Many people think about the healthy shift from cars to bikes for their health and of the planet.
While these reasons are legit, certain aspects cause second thoughts. To begin with, no one wants to reach their office all sweaty and tired.
Furthermore, cycling for ten or twenty miles back and forth on a conventional bike can be tiresome. Electric bikes, better known as e-bikes, claim to bring the best of both worlds.
On the one hand, e-bikes are easy to ride, thanks to their pedal support. But, on the other hand, they require a considerable amount of physical activity without polluting the environment.
However, before you jump to the e-bike bandwagon, you should understand a few things. First of all, what is an e-bike? Second, how do electric bikes work? Last but not least, should you choose an electric bike over a conventional bike?
Well, we have answered all these questions and more in this comprehensive guide to electric bikes.
First, we will look at the history of electric bikes, explore their working principles, and the legalities you should know about. In the end, you would know whether you need to get an e-bike for everyday travel or casual cycling.
What Is an E-bike?
An electric bike, popularly known as an e-bike, is a type of bicycle that packs an integrated electric motor.
It will use the power from the motor to assist propulsion, thus making it easy to move forward. It means the rider does not have to use as much energy as they would need to use for a conventional bike. There will be a push from the electric motor when you start pedaling the bike.
Depending on the amount of support the motor offers, e-bikes can be classified into two.
E-bikes that match the rider’s pedal power with power from the motor. They are often referred to as pedelecs and pedal-assist e-bikes.
E-bikes that move on their own, without the pedal-power from the rider. These e-bikes come with a throttle that delivers power on demand.
Nevertheless, you can find pedaling capability on both types of e-bikes. You should keep in mind that an e-bike is different from a moped, motorcycle, and even electric motorcycle.
Even though e-bikes, motorcycles, and electric motorcycles share some similarities, e-bikes are the most similar to conventional bikes. More importantly, they offer the closest-to-cycling experience as well.
You can find an impressive variety of electric bikes in the market, including commuter e-bikes and mountain bikes. We will talk more about them later.
History of Electric Bikes
The idea of electric bikes is as old as electric motors. Patent documents indicate that inventors in the United States came up with prototype electric bikes as early as the 1890s.
These were no more than a conventional bike with motors attached to the rear wheel. In 1897, however, the world saw an electric bicycle that used a double electric motor.
In the following decade, many inventors tried to accommodate powerful motors on their electric bicycles. However, these vehicles had retained the classic bicycle design as well.
The world had to wait until the 1990s to see the pedal-assist system appear on electric bikes. Yamaha, the automotive giant from Japan, is credited with developing a pedal-assist system in 1993.
Since 1993, e-bikes have become popular, and production has seen impressive growth. Now, people use the term e-bike to refer to bicycles that offer pedal-assist using an electric motor. On the other hand, if the vehicle uses a motor for on-demand power, they are called an electric motorbike or e-motorbike.
In the twenty-first century, e-bikes have become incredibly popular, especially in the US and China. People consider electric bikes as the best option when they need an eco-friendly alternative to cars and motorcycles.
On the other side of the spectrum, we see several electric motorcycles as well. These motorcycles cater to those who need the powerful performance that is common on traditional motorbikes. We must also add that e-bikes, e-motorbikes, and e-motorcycles have started relying on modern battery technologies.
Earlier, these vehicles used acid-based batteries, which were not effective or safe. Even though affordable e-bikes have retained the trend, most manufacturers have shifted to NiMH, NiCd, and Li-ion batteries.
We will cover more about batteries in the dedicated section. Currently, you can find hundreds of electric bike manufacturers in the United States. In addition to exclusive e-bike manufacturers, many bike manufacturers have developed electric alternatives for the existing products.
Pros of Electric Bikes
Are you still wondering why you should shift from cars or conventional bikes to e-bikes?
Here are some solid advantages of using an electric bike.
Moving from a motor vehicle to an electric bike is a sure-shot way to save money. As you know, the gasoline costs are on the roof, and they are not getting environmentally friendly, either.
On the other hand, electricity is becoming cheaper and more environmentally friendly every day. Therefore, you can cover a distance by spending only a fraction of what you would pay to refill your motor vehicle. Even when compared to a simple motorcycle, an e-bike is an excellent way to save money.
Depending on how much you can spend upfront, it is possible to find e-bikes with a range as high as 100 miles on a single charge. It means you can save a lot of money in the long run.
As we mentioned earlier, e-bikes are the future of environmentally friendly transportation. Because e-bikes do not use an engine, there is no air pollution.
Nor do they emit problematic gases to the atmosphere. On the other hand, they can keep running for years based on pure electricity. Thus, when you get an e-bike instead of a motor car, you contribute towards zero-emission earth.
The best part? You need not make any significant compromises while doing so.
Nowadays, we are talking about near-zero emissions. However, as we start using zero-pollution ways of generating electricity, e-bikes would also move to the zero-emission category.
An Opportunity to Stay Fit
We already told you that most e-bikes do not run on their own. Instead, they require pedal power from the rider. The motor will then match the pedal power with a push.
It results in a more relaxing way to ride an e-bike, especially going uphill. Nevertheless, riding an e-bike requires energy from the rider. Therefore, e-bikes are not as passive as motorcycles, gas-based vehicles, or electric motorcycles. More importantly, research has indicated that people tend to cycle more when there is a pedal-assist.
For instance, if a person travels 5 or 10 miles without a pedal-assist, they will easily cover 8- or 15-miles pedal-assist is available. So, in the grand scheme of things, getting an e-bike increases your chances of working out more.
Most people are concerned about heavy maintenance responsibilities when they get a motor vehicle. Well, you can keep those worries at bay when you upgrade to an e-bike.
Compared to a motor vehicle or even an e-motorcycle, an e-bike requires minimal maintenance per year. If you take the proper care of the e-bike, you will not even have to take the e-bike to the service center. Using the provided set of tools, you can keep the different components in check.
Of course, an e-bike requires more care than a conventional bike, but it is mainly understood when comparing the level of convenience and savings. Because e-bikes do not use gas-based engines, you can use your e-bike in different environments as well.
Subsidies and More
If you did not know, you have more reasons to get an e-bike in some countries. Many countries across the world are trying their best to cut down on carbon emissions.
One of the ways to do that is to promote the shift to electric vehicles from gas-based ones. As a part of this, many countries offer subsidies if you are willing to use a bike or an e-bike to commute to your work. So, you can get extra savings while purchasing e-bikes in the first place.
In addition to state-based subsidies, your town may have some offers for those who want to make the electric shift. Therefore, make sure you check out the neighborhood before ordering an e-bike from an online store.
Did you know that there are minimal legalities to get an e-bike? For example, in some states, you can get one e-bike even without a driving license.
You also do not have to worry about registration costs and license plates in most places. Sure, some US states have ambiguous laws on e-bikes, but they are bound to change in the coming years. Due to minimal legalities surrounding them, e-bikes are now available from various sources, including online stores like Amazon.
Thus, you can have these bikes delivered to your doorsteps even while availing yourself of all potential offers. Long story short, legalities will not cause any delay if you are ready to shift.
We mentioned in the introduction that people stay away from conventional bikes because riding them can be a sweaty process. However, thanks to the pedal-assist feature on e-bikes, sweat will not be a problem.
Furthermore, it needs to be noted that you have to spend only a fraction of your energy while riding an e-bike, especially while going downhill. Most e-bikes will also have an option to increase the pedal-assist power according to the terrain.
So, in the worst case, you can easily use maximum support from the e-bike and cover more distance. We believe this advantage would appeal to everyone who stayed away from shifting to a bike due to the ‘sweat’ part.
They Are Versatile
Nowadays, you can find e-bikes in different subcategories. For instance, you can find commuter bikes that bring a balance between performance and range.
However, if you are into mountain biking and trails, you can quickly get a turbo-powered e-bike as well. Furthermore, because manufacturers are always trying to outsell others in the market, you can find newer designs. Long story short, the lack of choice would not stop you from getting an e-bike.
There are so many options to choose from an incredible variety of manufacturers. This versatility also means e-bikes are here to stay. If they were not, you would be witnessing a generic set of e-bikes on the street, which is not the case now.
Cons of Electric Bikes
Given below are some factors that might discourage or delay you from getting an electric bike. However, if you ask us, these reasons are easily negligible.
Heavy Upfront Investment
Compared to conventional bikes, e-bikes are more expensive. Even though the products are worth what you pay, the upfront investments remain heavy.
Of course, compared to getting a motor car or pickup truck, the costs of an e-bike are minimal. However, if you thought of getting an e-bike instead of a conventional bike, you must be ready for the heavy investment.
Can Be Quite Heavy
Compared to standard bikes, e-bikes can be pretty heavy. As you can guess, high-capacity batteries are the primary reason for this.
Also, because these e-bikes are designed to last for an extended period, e-bike makers use high-quality construction material. Altogether, these vehicles are heavy, and you might have a tough time moving them.
We are not trying to mislead here, and we know we said that e-bikes deal with minimal legality. However, it is not valid in every country.
Several countries are still unclear about the classification of e-bikes. Depending on these legalities, you may have to deal with some kind of registration in some regions. However, we hope these rules change pretty soon.
Depending on the amount you invest upfront, you may have battery-related issues with an e-bike. There are instances when the e-bike battery becomes weak and less powerful.
It means you will see a significant change in the range of the vehicle. If you plan to use an e-bike for commuting a lot of distance, these could be pretty problematic.
Even though there is an uproar for the EV revolution, many cities are still not optimized for e-bikes. So, you can see that the lack of electric bike lanes is a problem in many US cities.
But, again, we hope it changes over time. Currently, you may have a few doubts about where to ride your e-bike: on the sidewalk or the road. Of course, you can clear these doubts if there is an e-bike community in your town.
Types of Electric Bikes
We said that electric bikes come in all sizes and shapes. We have mentioned the popular types of e-bikes.
Cruiser e-bikes are designed for those who need a comfortable riding experience. As the name suggests, it has been designed for cruising on flat terrains, not mountainous ones.
Like other pedelecs, a cruiser e-bike will supplement your pedal-power with motor power. But, because they are made for fun and recreational purposes, you can find smaller batteries and power allocations in these vehicles. These e-bikes may not have the most extensive range, though.
Commuter e-bikes are designed for those who want to travel long distances every day. It could be a to-and-fro trip for work or a number of errands. In most cases, you will have to recharge the e-bike battery every day.
This type of electric bike will have the largest range if you are wondering. Their designs may not be as comfortable or luxurious as a cruiser e-bike. Similarly, whereas a cruiser e-bike uses fat tires, these commuter ones stick to narrow tires.
Mountain e-bikes are great for those mountain biking enthusiasts out there. Because these bikes are made for mountainous terrains, they pack a considerably high amount of power. Wide tires and handlebars are an essential addition to the design.
When combined with extra power, mountain e-bikes will allow riders to keep on the trail without sweating much. Having said that, mountain e-bikes can be pretty heavy as they need to accommodate high-capacity batteries.
Road e-bikes are pretty similar to cruiser e-bikes. They are designed for day-to-day transport on the road. But, unlike cruiser e-bikes, road e-bikes would not have many luxurious features like wide seats.
Instead, they tend to focus on extended range and narrow tires. You cannot use road e-bikes for mountainous terrains or going uphill unless you want to drain the battery quickly. Nevertheless, road e-bikes also present the superb balance that most people need.
Classes of E-bikes
By the way, you can find e-bikes from different classes as well. For instance, class 1 e-bikes are made to assist when you pedal the bike.
On the other hand, a class-2 e-bike will have a throttle that provides on-demand boosts. Lastly, we can see class-3 e-bikes that come with a speedometer. These e-bikes may have a maximum speed limit of 28mph, which is when the pedal-assist stops.
Electric Bike Range
The range could be one of the most complex aspects of an electric bike. There are a couple of reasons.
First, the overall range of the e-bike is affected by factors like total payload, tire pressure, riding position, pedaling power, tire type, battery capacity, wind resistance, and the age of the bike.
For example, we can consider a commuter e-bike that claims to have a maximum range of 100miles. You can mostly get the promised range if you stick to economy riding.
However, if you want to ride fast, you will find depreciation of the range. Depending on the speed, you may get anywhere between 30% or 80% of the promised range.
Some e-bikes are now equipped with dual battery configurations. In these cases, you can get a maximum range of up to 200miles, which is fantastic.
However, you will have to pay extra for these devices. On the bright side, manufacturers are using new battery technologies to multiply the range.
Battery Used in Electric Bikes
We mentioned in the introduction that e-bike manufacturers had tried many types of batteries in the past. Acid-based batteries were the first ones to be tested.
However, they were soon replaced by NiCd and NiMH. However, these days, most makers have made the shift to Lithium-ion batteries, which are ubiquitous. Since these batteries are easy to use and accommodate in vehicles, they can be found in most e-bikes.
More importantly, some e-bikes come with a dual-battery configuration or multi-battery configuration. The setup will help when an e-bike needs more power than what a single battery can provide.
As we said, you will have to pay additional charges for these models. As to whether they are worth it, a high-capacity battery means you do not have to charge the e-bike so frequently.
We must also note that Lithium-ion batteries have helped manufacturers reduce the weight of e-bikes to a great extent. In addition, some e-bikes also ship with a spare battery pack that the rider can keep for backup.
In short, all manufacturers are working towards providing a hassle-free riding experience from electric bikes, even if it means supplying two battery units instead of one.
How to Operate an Electric Bike
You can operate an electric bike as easily as you use a conventional bike.
As we said earlier, e-bikes do not provide sudden thrust unless you demand it. So, you can start riding the bike as you usually do.
Before that, you have to select the amount of pedal assistance you need from the e-bike. If you want to pedal the cycle all on your own, you can turn off pedal-assist at any time.
If your electric bike comes with a throttle, you can use it for a boost while riding. However, based on where you live, there will be a limit to this thrust.
For instance, the pedal-assist system or the on-demand thrust will stop working when you reach a speed of 20mph or 28mph. Of course, you can speed up your bike, but you have to do that independently.
Is License Required for Riding an Electric Bike?
In many regions, you do not need a license to ride an electric bike. However, due to the ambiguity in federal law, we cannot give you a definite answer that applies to the US.
Therefore, you should check with the state and local authorities before you get an electric bike. Based on their definition of an e-bike, you may have to register the vehicle or obtain a license.
Your city may also have a few regulations on where you can ride/park these electric vehicles. So, it makes sense to check them all.
We hope we have provided a clear idea about an electric bike.
We have tried to clear your legal queries as much as possible, but, in many states, they are ambiguous. In fact, it is an area where we would like to see some real change, real soon.
Noel Joseph has been in the world of motor vehicles for a long period. Currently, he is enthusiastic about Electric & Hybrid Motors and is an independent researcher. He advocates for a clean and sustainable future and envisions utilizing his years of experience in mechanical engineering. His new venture here at CompactPower.com is to organize and simplify knowledge on Electric vehicles. He wants to build a space where people can talk about EVs and associated technologies with freedom.