Last Updated on May 17, 2023 by Matt
Electric bikes have become popular as a greener and more convenient alternative to traditional bikes. If you’re unfamiliar with this exciting new class of vehicles, and you’re having the initial questions about what is an ebike, how it differs from a regular bike, how it differs from other rideables, or you’re on the fence about getting an electric bike, I’ve covered all of those essential questions in this guide based on my experience with ebikes over the years.
What is an ebike?
An electric bike, aka an ebike, is a bicycle equipped with a battery and electric motor designed to provide pedal assistance to the rider. This assistance makes it easier to ride the bike uphill, against strong winds, and for longer distances without getting tired. Electric bikes are an eco-friendly transport option that can be used for commuting as well as leisure.
What is the point of an ebike?
The main use case of an ebike is to serve as a regular bike that you can choose to ride without expending any effort at times, or to ride it with some assistance from the motor and the battery. Basically, you have pretty much a regular bike that you can optionally choose to use as a motorized vehicle if you wish.
Is it worth getting an ebike?
An ebike can be a great investment. Not only will it provide you with more exercise than pretty much every other mode of transport other than walking or regular cycling, but it will also save you a lot of money on gas or public transport costs over the long run. In fact, just by reducing the costs of using your car or public transport, you can expect the average ebike to pay itself off in about a year or two.
How does an electric bike work?
An electric bike combines traditional cycling with an electrical motor and battery. When you turn the pedal-assist feature on, the electric bike’s sensor starts measuring the force you apply on the pedals. It signals that value to the controller, which then adjusts the power the battery sends to the motor.
So, you receive just enough assistance to make the ride go smoothly without getting tired. Some bikes have multiple levels of pedal assistance so you can decide how much help you want from the motor and battery. You choose the assistance level through the buttons or display on the handlebar, and the controller will adjust the power accordingly.
A higher assistance level will use more of the battery.
If you’re riding uphill or are too tired to pedal, you can use the throttle mode of an electric bike to move without pedaling. I recommend only going full throttle when you’re at the end of your ride because it drains the battery pretty quickly. If you’re riding up a hill, use the throttle temporarily at the start of the hill to give you an initial boost.
By applying the brakes, you can slow down or stop the electric bike.
Do ebikes charge when you pedal?
Ebikes don’t charge when you pedal. Many of them have regenerative brakes, that recharge the battery when you use the brakes, but they pretty much never recharge with pedaling alone.
How do you ride an electric bike?
Riding an electric bike isn’t much different from riding a traditional one. You just get more assistance.
Get on the bike, and turn it on with the power button. Choose a suitable level of pedal assist and start pedaling to move forward.
You can always turn up the pedal assist level when you start getting tired. If you need a break from pedaling, you can put the bike in full throttle mode and move without pedaling.
I recommend always starting with a complete charge for your ride to go smoothly. The pedal assist and throttle features are great until they use up all the battery, and you’re stuck pedaling for the rest of the ride.
Do electric bikes shift?
Essentially, electric bikes can still shift like regular bikes. However, the shifts are only related to the pedaling you do and have nothing to do with the motor and the electric features of the ebike.
Do you still pedal on an ebike?
Pedaling on an electric bike is optional. Depending on the mode you choose, you can ride your ebike pretty much like a regular bike, use some assistance from the motor and battery, or not pedal at all and only use the power from the battery to move forward.
Can you ride an ebike manually?
If you choose to, you can ride an ebike manually, just as you would ride a regular bike. You will have to either switch to pedal-only mode, turn off the bike, or remove the battery.
Ebikes pros and cons
The main pros of ebikes include:
- lower or no-effort movement
- great way to save on transport costs
- you can still get good exercise if you choose
- they are generally good for the environment
Some of the main cons of ebikes are:
- they can be pricey
- they have more moving parts than regular bikes and more things can break down
How fast do electric bikes go?
Most electric bikes can reach a top speed between 20 and 30 mph / 32 and 48 kmh. However, there are e-bikes that are capable of going much faster than that, including ones with top speeds of 50 mph / 80 kmh or more.
How far can electric bikes go?
The distance that electric bikes can cover without pedaling varies greatly. On the lower end, budget e-bikes can cover around 20 mi / 32 km on a single battery charge. On the more premium end, there are e-bikes that can go as much as 100 mi / 160 km on a single charge, and even more in some outlier cases.
How long do electric bike batteries last?
The average electric bike battery will last between 2 and 5 years, and usually somewhere around 3 years. However, the batteries of premium electric bikes can sometimes last 8 years, or even 10 years in some cases.
Do electric bikes go uphill?
Most electric bikes have a fairly easy time going uphill, and that goes even for the cheaper options. Naturally, the more budget models with weaker motors may struggle on steeper hills and require more manual pedaling.
How much do electric bikes weigh?
How much an e-bike weighs will mostly depend on its motor power, battery capacity, and additional features. Typical commuter e-bikes can be more lightweight and will usually weigh somewhere around 30-40 lbs / 14-18 kg. More powerful e-bikes with higher top speeds, longer ranges, and bigger parts can weigh closer to 70-80 lbs / 32-36 kg.
Are electric bikes waterproof?
The majority of electric bikes are not technically waterproof, meaning, they can’t be submerged in water without suffering water damage. However, most e-bikes are at least somewhat water-resistant, which means they can handle some riding in the rain or other wet conditions.
Are electric bikes healthy?
Ebikes are generally a pretty healthy transport option. They are certainly much healthier than using a car, public transport, another form of motorized transport, or not moving at all. They are still not as healthy as more demanding modes of transport such as regular bikes or walking.
Electric bike vs regular bike
Compared to a regular bike, an electric bike will be faster, will require less effort, and will be a better and more convenient mode of transport, as you can get from one place to another without getting tired, sweaty, or dirty. However, an electric bike will also be more expensive, heavier, and require more maintenance.
Why get an electric bike?
Getting an electric bike can be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made. Here are some potential benefits of riding an electric bike:
- Riding an electric bike is so much more enjoyable than riding a traditional one. The assistance from the motor even makes challenging terrains fun.
- Electric bikes are great for people who aren’t fit enough to ride traditional bikes but still want some kind of physical exercise. These bikes are less demanding on joints and muscles, so you can ride long distances without getting tired.
- Riding an electric bike still requires pedaling, so you get a low-impact workout leading to many health benefits.
- Using electric bikes instead of cars for short commutes can significantly decrease the hazardous carbon emissions from fuel-powered vehicles.
- The U.S. government has introduced the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment Act to motivate people to use environment-friendly vehicles. Through the act, you can get a tax credit refund valued at 30% of the cost of your electric bike with a maximum limit of $1500.
Types of electric bikes
The market is filled with different types of electric bikes to choose from. Here are some of the popular ones:
Commuter bikes are designed for more casual and regular rides in the city. They are great for traveling to work or running errands.
Road bikes have a streamlined design for a higher speed and efficiency than other ebikes. The frame is kept lightweight for optimal performance.
Cruiser bikes are all about leisure and getting the premium bike ride experience. The design focuses on the rider’s comfort with a wide saddle, relaxed riding position, and upright handlebars.
Cargo bikes have large racks and sturdy frames for carrying heavy loads. Some cargo bikes also have a second battery for increased power.
Mountain bikes work best for off-road use on tough terrains. These bikes are equipped with large tires and a suspension system to handle challenging path conditions.
Components of an electric bike
An electric bike is made of several components that work together to assist the rider’s pedaling. These components include:
Electric bikes are fitted with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are either placed inside the bike or are removable and fastened externally to the frame. A battery is the main power source for an electric bike’s motor that propels the vehicle forward. Its capacity and voltage determine the overall performance of the bike.
Most ebike batteries have a capacity ranging between 250 and 1000 watt-hours (Wh). Their voltage typically ranges between 36 volts to 52 volts. Batteries of higher-powered bikes have voltage and capacity values higher than average, but they’re also heavier and more expensive.
Ebike batteries usually take 2-8 hours to charge completely and are often equipped with battery management systems to prevent overcharging, undercharging, and overheating.
A motor is the soul of an electric bike and is responsible for providing the rider with different levels of pedal assistance. On average, motors have power ratings ranging between 250 to 750 watts. Ebike motors are usually one of two types: a hub motor or a mid-drive motor.
A hub motor is installed in the hub of either of the two wheels of an electric bike. It propels the bike forward by directly powering the wheel, so no chain is required. The simple motor is easy to install and maintain.
The main downside of a hub motor is its weight, which makes the bike a bit harder to control.
A hub motor works well for commuting and casual rides but isn’t good for challenging terrains. That’s where the mid-drive motor shines.
A mid-drive motor is mounted between the cranks of an electric bike. It powers the crankshaft, which drives the connected chain to turn the rear wheel. Since this kind of motor is located near the center of the electric bike, it offers better weight distribution and power efficiency.
A mid-drive motor has a complex design and requires more maintenance. However, the motor works great for off-road riding and climbing steep hills.
The controller’s main job in an electric bike is to regulate the amount of power sent from the battery to the motor and other components. It communicates between the components to make sure the bike runs smoothly.
For example, when a rider chooses a pedal assist feature through the buttons and display of an electric bike, the controller regulates the motor’s provided assistance accordingly.
Some electric bikes have basic controllers with simple functions, while others have advanced controllers that give details about your bike’s performance.
A torque sensor is a small device fitted in an electric bike that measures the force the rider applies on the pedals. The sensor then sends a corresponding signal to the controller, which regulates the pedal assistance accordingly in real-time.
This way, the bike only uses the needed amount of assistance and conserves the battery. Overall, a torque sensor saves you from tiring yourself too much and makes the electric bike ride more enjoyable.
The display panel is commonly located on the handlebars of an electric bike. It displays important information like the bike’s battery level, speed, temperature, distance traveled, etc.
You can use the display panel to adjust the pedal assistance level of your bike or go into full throttle mode. More advanced display panels are integrated with GPS navigation and can also connect to your smartphone.
Two types of brake systems are found in electric bikes: rim brakes and disc brakes.
Most recent electric bike models come equipped with hydraulic disc breaks because they handle the speed and additional weight of an electric bike better than rim brakes.
You can also count on these brakes to have your back on a wet and muddy path. While these brakes are more effective and durable, they’re expensive and require more maintenance.
Rim brakes are cheaper and way easier to maintain, so they are mostly found in lower-end bikes. The brakes aren’t as effective in stopping the bike and are more prone to wear and tear.
A throttle is a mechanism that you use to accelerate your bike without any pedaling required. It is located on the handlebar. Some bikes have throttles that need to be twisted to accelerate the motor, while others have a lever to adjust the throttle power.
The frame of an electric bike holds all the components and is usually made of aluminum or carbon fiber. Aluminium is more popular because it’s lightweight, durable, and can handle the rider’s weight.
Carbon fiber has greater strength and weight support but is more expensive than aluminum, and it can be more brittle in some contexts.
What is pedal assist?
Pedal assist is a motorized feature that assists an electric bike while the rider pedals. Many ebikes have multiple levels of pedal assistance that riders can set for themselves according to the condition of the terrain.
Unlike a throttle, the pedal assist mode only engages the motor when the rider pedals. This lets you enjoy the benefits of cycling without getting overworked. Pedal assist can also help you climb steep hills and save energy to ride farther and longer.
You should note that the higher the pedal assist level, the more battery it will drain.
Electric bike safety tips
Here are some safety tips to keep in mind when riding an electric bike:
- Always wear a helmet and other safety gear, including knee and elbow pads.
- When riding at night, wear a reflective vest and use the bike’s lights and indicators to remain visible to other motorists.
- Regularly check your bike for any maintenance.
- Be aware of potholes, other vehicles on the road, and road conditions so that you can adjust the assistance features accordingly and avoid crashes.
- Follow the traffic rules. Avoid weaving through traffic, and always signal before you turn.
What to look for in an electric bike?
The three main features to look for in an electric bike are its motor power, battery capacity, and price.
Before going to an ebike shop, decide your budget and think about what you’ll be using the electric bike for.
If you need an electric bike for riding short distances on generally smooth roads, a hub drive motor with a high-capacity battery can do the trick. It also won’t break the bank.
On the other hand, if you live in an area with steep hills and plan on using the bike off-road a lot, opt for a higher-powered ebike with a mid-drive motor and high-capacity battery.
Look for a comfortable bike with disc brakes, a throttle, and multiple pedal assist levels. Read reviews for each bike you consider to know the pros and cons other users experienced.
If you need more help, the employees at the ebike shop can help you decide what type of bike will suit you best.
How much does an electric bike cost?
The cost of an electric bike depends on various factors, including the brand, model, motor power, battery capacity, and other features of the ebike.
On average, a high-quality electric bike with good performance can cost between $1,500 – $4,000.
Entry-level electric bikes are usually cheaper and priced between $500-$1,000, while the cost for higher-end models can even go up to $10,000 or more.