Electric bikes are rising in popularity fast in the united states. With their new popularity many people have questions. We're going to cover some technical details, model types, motors and batteries. Then we’ll dive into some questions to help you narrow it down to an e-bike you'll be happy with in the long run.
Before we dive into the questions you can ask yourself, let’s break down some common style and characteristics of electric bikes. These are broad terms we like to use to describe the different frame styles available, many bikes may fit into one or two categories.
- Commuter / Urban
- Foldable & Travel Friendly
- Mountain / Fat Tire
The Pedego interceptor is the definition of comfort
Comfort bikes tend to be heavier, they will have large soft seats, large frames and swept back handlebars for a relaxed riding position. The battery is often mounted on the back of the bike making for a slightly different weight distribution than you may be used to.
They often have step through designs and are ideal for carrying cargo as they have a larger frame and sometimes built in racks.
These bikes tend to have a toptube with a downward slope or even step through models. They are great for riders who may have mobility issues or riders who simply want something easy to mount. They also support larger riders who may not be comfortable on a traditional frame. You’ll often see people cruising the beach or getting some light exercise on these models.
Electric bikes are the future of commuting
This is a general term for any bike with a more classic geometry. Meaning the rider will sit upright and forward. These can range from a road bike design to a mountain bike. The battery is usually mounted on the down tube or the seat tube making for a more natural balance of the bike. These may have a standard toptube or a mild step through design.
These are great for riders who are commuting to work, biking for more moderate to intense exercise or someone who simply wants a more traditional frame.
A foldable bike is perfect for the boat, RV, or storing in a small office
Foldable & Travel Friendly
Don’t let the name fool you. While some of these electric bikes are quite compact most feel and ride like a regular bike once unfolded. These bikes tend to have interesting style frames. They can lack the range and top speed offered by other models but they make up for that by being conveniently and easy to store.
They are great for anyone who might want to store them on an RV, a boat, a small apartment or you simply want to keep it in the office.
Electric mountain bikes are rising in popularity
Mountain / Fat Tire
Most of these are built just like classic mountain bikes.They range from basic to advanced depending on the riders needs. This is a category where things can get quite technical if you want them to. The frames can come with suspension or be rigid. The components can vary greatly and while fit is always important, it becomes just a little more important if you’ll be exercising intensely with one of these.
These are great for anyone looking to ride both on and off road.
A Mid-drive motor and a center mounted external battery
Basic Electrical Components
Aside from the frame style, there are a couple considerations when choosing an electric bike. These will impact the weight of the bike, the distance you can travel and more importantly, how the bike will feel. Meaning the balance and the propulsion. We're not going to go into great technical detail.
- The location of the battery
- The location of the motor
Location of the battery
Due to the added weight on the frame, the placement of the battery is going to affect how the bike feels. They can be mounted externally or integrated inside of the frame. Common locations include on the down tube, the seat tube or mounted on a rack above the back tire.
Placement toward a lower point, such as the bottom bracket will provide a more centered balance point and feel more like a traditional bike. While batteries mounted on the back will carry a bit more weight on the back of the bike. You might be surprised at what you like so don’t be too quick to judge until you test a couple yourself.
Most electric bikes use lithium-ion batteries. The range of the bike is determined by a multitude of factors, including the batteries amperage (or stored energy). The greater the amperage, the greater the range. Most charge in three to five hours and can be plugged into a standard wall outlet.
There are two mounting styles of motor to consider.
These are mounted in the center of the bike on the bottom bracket between the crank arms and pedals. These are common on commuter style frames and especially on mountain bike frames where the centered balance is necessary.They tend to be quieter, more responsive and have a fluid acceleration. Because the motor is attached directly to the crank arms, the sensors are more in tune with the pedaling cadence the torque and the input of the cyclist. Ultimately, the motor will engage and respond more naturally to your input in the pedals.
These are mounted in the front or rear wheel, within the hub. You’ll often find these on cruiser style bikes or some commuters. The will impact the center of gravity and especially the feel of the propulsion. A rear mount motor in the back will create the sensation of being propelled forward while a motor mounted in the front will have a pulling sensation.
The feel of these can vary significantly. There are two types to consider.
- Geared hub
Geared hub motor
These are smaller, lighter and provide for longer rides. They work well if you live in hilly areas or places with frequent stop signs. They are however, louder and can wear out faster as they have more moving parts.
These ares mother, more powerful, quieter and have less components to wear down. They take a little more power from a standing start but are quite efficient when you have a steady ride lacking lights or stop signs.
A side by side comparison
There are advantages and disadvantages to either style and neither is superior. It’s more so what meets your needs better. Remember, you won’t know what you like until you try. It amazes us how often people come in with an idea in mind, they try a few bikes and then realize they like the complete opposite.
With that said, here are a few considerations between the two.
- Mid-drive keeps the wheels free and clear of components so they are easier to repair. They often have more working parts that can wear over time. If you purchase from a local bike shop, make sure they offer service and this becomes a non issue.
- Mid-drive will balance, respond and propel like a traditional bike.
- Hub-drive will propel or pull you along.
Okay, the tech talk is over. You have an idea of how electric bikes work, but what one is right for you? Where do you even begin? Ask yourself some questions to narrow it down.
Ask yourself some questions to decide what ebike is right for you
What will I be using this electric bike for?
There are a number of reasons people use electric bikes. A few examples would be wanting to commute with an environmentally friendly vehicle, mobility issues, carrying groceries or cargo, a second vehicle for your RV or boat, a way to supercharge your workout routine, or of course just for fun!
Whatever your reasons, electric bikes are undeniably fun. From cruising the boardwalk, exploring local trails or just riding around town. It’s like having super powers when you pedal. People have been riding bikes for a very long time, electric bikes are just another fun way to do an activity you already love.
If leisure is all you are after most any style is going to meet your needs. Visit you local bike shop and try a couple models. You may like the idea of a mountain bike only to discover a beach cruiser feels way better in every way. You won’t know until you try.
We did an article on commuting a while back. If you’re hoping to implement a new routine and kick start some habits give that a read. Using an electric bike for a commute is smart. It’s good for the environment, good for your physical health and mental well being. You can cover great distances in a relatively short amount of time. Depending on traffic, it may even be faster than driving to work. It’s great because you only have to work as hard as you’d like so sweating becomes a non issue for office settings.
Choosing something for commuting, you might want to consider the kind of terrain you’ll be riding on, the route you’ll be taking and how you will store the bike at work. If it’s a short city drive and you have a small cubicle a foldable bike may be a good option. Granted, a bike lock outside goes a long way. If you have a longer commute with lots of hills or even off road conditions, a commuter style or mountain bike or might be the best choice.
Electric bikes are amazing for people who have limited mobility as they make biking possible for many who have long since given up on the idea. Biking is a great way to improve health and happiness especially if you don’t get outside as much as you’d like.
If you fall into this category, a step through cruiser style bike with a large comfortable seat would be an optimal choice. Speak with your health care provider first then visit the local bike shop to get the correct fit. There are some step through models that are almost effortless to mount like the Pedego Boomerang or the city commuter with a more moderate step through yet traditional look.
If you need a bike to transport groceries from the local farmers market or your grocery store, you’ll want to find a bike with ample cargo. A cruiser with a basket and a rack on the back maybe enough, or you could opt for a full fledged cargo bike like the Pedego Stretch.
Exercise might be our favorite reason for picking up an electric bike. There are some common misconceptions around this topic and we’ve done a full article on exercising with your electric bike. Give that a read after this article. Electric bikes are a good choice whether you’re working your way back into physical health, you’re looking for a tool to travel further and explore more or perhaps a partner or friend could use the extra boost to keep up.
You can get a good workout with any style bike. Commuter and mountain bikes are going to support a more athletic posture and lend themselves towards more intense exercise while cruisers are great for leisurely rides and light exercise.
What kind of terrain will I be biking on?
It’s important to consider where you live. Are there a lot of hills? Do you live in the city with plenty of stop lights or in the country with long dirt roads? Does the idea of biking on sand or snow appeal to you?
The terrain is an important consideration. Of course off road biking will necessitate an off road bike but there are other more subtle considerations. We covered motors types earlier and that is information you can apply here. Of course any motor from a reputable brand will work just fine in any conditions there are some things to consider. Some motors will have a smoother transition when stopping and going some will have more torque while powering up hills.
The best way to judge what will suit your needs is to ride a couple of bikes. Pay attention to how abruptly it accelerates. Is it responsive and smooth or is there a slight delay followed by a surge or power? How powerful is the bike comparatively to other models that you are test riding? How many levels of pedal assist does the bike have? There are no right or wrong answers here. It’s simply a matter of what feels best to you.
If you live somewhere with trails, beaches or lots of snow a mountain bike or fat tire bike is a game changer. Aside from being designed to ride in difficult conditions have the extra boost from the motor makes these conditions accessible and easy.
How far can you go on an electric bike?
How far do I want to go?
If you've been doing your research, many manufactures or retailers will tell you that most any ebike will go far enough. There is a lot of truth to this. Most people will tire out before the battery of their electric bike does. That said, the actual range on these bikes will vary greatly from model to model. Some of our bikes range from 15 to 70 miles depending on the battery elected and other variables.
This is going to come down to a large number of considerations. There is no standard to estimate range. Your weight, the terrain, the size and capacity of the battery. With all of these variables there is some basic math that can be applied for an estimated range of the bike.
How to estimate range
You'll want to consider the voltage and amp-hour rating of the battery. Now multiply the two together to get watt-hours. This is a measurement of the stored energy in the battery.
Here's where it gets complicated due to all the variables like rider weight weather, speed and terrain. You can expect to use roughly 12-24 watt-hours per mile. How much you pedal and the level of pedal assist used is going to impact this greatly.
Whats my budget?
When it comes to budget there are trade-offs to consider as well.
The quality of the components will impact the price greatly. For example, a highly engineered motor with less moving parts is going to cost more yet last longer with less need of maintenance over time. A bike with high quality brakes, wires mechanical and electrical components is also going to impact this greatly. You'll also want to consider the size of the battery into your budget. The more range, the more the bike will cost. The key takeaway here is you get what you pay for relative to other comparable models in a certain category.
Some bikes are inherently more costly such as high-end mountain bikes. The design, necessary components and build of these ebikes make them often more costly than many cruiser or commuter styles.
The last consideration is the cost and how the bike will feel. High-end bikes tend to ride quiet, smooth and responsive while not always the case you can expect a more economic bike to feel less refined. Meaning, depending on a number of factors, it could accelerate more abruptly or simply not respond as quickly to rider input. The funny thing on this point is it's completely subjective. Some people love the powerful abrupt acceleration of some bikes while others prefer the soft quite feel. The only way to know what you'll like is to visit your local shop and try one for yourself.
Ryan (Rygo) Goloversic
Avid lover of travel, fitness and the outdoor lifestyle.
He’s a kitesurfer, video editor and professional writer. His mission is to inspire others to live a healthier happier more conscious lifestyle. Most importantly get active, get outside and live your best life.