You’ve read and heard a lot about E-bikes, but the thoughts of what one is and why you might need one have probably crossed your mind. Let’s see if I can cover some of your questions without going too far into every last detail of the subject. First, you must know that it is generally a regular bicycle with a electric motor and battery added to assist your own leg power.
Most E-bikes appear quite conventional, while others seem to be designed by the animators of science fiction movies. Still, the bike can be pedaled in a normal way, with the option of using the electric-assist when you feel the need. If you like, you can ride without pedaling. They are heavier than the non-powered versions, some quite considerably. A good, light E-bike can be pedaled without too much extra effort if the battery power is used up or it is removed from the bike.
Using a rechargeable battery, an E-bike can have enough power to cover anywhere from 15-40 miles between charges. The motor is normally intergraded in the front or rear hub of the bike. Some use an external motor that drives the rear wheel or front chain ring with the use of a standard bicycle chain. New models on the market use ‘bottom bracket drive’, with the motor driving the pedals or chain with a hidden gear set or sprocket. Regardless of the motor mounting and drive system, the bike can still operate in the normal way.
Batteries range from lightweight and powerful lithium types, to the heavy and inexpensive sealed lead acid (SLA) model. 24 to 48 volt systems are available, with the 36 volt being the most common. Batteries also come in different Ah ratings that help determine just how much range your bike will have. 10 Ah is more or less the norm, with some having up to a 18 Ah battery as standard or optional equipment. Plus, keep in mind, your range will depend on how much you use the assist, what kind of terrain you ride, and the total amount of weight you carry (rider and cargo).
An electronic control unit (ECU) is the device that feeds power from the battery to the motor on your command. The control system can be ultra simple, activated by a twist or thumb throttle. Many also add a pedelec feature (motor runs automatically when you pedal). The best have intelligent pedelec, (power is added in proportion to how hard you are pedaling). A combination of the two (throttle and pedelec) is best, while E-bikes in Europe are only allowed the pedelec function. Test riding different bikes can help you decide which is best for you. This is one thing about E-bikes that can make or break your feeling of comfort and safety.
There are many companies that offer complete, ready-to-ride E-bikes. They are available in a wide range of price points. The cost can reflect features, power, and quality. It is best to do some investigative work to see how well the bike in question has been received by its owners and its record of mechanical and electrical problems. Getting one direct from an E-bike shop is best, but in some areas, you are limited to internet ordering. You generally can’t beat the hands on service of an E-bike shop. Also, they usually stock several brands, so you can try them out to find your ’perfect’ E-bike.
Then too, there is a wide variety of companies that offer E-bike conversion kits. They range from the basic, to the nicest, most powerful, and quiet running kits. A conversion is not all that difficult to install, but some experience with bike maintenance and repair is needed to complete the project correctly. One nice thing about installing your own conversion kit, is that it will give you some insight into how to solve problems if they arise. Plus the satisfaction of doing it yourself is always a big plus in such things.
Just to add one more option into the mix, I want to mention E-trailers. It is just what it sounds like, the power system is fully contained in the trailer. With only a wire harness to connect that interacts with a few pieces on the handle bars, it can be used on your existing bike. So you don’t have to purchase a second bike, and it can be used when you feel you need it, and disconnected when not. It is a great idea for shopping and hauling with your bike. I plan on trying out a couple different ones soon, so stay tuned for reports on them.
There are what I consider three groups of people who can benefit from an electric-assist bike. The first one includes people who are recovering from some type of medical problem. Or those with permanent disabilities too. They want or need to ride, but don’t have the strength or endurance they may have once enjoyed. An E-bike can reopen avenues of travel and freedom they have been missing. It can give them the ability to finish a ride when personal power dimishes, adding the peace of mind needed to cycle once again.
Next, are people like me. A daily commute without excess sweating is fully possible. Extending a ride to distances normally not reached can be so satisfying. Powering up a hill without dismounting and walking has proven to be a thrill. And just fun rides with a little help to add to the enjoyment of the trip means so much. These are the reasons why I, and so many others want and own electric-assist bikes.
The final group are speed demons. With the correct pieces, you can get your E-bike to travel in excess of 40 MPH. I know, because I have ridden such bikes. Some people are in a hurry and want to travel at speeds beyond the 20 MPH limit set by most states to keep an E-bike free of license and registration needs. Powering through hilly terrain on a high-output electric bike has got to be some thrill. Most don’t need this, but electric power can be very exhilarating. To get a bike like this, you will need a special group of components, and most likely, an E-bike expert to put it all together for you.
So there you have it. I hope this adds to your understanding of E-bikes and the reasons they exist. With all the different electric-assist bikes I ride, I am constantly asked about how they work and why we need them. My most common explanation is that, “I don’t have the power to make that hill, the motor doesn’t have the power to make that hill, but if we work together, we can roll on up without too much extra effort”. And, “Give it a try and see for yourself”. So, find an E-bike shop and give one a try.
For more info, check the many articles I have written on E-bikes and their control systems. Thanks for letting me share this with you, Turbo Bob.
“While it is a very hard and sometimes very cruel profession, my love for the bike remains as strong now as it was in the days when I first discovered it. I am convinced that long after I have stopped riding as a professional I will be riding my bicycle. I never want to abandon my bike. I see my grandfather, now in his seventies and riding around everywhere. To me that is beautiful. And the bike must always remain a part of my life.”—Stephen Roche.
There are many people and shops to thank for their support for my blog. A few of them are—
Ivan Stewart’s Electric Bike Center
San Diego Electric Bike