Have you ever cycled up a steep hill and wished that you could just get to the top without having to put all the effort in? Well, now you can! Thanks to some pretty big jumps in battery and motor technology, electric bikes, or e-bikes for short, do a pretty good job of propelling riders along with less pedalling power required. They also, therefore, help to make longer commutes to work practical by bike, taking the strain off your legs, speeding you up, and helping get you to work looking like you’ve just stepped off the bus.
Brought to you with our friends at Halfords this e-bikes buying guide is designed to take you through all the different considerations and configurations out there and to help you find the perfect e-bike. You’ll soon be effortlessly whizzing to work or conquering hills without breaking a sweat!
What is an e-bike?
Essentially, an e-bike is a normal bicycle with a motor attached to the front wheel, back wheel or in the centre of the bike powering the chain directly. These motors are extremely lightweight and efficient and are powered by a battery. Alongside these nifty bits of tech, you’ll still find all the normal stuff you’d get on a bike too, like pedals, a saddle, handlebars and of course wheels.
How do electric bikes work?
The ultra-light motor (or motors) on the bike is powered by a super-efficient battery, usually of the Li-Ion variety you’ll find in phones, laptops and some electric cars. Using a handlebar-mounted sensor, which can usually be programmed to measure effort manually or automatically, the battery kicks in to power the motor when you start pedalling, making things a lot easier.
For example, if you’re weaving through traffic on a busy city street, assisted power will be reeled in as you put less effort into the pedals. However, as you venture out onto an open road or start pedalling uphill, more power will be sent to the motor to allow you to travel along at the same speed (or faster) with less effort required.
Are e-bikes like motorbikes?
Not really, no. You can’t exactly put your feet up and let the motor do the work – you’ll still need to do some pedalling! The big thing with e-bikes is that they’re all about assisting the rider and making pedalling easier, rather than providing all the energy needed to propel the bike forward.
Are e-bikes better than normal bikes?
This really depends on what sort of cyclist you are. If you like to get to work without a layer of sweat and a crumpled suit from excessive pedalling, then an e-bike is a great shout. If you want to burn some calories on your commute, then a conventional road bike or mountain bike is probably a better choice. The beauty with e-bikes, however, is that if you want a workout, you can simply switch to unassisted cycling mode and pedal along as if the battery and motor aren’t there!
How do I charge my e-bike?
Unlike an electric car, your e-bike can be charged from a usual plug. Halfords have prepared some usual advice on how to get the best from your battery – take a look here.
Which size e-bike do I need?
E-bikes and standard bikes don’t differ when it comes to size, so you can choose your e-bike in the same way. Check out the Halfords bike sizing guide to find out which size e-bike to get.
Which type of e-bike is best?
You won’t be surprised to hear that there are several different types of e-bike on the market. There are also a few things to take into consideration when you’re shopping, so read these sections to get a feel for what’s important to you.
Folding bikes are even more compact than urban e-bikes, and can be dismantled or folded to make them easy to slide into that train luggage compartment or even stow under a desk. Smaller wheels sizes will reduce the speed you’ll be able to travel at, but they’re perfect for a few effort-free miles between the office and home.
Hybird bikes have features of both road bikes (the light-framed, low-handlebar bikes you’ll see out on the road on a Sunday morning) and mountain bikes (the rugged, thick-framed bikes with bigger tyres you’ll see flying down a hillside on a Sunday morning), giving riders the best of both world. Electric hybrid bikes are exactly the same, except of course there’s a battery and motor(s) that kick in when you’ve had enough of pedalling!
Mountain bikes are great for helping you tackle off road terrain comfortably and electric mountain bikes are no different! The lines between different disciplines of mountain bike do begin to blur a little when talking about electric bikes, however. There are generally three types of e-mountain bike; full suspension, hardtails and SUV’s, each with their own strengths depending on the terrain you plan on tackling.
The key thing to look out for with e-bike batteries is the range. E-bike batteries are measured using watt-hours, which can get complicated when you have to start doing maths to figure out how long you can go from one charge. A quick and simple way to get around this is to consider how far you’ll be travelling and buy a battery that is capable of handling that distance (remember you’ll need to factor in the way back too!).
E-bike batteries usually have a shorter lifespan than the motor and the rest of the bike. If your battery does eventually stop working or doesn’t hold charge, then replacements can be bought from Halfords. Always use the battery recommended for your bike and don’t think you’ll be saving money by buying a cheap alternative – it won’t last as long and you could end up damaging your bike.
Types of motor
You can have the best e-bike battery in the world, but without an efficient motor, all that extra energy counts for nothing. There are three types of motor:
Front hub motors fit onto the front wheel. As you’ll be dragging both you and the bike along behind the motor, the handling of front hub motor e-bikes feels a bit like a front wheel drive car. Entry-level bikes often feature a front hub motor.
Rear hub motors provide more traction that front hub motors. They’re also a bit more sophisticated, as they need to interact with the gears and chain. Rear hub e-bike motors are usually found on mid to top-range e-bikes.
Central drive motors sit right on the bottom bracket, where the pedals attach to the frame. All power is directed through the entire chain set, so powered cycling feels more natural. Plus, all of the motor weight is in line with the rider’s centre of gravity, making this kind of e-bike feel more like a normal bike.
Motors are made by a variety of manufacturers and with a large variety of modes depending on what you’re looking for from a power perspective. You’ll recognise names like Yamaha, Shimano, Panasonic and Bosch, but manufacturer Brose are making waves with their high-end e-bike motors. The big thing to look at here is the overall cost of the bike – usually it’s the motor that’s a big factor when it comes to price, and of course the more you pay, the better the kit.
The law surrounding e-bikes is a bit more complex than that of a normal bike. Thanks to the electric motor, e-bikes are known as “electrically assisted pedal cycles” or “EAPCs” under EU law EN15194, which the UK takes e-bike legislation from. Your e-bike only falls in this category if:
- The e-bike is powered by pedalling and not just a battery and motor
- The electric motor won’t assist you if you’re travelling more than 15.5mph
- The power output doesn’t exceed 250 watts (not to be confused with watt-hours)
If you’re e-bike meets these requirements, then crack on as normal and enjoy your normal road or bike path routes. If the e-bike you’re looking at exceeds these regulations (i.e. it exceeds 250 watts or assists you when you ride above 15.5mph) then you’ll need to register it as a motor vehicle, tax it and insure it. You’ll also need to have a driving license to ride it and you’ll need to wear a motorcycle helmet.
Most e-bikes stay well within these limits, however, so you likely won’t need to be concerned about having to treat your bike like another car. It’s definitely worth checking, however, and it’s better being safe than sorry.