The e-bike is a great leveller for older or more inexperienced riders who want to keep up with the pack, or those who want to tackle steeper inclines with confidence, writes Steve Edgell, director of Cycle to Work scheme provider Cycle Solutions and proud e-bike owner.
And they are no passing trend: experts believe e-bikes hold the key to greater diversity in cycling as well as cleaner air. And, as e-bike battery prices become cheaper to manufacture, city cycling infrastructure improves, and the cost of keeping a car on the road gets more prohibitive, we’ll see more and more on our roads.
For those planning an e-bike purchase, Steve shares four things to consider:
- The basics
An e-bike is just a bicycle that has an integrated electric motor that helps to propel it forward. Most e-bikes found in the EU assist the rider when pedalling, as long as the bike is not exceeding 25kph. These are called pedal-assisted e-bikes or pedelecs.
There is an e-bike for everything, from cruising up mountains, to folding models for commuters, to vintage Dutch-style frames with sit up and beg handlebars for moseying around town. If you will mainly be riding on the flat and on smooth tarmac, a 200-watt bike will do the trick. However, if you live in a very hilly area you might want to consider getting a bike with the maximum allowed power of 250 watts.
If your e-bike is needed for reliable daily commuting, look at models upwards of £1,100. From time to time, cycle to work scheme providers will discount reliable e-bikes in that price range so they fall within the current scheme threshold of £1,000, meaning you can get a very good e-bike tax-free under your employer’s cycle to work scheme and save up to 48%.
- Weight vs durability & reliability
One of the things that can surprise people with e-bikes is their weight. Mainly due to the addition of the battery, many e-bikes weigh over 20kg. Even the world’s lightest e-road bike weighs 11kg.
However, when buying an e-bike, the durability and reliability of the bike should be given preference over weight. Not only will the motor help overcome the negative aspects of the extra weight, but a durable and reliable (and hence generally heavier) e-bike, which can be loaded up for touring, shopping and commuting has greater functionality than a lightweight pure-bred racing bike.
Plus if you are buying an electric mountain bike, the extra weight can add stability on technical descents. In general, because of the extra weight, e-bikes come with disc brakes – normally seen on downhill mountain bikes – which have improved stopping capability.
- The battery
Battery life and recharge time will be a key factor in your decision making. In the lower price bracket, you might get 30 to 40 miles on full charge while more expensive e-bikes in the £2,500+ range could pull off a mighty 80 to 100 miles.
An entry-level e-bike might take around six hours to reach full charge while the higher-range bikes could be ready to go in less than three hours. For long-term use, it’s best to never fully empty lithium-ion batteries and make sure they get some charge once every three months if you’re not using your e-bike for long periods of time.
The best thing about e-bikes, unlike electric cars, is that even if you run out of battery power you’ll still be able to get home with pedal power, provided it is a relatively flat ride (remember you have to factor in all that extra weight).
As well as checking the battery range before buying, we’d suggest test riding the e-bike you want to buy. Some e-bike batteries can be noisy, which some people won’t mind, but others will be irritated by. Also check where the battery is positioned, as how it is integrated into the bike really can affect the geometry and overall look.
- The geometry
You need to like looking at your new e-bike. Happily, they are not as clunky and big as they used to be, as the rechargeable batteries that power them are getting smaller and lighter. But the geometry of an e-bike is always going to have to accommodate the battery, a motor in the centre of the frame, or on the front or rear hub, and a display.
Make sure you buy a bike with a comfortable geometry, that fits your body. Bikes are like shoes, don’t expect to buy first and make it fit later, as your body won’t thank you for it. A well-fitting bike reduces the strain of riding on our joints and muscles and increases our efficiency.
Although components can be adjusted, not every e-bike will suit every body, as we are all different. Look carefully at the dimensions of the bike, and be aware that sizing guides differ by manufacturer. Ride the bike before buying, and get an expert to check the fit.
This is another good reason to buy your e-bike from a reputable source that offers good after-sales care and a returns service, in case you’re not happy with the fit.