Electric bikes look just like their traditional counterparts, except for being equipped with an electric motor and simple control methods. There are over 120 million electric bicycles in China alone, and their use is significantly expanding in Australia, North America and Europe. These electric devices are an eco-friendly alternative to gas vehicles, and they’re considerably more efficient.
Furthermore, electric cycles can be safely used by people with cardiac problems and mobility-impaired people who need exercise, but also require help when they start experiencing cardiac exertion and muscle strain.
No matter what your reasons for being interested in this mode of transportation are, you’ll find a wide array of electric cycles from many manufacturers. All of these models will differ in power, performance and features. For that reason, it’s important to know what to pay attention to when deciding which cycle is best suited for you.
What You Need to Know About Batteries, Range and Motor
Every electric bicycle manufacturer puts a lot of emphasis on the power of their product. They often have to compromise between power and the cycle’s riding range.
This is due to the fact that powerful motors deliver more performance, but drain the battery faster, reducing the range you can reach. While you can get a general idea of the range electric cycles can go just by taking a glance at the specification sheet, keep in mind that the listed information can be affected by a wide range of factors.
Having a powerful battery is great and all, but the motor, your weight, the type of terrain you’re riding over will all impact how far you can go without pedalling.
Most batteries require a few hours of charging time (usually three to five). Fortunately, rapid charging technology has advanced significantly in the past few years, so you can get a fast charger to reduce the charge times significantly. Furthermore, some electric bicycles use two batteries, which can help you ride longer. Plus, if one battery dies, the other one takes over.
Additionally, you can get an extra battery to replace the empty one and get more mileage. Some batteries are integrated into the frame of the electric bicycle, while others are external. The latter are easier to charge and replace.
Motors are classified into two categories based on where they’re located and how they translate pedal strokes into forwarding motion. Mid-drive motors are the most common type, simply because the weight of the motor is centred and low, and the pedal assist mechanism responds with a more natural feel. All of this ensures the stability and balance of the bike.
Hub-drive motors, on the other hand, transmit the power generated by the pedals straight to the rear wheel, which creates the impression of being pushed. Changing a new tyre on the rear wheel is more complicated as a result.
Notable Features of Electric Bicycles and Part Specifics
There’s much more to electric bicycles than the battery and motors. A few important features to consider are the pedal-assist levels, activation and feel. Most electric bicycles come with three or four pedal-assist levels, letting you choose between speed and range. Pedal-assist activation and feel refer to the smoothness and responsiveness of the pedals. The only way to figure out which model is best in this regard is to give it a test ride.
Furthermore, most electric bicycles come with a range of accessories, such as lighting, racks, LCD displays and smartphone integration. The lighting accessories are most commonly found on commuter and city bikes. Racks, on the other hand, are more common on cargo electric bicycles.
LCD displays are found on most high-end electric bicycles, and they let you monitor your speed, battery life, pedal-assist and activation mode, distance ridden, etc. Smartphone integration is another feature found on high-end electric bicycles and it allows you to connect your smartphone so you can take advantage of applications and additional devices like GPS navigation systems, past route records and other screen capabilities.
Besides the aforementioned features, it’s important to pay attention to the quality of the components and the material of the electric cycle’s frame. Most electric bicycles are made of aluminium, simply because it’s a lightweight, yet durable material. High-end models, however, feature carbon fibre frames, which are even lighter, yet more durable. Of course, these models are relatively high-priced and aren’t generally bought by beginners. As you can tell, the lighter the material is, the better the performance of the bike. Besides the frame, the size of the battery and motor also plays a role in how far your electric bike can go on a single charge.
The Different Electric Bicycle Classes
Electric bicycles are categorised into three classes for regulatory reasons. The classes refer to the level of provided motor assistance. Deciding which class of electric bicycle you need is a crucial decision. The motor of class one electric bicycles kicks in only when you pedal, and it stops assisting at about 30km/h. Class two electric bicycles have pedal-assist mode up to 30km/h as well as completely throttle-powered mode. Lastly, class three bicycles feature only pedal-assist, but the assistance goes on until you hit about 40km/h.
As a beginner, you should be looking at class one bicycles, as they’re the most affordable and universally accepted. You can ride them anywhere, including traditional mountain-bike trails. However, you should still check, as their access isn’t universal. Class two electric bikes are allowed everywhere class one bikes are. Lastly, class three bicycles are more powerful and expensive than their class one counterparts, allowing you to keep up with traffic. On the downside, they aren’t allowed on mountain bike trail systems and traditional bike paths around the city.
That being said, do your due diligence surrounding the local regulations and the roads you intend on riding over. Since electric bicycles have only just recently become as popular as they are, the laws, age restrictions, registration, etc. are all changing. Furthermore, you should check with your local municipality and land managers at the areas you intend to ride.