Electric Bike Buyers Guide: Everything You Need To Know Before You Buy

Sitting atop the list of the fastest growing category in the cycling industry globally, the rise in popularity of electric assisted bicycles, Electric bike or e-bikes is tough to ignore. This is largely thanks to the many ways in which an electric bike can be of benefit for everyone from non-riders to ingrained cycling enthusiasts. Simply put, an electric bike bike broadens the possibilities of cycling being viewed as a viable transportation option as well as a leisure activity.

This guide will take you through everything you need to know about electric bikes and to help you find the perfect ride to suit your needs and budget.

What Is An Electric Bike?

An e-bike is a bicycle with an electric motor offering some form of assistance to a rider to drive the bike forwards. This assistance can come in many forms including hub assist, however, pedal, or pedelec assistance is by far the most popular option.

Pedelec motors are fitted to the crank area (where the pedals attach) of an e-bike frame and offer electrical assistance relative to the amount of power being exerted by a rider.

The power output of these motors or drive units is typically governed by regulations (more on that below), however, it is fair to assume that the majority of e-bikes being shipped are equipped with a power output of 250 watts.

Riders also have to be fitted with functional pedals for the bike to be considered a power assisted bike. Bikes fitted with a throttle based motor system must adhere to slightly different output regulations, with maximum power capped to 200w, whilst speed remains limited to 25 kph. Any e-bike that exceeds these regulations is categorized as a motor vehicle and standard road rules apply.

How it Differs From a Normal Bike

Aside from the often obvious electric motor system that integrates into an e-bike, modern e-bikes are starting to look more and more like their traditionally pedal powered cousins. When looking at a regular commuter and an e-bike side by side, it's easy to see some resemblance between the two, start looking a little closer and a number of differences start to become more noticeable.

As e-bikes often come with extra heft, and more power output to manage, they will typically be built tough. The differentiation between a standard bike and an e-bike is that the latter will typically be built with a specific frame, as well as reinforced forks and components to handle the additional loads on offer. As a result of this they often tip the scales in excess of 18kg, and that's before adding such accessories such as water bottles, luggage, and tools.

Electric Bike Styles

Despite featuring relatively “new” technology in relation to their traditional pedal-powered cousins, the sheer amount of e-bike styles on offer is almost as wide as traditional bicylces. The list below outlines the more popular iterations of e-bikes that you’re likely to find.

City E-Bikes

Also referred to as “commuter” electric bikes or urban electric bikes, which are among the most popular options available on the market today. This option is perfect for commuters around urban and city areas. Urban bikes are extremely practical in terms of carrying cargo, as well as providing a reliable and safe ride.

Urban electric bikes will typically feature either a step-thru or low slung top tube frame designs made from either CroMoly steel or aluminium. Component wise, you'll find a mix of entry to mid-level mountain bike groupsets with some bikes opting for internal hub gears for ease of use and low maintenance. Wider tires will often feature for increased puncture protection and disc brakes are almost exclusively used thanks to the increased stopping power on offer. It's also common to find some urban e-bikes outfitted with a small amount of front suspension travel.

You can also expect to find accessories integrated into these bikes such as a kickstand, fenders, lighting both front and rear as well as racks for carrying bags and goods. Additionally, urban e-bikes are typically set up for riding in casual clothing, so expect pedals suitable for regular shoes, and a chain guard to keep your pants grease free.

Electric Mountain Bikes

Commonly referred to as eMTB’s, electric mountain bikes are amongst the most powerful e-bikes on the market today. Effectively a normal mountain bike but with pedal-activated power assistance located in the bottom-bracket, these capable trail shredders are typically available in either hardtail or dual suspension configuration.

With suspension travel in excess of 100mm (and sometimes as much as 180mm!) and large volume tyres, these capable off-road machines are likely to be more forgiving than their unpowered cousins, making them perfect for beginners and experienced mountain bikers alike. eMTB's will often feature componentry and groupsets similar to those found on traditional mountain bikes. More e-bike optimized groupsets and components are starting to appear, however, often with beefed up parts to deal with the additional load required.

You can also expect wheelsets to be shod with 2.3in rubber or wider, all in an effort to add traction on the trail. Frames will typically be made of aluminium, however, more and more carbon fiber options are starting to appear in flagship options. Carbon fiber offers the key advantage of saving substantial weight in a frame that's more complex than a regular mountain bike.

Electric Road Bikes

One of the latest categories to score electrical assistance, electric road bikes marry together the rolling and aerodynamic efficiency of a traditional road bike with the effortless power of a pedelec drive unit. The result allows cyclists of all abilities to tackle any climb or epic ride with a little more ease.

Electric road bikes are best suited to big days in the saddle or tackling the kind of hilly terrain that would make a professional cyclist wince. Frames will typically be constructed of either aluminium or carbon fiber whilst groupset options will be similar to those found on traditional road bikes. Stopping power will typically be provided by hydraulic disc brakes, whilst wheels will be built with additional spokes for added strength and stiffness. Tires will typically be wider than standard (30c +) to provide additional comfort, traction and puncture resistance.

Cargo E-bikes

The load luggers of the e-bike world, cargo e-bikes are quickly becoming a viable option for both commuters and businesses to move goods. Combined with the effortless power on offer from an electric drive unit, cargo e-bikes are perfect for people wanting a bike capable of commuting to work, or carrying kids, pets and shopping. Weather permitting, a cargo e-bike can be a viable replacement for an around town car.

Often outfitted with large racks, baskets or flatbeds for carrying loads, it’s common for cargo e-bikes to feature modified frames and a longer wheelbase for additional stability. Wheel count is sometimes increased too, with 3 wheels offering a nice and wide stance to ensure the bike is both comfortable and easy to control when fully loaded.

Foldable E-Bikes

Perfect for those limited on storage space or wanting to use a bike in addition to bus and train travel. A city bike is small in stature, making it more compact for storage and portability.

City bikes, folding or not, will often feature limited gearing and smaller wheels, which means they are best used for shorter town trips on smooth surfaces. Some city e-bikes will also be fitted with racks at the front, ideal for carrying small loads on your commute. Expect to see a mix of basic mountain bike groupsets with some featuring more city-friendly internal hubs at the rear for ease of use. Integrated lighting front and rear are typically standard for use in all light conditions, as are mounts for fenders and frame bags.

E-Bike Regulations

Electric powered or pedal assisted bikes follow the same standards as a regular bicycle and as such must comply with the same road rules. In addition to the bicycle specific laws detailed above, e-bikes are subject to both power and speed limits.

In Australia, the laws surrounding e-bikes closely mirror those found in Europe, meaning that e-bikes are required to have a motor output of no more than 200w for pedal cycles with a throttle or an electric auxiliary hub driven motor and 250w when used on a certified pedelec (power assisted pedal) bike. Motors are also speed limited to 25 kph, meaning that once you hit 25.1 kph, the electrical assistance will rapidly decrease, leaving you to continue pedaling the bike under your own steam.

Internationally, e-bike laws differ depending on the country they are pertaining to. For example, the United States of America has different regulations for ‘classes’ of e-bikes, however, it is worth noting that these can differ from state to state. These include;

    • Electric Bikes: Which feature operating pedals and auxiliary motors, which are limited to 750 watts of output and a speed of 20mph (32kph) on motor power alone.

    • Speed Pedelec: Which feature pedelec technology found in European and Australian pedelec bikes, however, have a power output cap of 750 watts and maximum assisted speed of 30mph (45kph).

    • Off-Road E-bikes: Which are designed for private off-road use only and as such as are typically illegal to ride on the road unless they conform to the restrictions of the two classes listed above.

Electric Bike Batteries and Charging Your E-Bike

The battery pack is arguably one of the most important aspects of electric bike motor system. Available in a range of wattages spanning anywhere from 200w to 550w; the number of watts or watt-hours a battery has will be indicative of the range on offer, with a higher number typically being able to provide increased range. E-bikes will typically be sold with one battery pack fitted, however, on some motor systems it is possible to run two battery packs in tandem, effectively doubling the range on offer.

When it comes to replenishing a depleted battery, it's simply a matter of plugging the bike into a standard wall outlet via the supplied charger. Charging times depend on battery capacity, charger amperage output and the power standards that your country adheres to. A full charge from completely empty will take anywhere from three to five hours. Most motor systems will ship with a two amp charger as standard with more powerful options typically available either direct from the motor system manufacturer.

The battery technology currently employed by leading manufacturers typically uses the same lithium-ion technology as found in everything from laptop batteries to electric cars. You can expect a battery pack to have a usable life of in excess of 1,000 full discharge-recharge cycles.

For most users, this should provide around a three to five-year cycle for the battery. Much like the battery in your smartphone, users should expect battery life to slowly degrade to about 80 percent of the capacity when new. Most manufacturers will typically offer replacement batteries that fit specifically with their motor systems, with many offering a limited warranty on the battery itself. Expect to pay between AU$800-AU$1200 for a replacement battery, certainly not a small expense.

It’s also worth noting that current aviation laws prohibit riders from flying with their e-bike batteries, so if you plan on traveling with your electric steed, it may be best to arrange a hire battery at your destination or send your battery over ahead of time.

For best performance and life, lithium-ion batteries shouldn’t be completely discharged and should be charged once every three months if you’re not using them for long periods. In the interest of safety, you should always use the charger that came with your system to prevent power spikes, short-circuiting or overheating.

Electric Bike Maintenance

Electric motors by their very nature produce high amounts of torque, that accelerates wear on consumable parts such as tires and chains. So it pays to be vigilant in ensuring that you’re properly shifting through the gears when riding and not letting the drive unit force a shift. Just like any other bike, it’s also worth regularly inspecting your drivetrain and tires for signs of wear.

As the motor systems are sealed units, any maintenance or work on the motor, or battery system is to carried out by a certified e-bike technician. This includes replacing individual battery cells, fixing controller electronics, and troubleshooting issues with the motor itself.

That being said, small electric motors will rarely (if ever) need this kind of service. As the motor systems are largely waterproof, you can wash an e-bike so long as you avoid spraying water directly at the motor, battery housing, or controller. It’s also worth noting that most manufacturers would advise against cleaning your e-bike with a pressure washer.

Expected Electric Bike Prices

Considering the amount of tech that goes into an e-bike, it should come as little surprise that entry-level costs are going to be higher than a traditional bicycle. This is thanks in part to the new tariffs on importing parts from China, but largely due to the increased complexity that comes with an e-bike system.

As you progress up through the different price brackets, motor systems will typically become more refined, offering higher capacity batteries, increased output, and in some cases, both of these things together. Below is a brief rundown of what you can expect for your money.

$1,000 to $2,000

The $1,000 to $2,000 price bracket is typically where you will find entry-level electric bikes options. At this price point, Hub driven units drastically outnumber pedelec options thanks to their reduced cost and simplified design. As for bikes, commuter and urban type e-bikes are by far the most commonly found here. Often the components used on these bikes are similar to what you would find on a $400-$750 non-powered bicycle.

$2,000 to $3,500

This price bracket is the entry-level for most trusted manufacturers of pedelec motor systems (e.g: Bosch, Shimano, Yamaha, Bose, etc), although high-end hub driven motor systems can be found in this price bracket too. Added accessories such as integrated lights, racks and mudguards start to become more commonplace here. The majority of the bikes in this price bracket are urban e-bikes, however, some sportier flat bar road e-bikes and eMTBs start to become more readily available. Quality aluminum frames become available in this price range, and better quality and longer lasting components are seen too.

$3,500 to $5,000

E-bikes found in this price bracket typically feature drive units with increased capacity, more integrated accessories such as racks, lights and higher capacity batteries. The AU$3,500 to AU$5,000 price range also sees hardtail eMTB’S and electric road bikes start to become more readily available. These performance e-bikes typically feature higher capacity battery systems and drive units. Expect a high-quality aluminium frame at this price, with quality big-brand components fitted too.

$5,000 plus

Moving towards the pointy end of the pricing structure and things start to become much more high-end and specialized. Expect to find dual-suspension eMTBs, super-commuters loaded with tech, and the latest and greatest carbon fiber framed e-road bikes in this bracket. Motor options are largely limited to range-topping pedelec drive units whilst you can expect to find the highest capacity (sometimes even two) battery systems fitted. Like any high-end bike, expect lightweight, durable and strong components fitted. For eMTBs, expect specialized groupsets and high-quality e-bike specific suspension fitted.

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