference could be in the use of regenerative braking as found on some e-bike variants. This means that if you choose to manually pedal the bicycle then you would be able to charge the battery with your pedaling. Though the speed of charging could be slow, you would be able to find this feature useful on those days when your bike battery is about to die.

In an electric bike, the attainable speed is slightly higher and these depend on the motor used. The local laws governing the speed limit on bikes also have a role to play. Therefore these bikes are designed to be able to handle different speeds consistently and to maintain stability. The spokes on the e-bikes are stronger than the ones on the conventional bikes.

What are the benefits of an electric bike?

It is because of the plethora of benefits that e-bikes offer that these have become so popular. There are various types of e-bikes available in different parts of the world with various applications of the e-bikes. These are designed to tackle different road conditions.

      • Owning an electric bike means that there is always back up when you become exhausted and can pedal no more. This thought motivates several riders to use bikes more often even for long distance rides.
      • Electric bikes can be faster than conventional ones. You would, therefore, be able to get to your destination on time.
      • The assistance offered in pedaling on the electric bikes makes them comfortable to ride even on hard terrain. Those roads that you once considered formidable, would be easy to cross when you own an e-bike.
      • E-bikes are to be eco-friendly alternatives to the combustible fuel powered automobile options. Therefore these are gentle on the environment.
      • With the speed being better than a normal bike but the fuel expenses eliminated, you would be able to save money on your daily commute.

Is it easy to maintain one?

Most who have never owned an e-bike before, have this one question looming on their minds – ‘what kind of care does an e-bike need?’ With an ordinary bike, all you have to do is to learn how to inflate the tires and you are good to go. But that is not the case with electric bikes. There are all those crucial parts that you should know about. There are all the steps that should be followed in taking care of the bike. If you are worried about how to maintain an electric bike, know that it is a low maintenance option. Here are some of the basic steps you should follow to keep your e-bike running in its best condition-

      • Care should be taken while cleaning an e-bike. Strong jet spray washes might not be good for e-bikes with all their electrical components. This could also lead to damage to the internal components if the pressure of the water jet washes off the waterproof sealing.
      • Ensure that you clean your electric bike after every ride. This prevents dust and debris from hampering the performance of the components.
      • Periodic checking of the lubrication is required. This helps you prevent unwanted friction in the bike which can put additional strain on the motor and the battery in turn.
      • Direct exposure to extreme weather elements can be bad for your bike and its components.
      • Perform regular maintenance or servicing of the e-bikes by getting it thoroughly evaluated by a professional. This helps prevent failures and breakdowns by identifying any issues at an early stage.

What are the different styles of electric bikes in the market?

When you want to buy an e-bike you should first know about the different styles available based on the design and application. This will help you choose the style that suits your requirements.

      • The city bikes-

The urban electric bikes are designed for the city commuters. With urban bikes, it is mostly about comfort. The road conditions that these bikes have to tackle are mostly good. There are better speed controls provided for the city road conditions. There is also superior overall stability so as to ensure the safety of the rider. Improved torque and better acceleration are the distinguishing features of the city bikes.

      • Folding city bikes

Taking novelty seriously e-bike designers have also created folding e-bikes. Lack of parking space doesn’t have to be an excuse anymore. These bikes are compact and easy to ride. The overall build is smaller than that of the other types of e-bikes. The striking difference is in the design. You can easily fold the bike and tuck it away in a corner when you are not using it. So you do not have to worry about securing your bike in a public place. The weight of the bike is also kept as light as possible to make it easy to carry it.

There are some that come with an easy trolley like movement option so as to transport the bike when it is folded. These are great to carry when you are on your vacation. You would simply be able to carry your local means of transport in your hand.

      • Mountain bike

Electric mountain bikes are rugged versions of the e-bikes designed with a solid build for the hilly terrains. Being heavier than the conventional mountain bikes the electric mountain bikes offer a sturdy ride. There are both front suspension models and full suspension variants available. These bikes feature higher power motors to provide a better push on the rough terrains. There are a few that come with crank drive engines and these are known to be more efficient on a mountain road. For ensuring the absolute safety of the rider most of the top-rated electric mountain bikes come with disc brakes. The frame is balanced to give a rigid build with subtle flexibility for smoother rides. The wheels come with better shock absorption so that the rider doesn’t feel the impact at every hurdle.

      • Hybrid bikes

For those who are looking for a versatile choice, the electric hybrid bikes are great choices. These are built sturdy but are lighter than mountain bikes. These can be used both for city commutes and for mountain rides. Some riders even build their own electric hybrid bike with DIY electric bike kit integrated on a high-performance hybrid bike. You can use these bikes on city roads as well as bike trails.

What should you look for when you buy an electric bike?

Here are a few points to keep in mind when you choose a suitable e-bike –

      • The style you choose determines the riding comfort. Your seating position and the overall length and weight of the cycle also vary accordingly.
      • You should also look for the maximum allowed weight of the rider on the bike.
      • E-bikes could also belong to class one, class two and class three. The maximum speeds reachable with the bike can be one of the distinguishable features to consider.
      • There are different types of motors and batteries used in e-bikes. Besides the type of motor used its power and consistency should also be taken into account.
      • Finally, ensure that you choose the right-sized bike frame. You should also learn how to assemble your bike and carry out small repairs. This will help you carry out maintenance checks on the bike regularly.  

Differences based on the motor type

The type of motor used is one of the deciding factors while buying an electric bike. Various elements of the performance change based on the motor type included in the bike. The positioning of the motors is one thing that you should understand to know what each of these motors does.

Hub drive motors come with a sensor that senses your pedaling style. The two main types of hub motors are geared hub and direct drive motors. As the name indicates, there are gears in the geared hub motors and these are popular mainly due to their battery efficiency. A heavier option is the direct drive hub motor which can be more powerful than the geared variant. The momentum maintenance ability is also good with this type of hub motor. For hilly rides geared hub motors are more comfortable and for the smoother terrains the direct drive motors do the job well.

Hub motors could be positioned either at the rear wheel or the front wheel. Rear hub motors often feel more natural to ride because the bike is propelled forward by spinning the rear wheel. On the other hand, the front hub motor creates a pull like an effect to move the bike forward. Some riders might take some time getting used to the front hub motor. But if you are riding in unexpected conditions like say a snowy road, then a front hub motor might work really well.

      • Mid drive motor

The hub motor is positioned at the wheel. The mid-drive motor is positioned at the center of the bike, on the frame. Here it is not the wheels that receive the motor’s power, but the drivetrain directly. Like rear wheel placed hub motor, this one offers a smooth ride that feels natural. In the mid drive motor, the various parameters like the RPM change based on the gear level that the rider chooses. Therefore, even on a steep road or a difficult terrain, the mid drive motor feels less sticky and more streamlined. All of these benefits come along with the uniformity in weight distribution in this system. Therefore, even the new riders would be able to experience the stable ride that these motors offer. It makes the rider feel more in control of the bike.

      • Friction drive motors

There is a roller wheel in the design of the friction drive motor. There is power transmitted from these roller wheels, via friction, to the wheels of the bike. This type of motor is placed on the top of the frame. These are easy to install and this makes them popular among those looking for a simple electrical bike upgrade. These motors do not work well during the rainy weathers where the friction comes down. Besides that, these motors are visibly placed at the top of the frame which can hamper the looks of your bike.

Differences in battery types

The battery of an e-bike which can weigh around 7 to 10 lbs can be placed in different locations. The capacity of the battery is another factor to study. Electric bikes feature a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The watt-hour rating of the battery changes from one bike to another. This indicates the power of the battery.

The mounting style of the batteries could be down tube mount or rack mount. The former is the design where the battery is mounted on the down tube so as to offer a better weight distribution. This gives good improvement in the handling of the bike. Rack mounted batteries are those that are mounted on a rack placed in the rear side of the bike. As the whole weight is placed at the rear wheel, which can slightly alter the stability of the bike. To tackle this there are frame mounted batteries. These allow users to make use of the rack space to actually install a storage rack or stand.

When you have chosen the right power battery and suitable mounting style for your ride, you can then look into the charging time required. This again depends on the battery power. You would also be able to have additional batteries in some of the e-bike systems. Therefore, the combined, extended battery life can be useful during long rides. Finally, there are also e-bikes that feature removable batteries.

In terms of the actual components of the battery, there is sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries and lithium-ion batteries. If you do not mind taking up extra care for maintenance and if you can bear with a bulky battery then SLA batteries are cheaper options. For long life and lightweight design, the Li-ion batteries are preferred.

Should you go for pedal assist or throttle?

Pedal assist bikes are those where the rider would have to pedal the bike to assist the normal functioning of the motor. The motor simply magnifies the effects or the force exerted by the pedaling. This means that with less pedaling efforts you would be able to reach greater speeds.

Throttle e-bike is the fully electrical riding style. This is where the user doesn’t have to pedal at all while riding. The motor takes care of the wheel rotation without additional efforts from the user. In some countries, this type of e-bike is not permitted. Finally, there is also the balanced type of e-bike where the rider has to pedal and the motor assists the rider to reach higher speeds than normal pedal-assist bikes.

How do you take care of the charging needs of the bike?

With all these types of e-bikes to choose from you can easily find the one that you would love to ride every single day. The process of charging the battery of the e-bike is very simple. Make sure that you have an electrical outlet in the area where you park your bike. The battery capacity, quality of battery and other factors determine the charging time. The life of the battery, the mileage provided, also depend on these factors.

What budget should you set aside if you plan to buy an electric bike?

There is a huge difference between electric bikes and conventional bikes on the price point. Electric bikes, even the entry-level variants, are more expensive than most of the conventional bikes. Electric bikes, some of the bestselling entry-level variants, are available for $1000. There are better-rated bikes with several cool features sold for thousands of dollars. If you are looking for an affordable option to own an e-bike you can also build one yourself. Now that you know about the different battery and motor configurations you would be able to pick the right combination.

Features that are good to have

Besides, the above-mentioned essentials in an e-bike here are some of the features which are handy –

      • Different levels in pedal assist- this helps you choose the maximum speed settings possible
      • Racks for storage come mounted in a few popular electric bikes. You can easily buy one and fix it yourself but the inbuilt racks come coordinated in their style and have a cleaner look.
      • There are some electric bikes that come with lights included in the design. With the lights installed you would be able to ride your bike at all times of the day and night as well.
      • Some e-bikes come with the option to view and control the riding modes and the assist modes through a control unit installed on the handlebar.

Do not be overwhelmed looking at the plenty of choices available in the market. Each of these configurations in e-bikes come with their own set of perks and limitations. The weightage you give for each of these parameters helps you pick the best electric bike.

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James Dawson

After learning how to ride a bicycle much later than all the other kids, James Dawson hasn't looked back. The author now actively rides a bicycle as a part of the community cycling group and competes regularly in local competitions. Aside from that, he loves technology and always keeps up to date with the latest cycling tech.