Electric bikes – or e-bikes – have been soaring in popularity. And it’s no wonder why.
E-bikes will give you a hand up hills, help enable longer commutes, and let you cruise effortlessly past other cyclists on your Sunday ride. What’s more, they’re opening up cycling to wider age groups and demographics – increasing the amount of bikes on our streets. And they’re fun.
There are a multitude of different e-bikes out there. From folding options to full-on enduro mountain bikes. Just like regular bicycles, there are options for just about every style of riding. Manufacturers are constantly developing lighter, longer lasting batteries with increased range. Price-tags have been falling, too.
Right then, where to start? We’ve drawn out five main areas for consideration when buying an e-bike.
Firstly, you need to think to yourself where and when you’ll be using the e-bike. For example, do you live in a city that will require regular lifting up and down stairs, and other general commuting demands? Or maybe you live somewhere more remote, and will be looking to take it off-road?
E-bikes are great for carrying extra loads for commuting or shopping, thanks to the motor’s help in carrying you up testing hills. Many have standard rack mounts for pannier bags. But if you want to carry more – even your children, for example, you even have the option of a dedicated cargo e-bike.
On the other hand, if it’s leisure rides that pique your interest, then range of the battery and weight may come into play when deciding on which model to choose..
Once you’ve established your needs, there are five overarching categories of e-bikes to choose from:
- Electric road bikes
- Electric mountain bikes
- Electric hybrid bikes
- Folding electric bikes
- E-cargo bikes
E-road bikes and e-mountain bikes both lean towards the performance side of things. Both are dedicated to going out for long rides and are designed for speed. Therefore, they’re limited for rack options and in general might not be as comfortable for commuting.
Hybrids are a solid option for city riding. They’ve got suitable upright geometry to suit casual riding, and plenty of commuting features. They’re also the cheapest entry into e-bikes, with mainstream bike shops like Halfords and Evans offering them on cycle-to-work schemes.
However, they are often quite heavy, which could be a problem if you’re forced to carry the bike upstairs or onto public transport.
Folding e-bikes provide the best option for shorter city commutes, and those with limited storage options. They store easily into folding bike lockers, or in your hallway at home. Batteries in folding e-bikes are often smaller, and therefore have a reduced range.
They’ll come in heavier than standard folding bikes and would perhaps be unsuitable if you had to carry them over longer distances.
2. Battery size and power
All e-bikes use different versions of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. It’s the same technology as used in electric vehicles. They’re quick to charge with a relatively low overall weight.
There are a few different positions where the battery commonly sits on the bike. Most commonly the battery is attached to the down tube, where it can be easily accessed and removed. Sometimes it’s attached on top of a rear rack – as seen in early models of the Lime rental bike.
In more expensive models the battery is integrated into the downtube near the bottom bracket, or sometimes within the seatpost. This makes for a cleaner finish, but does come at a cost.
For battery size, a general rule is to simply look out for the best size and quality your budget allows for. The capacity will be measured in Watt hours (wh), which is important when considering the range of your e-bike.
Most of the time you’re unlikely to have your battery run flat – if you start fully charged – on a typical journey. However, the ‘range’ of your e-bike – or total distance you can ride before running out of juice – will be important when it comes to charging.
The longer your range, the less you’ll have to charge your battery. This is where Watt hours (wh) come in to play. If you’ve got a 300w motor being fed by a 300wh battery, it would drain in one hour – at full power (on paper, at least).
In practice, there are many more variables. For one, you won’t ever have the battery operating at full power all the time. It’s more likely you’ll use different modes. Some will have eco modes to give you longer life, for instance.
On top of that, rider weight, the terrain you’re riding, and even weather can affect the range you’ll get from the battery. Here’s a handy calculator from Bosch to help estimate range.
To understand the impact weight may have, it’s worth thinking back to the intended use of your e-bike, plus your riding style.
If you’re a road rider looking to ride in groups, then you’ll likely be after a lighter weight bike. This is an area where despite the extra motor assistance, weight will still alter the performance and handling of the bike. Plus, if you did want to tackle some hills without the motor, you won’t be held back by weight.
More realistically, the weight of the bike will have a larger effect when you aren’t riding the e-bike. If you’ve got to cart your bike up flights of stairs, on and off busy trains, or even on to a rack on your car, the extra weight will be hard to manage day-to-day.
E-bike technology has come a long way in the past few years, and they aren’t as heavy as they used to be. With all things, it’s worth trying to visit your bike shop to have a feel of the bike and workout how light you want the bike to be.
No longer a luxury product, e-bikes have been coming down in price. If you want an entry level commuter bike, you can now get hybrid electric bikes for around £1,000. While this may still sound steep, it’s made more palatable by e-bikes availability on cycle to work schemes.
Ultimately, the price will be dictated by how much you think you’ll use the bike, and of course, your budget. Top-end road and mountain bike models are likely to be made from carbon fibre, and other high-end materials. These may weigh less and perform better, but they’ll cost a lot more.
Check out if your employer is signed up to a cycle-to-work scheme, then get yourself down to a bike shop and see what options are available.
For more on e-bikes, see our feature on the future of e-mobility, or whether we need e-bike charging stations in our cities.