The real advantages of e-bikes are climbing efficiency, wind resistance, and better range. If you experience knee pain or exercise induced asthma for example, electric bikes can breathe new life into the sport of cycling. They might convince your (girl)friend, wife, kids or parents to join you for a ride, or they might enable you to arrive at work feeling fresh. Electric bicycles offer the same great benefits as traditional bicycles, including cost efficiency, health benefits and connection to a community.
Now that we know why we should get one, it’s time to choose the right one! There is certainly a wide selection, there are more than a thousand different models from almost fifty brands, and that’s only the European market!
Electric bikes are designed for different people and different purposes. It’s up to you to decide what is most important to you, what is not important at all, and then communicate that to the retailer. There are so many models, so first you should figure out where you’re going to be riding your e-bike most frequently. E-bikes are geared toward different kinds of activities, such as cargo hauling, relaxed cruising, trail riding, mountain biking, downhill, child transportation, road biking, sand and snow (fat tire) riding, traveling and urban commuting. The question you need to ask yourself before entering the store is what your preferred playground is going to be.
2. Kind of drive
There are two mains types of electric bike. The most common is what has come to be called a “pedelec”. This type of system monitors the rider’s pedaling and automatically adds a certain amount of motor assistance – usually depending upon rate, force and speed. In most countries, the output of the motor is regulated and limited to 250 W, and the maximum speed up to 25 km/h. When you reach this speed, the motor automatically switches off. There are also fast high-performance e-bikes that can achieve a speed around 45 k/h, but the users need to have a special driver’s license, plates, and insurance. The regulations differ in every country, so it’s important to ask in your local shop for details. Then there’s the other type called a ‘twist-n-go’. This is where a switch is used by the rider to trigger the assistance from the motor.
3. Motor mount
When it comes to motors, there are two main types. Either it’s mounted in one of the wheels (hub motor assist) or it’s mounted at the crank and pedal area (crank motor assist), at the bottom of the frame. That means the electronic controls can include a sensor that detects how hard you’re pedaling and can measure out the assistance accordingly. Typically, crank assisted bikes have a reputation for doing well on steep hills, but can be a little on the noisy side depending upon the brand and type. Hub motors tend to be very quiet, but often don’t handle hills as well as crank assist systems. Generally, you should look for a brand with a good reputation, such as Bosch, Yamaha, Shimano or 8fun.
Lithium-ion batteries are everywhere, so it’s no surprise to find them powering e-bikes. More expensive e-bikes have higher-tech batteries that are lighter, charge quickly, and last longer. Batteries degrade over time, holding less charge as they age. The quality of the battery makes a difference, so look for a reputably named battery manufacturer such as Sony, Samsung or Panasonic, and make sure the warranty covers the battery for at least two years. Lithium-ion batteries are typically said to last 800 full charge cycles. That’s about three years of weekday commuting. They survive longer with careful use, so you should get at least 2,000 half-charge cycles. Those are pessimistic estimates though, in practice, a battery life of several years is quite easily achievable. A full charge typically takes between two and a half to six hours, depending on the manufacturer, battery capacity, and battery chemistry.
The distance an e-bike will go on one charge of the battery is called range. It’s probably the most important specification. If your commute involves a big hill, for example, you don’t want to run out of juice halfway up. Without power, an e-bike is just a heavy bike. The range depends of the battery capacity, the speed, your weight, profile of the commuting tour, the assistance level you choose and percentage of given pedaling power. If you’re only going to do ten kilometers of daily commuting, you don’t need a 70 km range. Nevertheless, you should buy a bike with a higher range than you necessarily need because the range will drop as the battery ages and loses capacity.
Good e-bikes are not cheap, even compared to good unassisted bikes. You can pick up a very basic model, but how long are you going to be happy with it? An average bike with a quality frame, functional brakes, suspension and other components is expensive. When buying an e-bike you have to spend considerably more money for the motor. So don’t be surprised by the higher price, a better bike lasts much longer.
7. Test Ride
Perhaps the most important (and fun) part of buying an electric bike is test riding. Trying an electric bike allows you to put aside skeptics, reviews, and research and just answer the most basic question: Do I love this bike? If so, then start asking a few other questions: Does it climb hills in the way I need it to?, Does the bike fit me in the way I would like it to?, Does it have the quality and functionality I would like?