Electric bicycles buyer’s guide: What you need to know before purchasing one

Are you planning to buy an electric bike? Whether you’re looking for a greener form of mobility or if you want to know if electric bikes are worth buying, then you’ve come to the right place.

Ebike technology has improved in the past few years, so these green and fun personal vehicles have been rising in popularity. Our electric bike buying guide will try to answer some of the most common questions you might have before clicking that buy button.

Read more: The best electric mopeds (scooters) you can buy – June 2021

What is an electric bike?

When you think of an electric bike, you can simply picture a regular bike and add a motor, a battery, and a controller. These are the most basic parts of an ebike.

With an ebike, the motor should not propel you, but rather assist you while you’re pedaling. How much the motor will help depends on your chosen settings and how hard you’re pedaling. In any case, dealing with an uphill stretch or a strong headwind will be easier. Having an electric motor to assist will also help you travel farther, because you do not depend on your strength and stamina alone.

When you pedal on an electric bicycle, built-in sensors monitor how much effort you’re exerting and the motor matches your power output. The motor will not completely take over for you and will not abruptly move the bike forward.

The motor of an ebike can be located centrally or on its front or rear hubs. Power comes from a battery pack that is often mounted outside the frame. Batteries on many electric bike models can be detached, so you can quickly swap them when they run out. However, some models have batteries built into the frame, meaning you’ll need to bring them near a power outlet to charge them up.

The controller of the ebike allows you to set the level of assistance you will get while riding. The assistance can vary from getting a gentle push to a good amount of power to help you during difficult climbs.

How do you ride an ebike?

Riding an electric bicycle is pretty much like riding a regular bike. You turn on the electric motor,  set the level of assistance on the controller, and start pedaling.

Please note that handling may feel a bit different because ebikes are heavier than traditional bikes due to their battery and motor. Electric bike tires are also usually wider to support the additional weight and to offer some extra grip. Ebikes also often sport disc brakes, in order to have enough stopping power.

There are also ebikes in the market today that come with a throttle. With these you can switch between pedaling without using the electric motor, getting an electric motor-assist, or even rely on the motor power alone without pedaling.

What is the difference between an ebike and a scooter? Which is better for me?

If you are new to the micromobility scene, it can get confusing when you hear the terms ebike and scooter.

To reiterate, electric bikes work like traditional bikes, but you have a motor that can give you extra power when needed. There’s still that component of a cardio exercise because you need to exert effort to propel it forward. When the battery of your ebike runs out, you can use it just like you would use a conventional bike. You can ride your ebike on bike lanes, and you can also go off-road when you convert your ebike to a mountain ebike.

Electric scooters or e-scooters, on the other hand, come with a motor, a platform deck you stand on, and a T-stem handlebar. They also run on batteries, and you control the speed using a throttle.

So, which one should you get between an electric bike and an e-scooter?

If you are thinking of portability, the e-scooter is an obvious choice thanks to its smaller footprint. In terms of speed, it really depends because different states and countries have varying laws on how fast you can go while riding an e-bike (or a scooter for the matter).

Are you looking for a personal transportation option that lets you exercise while giving you a good push when needed? Then, an e-bike is for you.

In terms of range, most ebikes will go farther than scooters. You can also pedal an e-bike easier compared to kick-pushing a scooter when the batteries die.

Electric bikes are generally safer than scooters. You’re more visible on the road when using an ebike. They also have bigger wheels that can easily handle potholes or any debris you might encounter on the road. The bigger wheels also translate to better grip and stability. A study about micromobility products by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the United States revealed that more injuries and fatalities have been linked to scooters compared to ebikes between 2017 and 2019.

What are the advantages of getting an electric bicycle?

Let’s take a look at some of the advantages electric bikes offer:

  • Environmentally friendly: Just like electric cars, you can help lower greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by using electric bikes instead of taking ride-sharing services or your own gas-powered vehicle. They are perfect for commutes or for running personal errands. Aside from helping address air pollution, ebikes are pretty quiet, too, so they can help lower noise levels, especially in urban areas.
  • Cheaper choice of transportation: Electric bicycles are a lot more affordable to acquire and maintain compared to cars or motorcycles. Aside from that, car owners can reduce the wear and tear of their fossil-fueled vehicles by using ebikes more often.
  • You get a good dose of exercise: If you want to exercise more while having a convenient mode of transportation to move around, ebikes are the answer. Your fitness level doesn’t matter too much because you have an electric motor that can assist you when the going gets too tough for your legs and lungs. Ebikes are a perfect way to inject some physical activity into your daily life, and that will surely benefit your overall health.
  • You can cover more distance than on a regular bike: Compared to riding a conventional bike, you can cover more distance with ebikes. You can quickly get from point A to point B on an ebike. You do not have to worry about negotiating uphill stretches because you can easily climb them assisted by the electric motor.
  • Portable: Just like with any other bike, you can easily store ebikes in your apartment or home. When in public places, you can easily lock them at the bike rack and don’t have to worry about paid parking.

What about the disadvantages?

Now let’s take a look at some disadvantages that could turn off some would-be ebikers:

  • Expensive: If you want to own an e-bike, you need to be ready for a significant initial investment. On average, a good ebike may cost between $1,000 and $10,000. However, there will be few expenses along the road after this initial cost.
  • Heavier than conventional bikes: Electric bikes are heftier than conventional bikes because of the sturdier builds, batteries, and other components. However, there are ebikes in the market today that are made of lighter materials such as aluminum. Some are even foldable, and a lot of models have detachable battery packs.
  • Confusing regulations: Since electric bikes are still fairly new to the market, the rules about these electric rides vary depending on where you are. Most electric bikes are still allowed on bike lanes and bike paths, but make sure you check your local laws before buying an ebike.
  • You need to keep an eye on the battery: Just like any battery, you have to monitor the battery packs of ebikes to see if you’re running out of juice. The good news is you can still use the pedals if the battery gets drained. But you’ll need to plug in yet another thing every night, which may or may not be an inconvenience for you.

What should I know before buying an ebike?

Your needs

Deciding what kind of bike you’ll get depends on your needs. You have to ask yourself if you want it to be stylish, quick, good at climbing hills, or whether you need it to go long distances. Once you determine these things, you’ll be able to make an informed decision on what features to look for in an ebike.

Motor

When it comes to ebike specs, the motor is probably one that catches the attention of most riders.

There are ebikes with mid-drive motors and those with front or rear-wheel motors or what are known as hub motors. Hub motors are often optimized for single-speed bikes, so they’re not efficient when it comes to climbing hills and may overheat. On the other hand, ebikes with mid-drive motors are very effective if you do a lot of climbing because they use the gears of the bike for optimum efficiency.

You also have to consider the power of the motor. Lower-powered motors are perfect if you will ride on flat terrains such as around town or city streets. Meanwhile, you’ll need more power if you are on the heavier side, if you need to tow anything, or want a capable hill climber. If you need to sustain maximum power for longer periods, go for higher voltage motors to avoid overheating.

Top speed

The top speed of the bike will depend on the kind of motor it has and the weight of the user, plus several other factors. Regulations play a role too: in most jurisdictions, ebikes are allowed to go as fast as 20 to 28 mph (32-45 km/h).

Battery capacity

One of the most crucial choices you will make will be the battery of your ebike because this will affect the weight, range, and style of your ride. These are some of the most common types of electric bikes batteries you’ll find in the market and our quick summary of their good and bad sides:

  • Lead-acid: They are very cheap, very heavy, and offer low output. They’re only good as backup batteries if you ask us.
  • Nickel-cadmium: These can last for a long time if properly maintained and often offer more capacity than lead-acid counterparts. However, they have low power density and can easily get discharged.
  • Nickel-metal hydride: They are more expensive than the two above but offer no clear advantages. While they can hold more charge, they are not known for their durability and stability.
  • Lithium-ion: If you want to buy an electric bike, get one with a lithium-ion battery pack. They are the ideal batteries (or as close we can get today) because they are lightweight, durable, and last longer than the rest.

Of course, you also have to consider the capacity of the battery, expressed in watt-hours (Wh) or amper-hours (Ah or mAh). The bigger the capacity, the longer you can travel.

Also read: 10 alternatives to lithium-ion batteries: Which new tech will power the future?

Range

Your ebike’s manufacturer will claim that their product can go this or that far. However, you need to consider the weight of the rider, the speed you maintain, and the terrain you ride on. Also take note that if you are comparing ebikes with similar drive systems, the size of the battery will determine their range. The one with a bigger battery will generally travel farther.

Bike fit

Don’t settle for the first bike you check out. Make sure you test drive several and check if the electric bicycle is a good fit for you. Your weight will help determine the kind of power you need for your bike while your height will dictate the size of the frame. Also, think about the length of the trips you’ll usually take and what kind of terrain you will use the ebike on.

What types of electric bikes are there?

Ebikes come in different styles just like conventional bikes. Here are some of the more popular ones:

  • Cruiser ebikes: If you are a recreational rider whose top priority is to get a comfortable ride on paved roads and flat terrains, then a cruiser electric bike fits your needs. They usually have wide tires and sport a suspension system to smoothen the ride. The handlebars are also placed higher so you will be in a more upright posture while riding the bike.
  • Commuter ebikes: Just like cruisers, commuter electric bikes are perfect for running errands around the city. Commuters have large, narrow tires that offer enough grip while not compromising speed. In addition, the seats of the commuter ebikes are narrower compared to cruisers.
  • Mountain ebikes: As its name suggests, these are ebikes for off-roading. They feature flat handlebars like their conventional cousins and have wide tires to handle dirt and rugged trails.
  • Road ebikes: These ebikes are designed for speed and paved roads. They sport narrow tires and drop handlebars that will force you to assume a more aerodynamic riding position.

There are also three classes of electric bikes to choose from:

  • Class 1: These bikes assist you when you pedal and stop assisting when you hit 20 mph (32 km/h).
  • Class 2: Most of these bikes come with a throttle and can provide a boost without the need to pedal. The system stops assisting when you reach 20 mph (32 km/h).
  • Class 3: Class 3 bikes assist until you hit 28 mph (45 km/h). They come with a speedometer.

What are some good electric bicycle options?

If you want to see some good examples of great electric bikes you can buy today, we’ve lined up three options for you below. Visit our full list of the best electric bicycles you can get if you want more details about these and seven other ebikes that made the cut.

Monday Motorbikes Presidio Electric Motorbike

 

The $2,199 Monday Motorbikes Presidio is one of the entry-level options in Monday’s catalog, making it a great option for first timers. It sports a motorcycle-inspired design and can go for up to 30 miles (~48 km) for the 400W option. It also comes with fat tires for extra comfort.

  • Weight: 72.8 lbs lb (33 kg)
  • Top speed: 20 mph (32 km/h)
  • Range: 30 miles (48 km)

Charge XC

 

The $2,499 Charge XC is more conventionally styled, and you could easily take it for a regular old bike. It’s technically a mountain ebike, but it’s versatile enough to do well on gravel and city streets too. Its 250W motor isn’t the most powerful around, but it can still hit 20 mph (32 km/h).

  • Weight: 154 lb (70 kg)
  • Top speed: 20 mph (32 km/h)
  • Range: 50 miles (80 km)

Trefecta URB L1 E 

This one is for the enthusiasts, on account of its $27,000 price tag. For that money, the Trefecta URB L1 E does offer some great specs, including 62 miles (100 km) of range, not to mention a futuristic look. Put shortly, it’s the electric bike James Bond would drive.

  • Weight: 84 lb (38 kg)
  • Top speed:  28 mph (45 km/h)
  • Range: 62 miles (100 km)

Read more: The 10 best electric biycles you can get – June 2021

Top electric bike questions and answers

Q: Do I need a license to drive an ebike? What about insurance?

A: Generally, electric bikes do not need vehicle registration, driver’s license, or insurance to be on the road. US federal law enacted in 2002 defines ebikes as low-speed electric bikes with two or three wheels, fully operable pedals, and a motor that’s less than 1 HP. Ebikes should have a maximum speed of 20 mph on paved flat surfaces and be pedal-assist or a throttle-assist system.

The rules may vary depending where you live, so it is best to check local laws before buying or riding your bike.

Q: Do electric bikes have regenerative braking like electric cars?

A: The concept of regenerative braking is common in electric cars but not so common in ebikes. This feature allows a system to harvest some energy and recharge the battery as you slow down.  It’s not a common feature in ebikes because there’s not much energy to be captured and will have an insignificant effect on your bike’s range.

Q: What is the average range of an ebike on a single charge?

A: The range of ebikes depends on factors such as the weight of the rider, speed, terrain, and wind conditions. Most bikes in the market today can go between 30 miles (48 km) and 50 miles (80 km).

Q: Is it safe to ride an electric bike even when it is raining?

A: Most ebikes are safe to ride in the rain, but it could be a different story if you submerge the ebike in water. It is best to check with the manufacturer or the ebike’s manual when unsure.

Q: How much can ebikes help reduce carbon emissions?

A: A recent study in North America shows the potential of ebikes in reducing CO2 emissions. The study revealed that if ebikes made 15% of urban transportation mileage, emissions could be reduced by 12%. It also said that an individual ebike could lower CO2 emissions by 225 kg (496 lbs) on average every year.

Q: How long do electric bike batteries last?

A: Most lithium-ion battery packs for electric bicycles are rated for 500 charge cycles. Some can extend up to 1,000 charge cycles. It is difficult to say if that will last you two years or four years because there are many factors at play. One thing is for sure, there will come a time when you have to change the battery of your ebike.


That wraps up our electric bike buying guide. If you have questions or ideas to share, feel free to reach out.