Electric bicycles were large, inconvenient, and expensive machines with short battery lives for many years. That is gradually changing. E-bikes are evolving. Now they are lighter, more appealing, and more powerful than ever before. You don't have to be in shape to ride one, and they get you outside, reduce traffic, and reduce your carbon footprint.
Electric Bikes Or E-Bikes
Most people think of a scooter or an electric motorcycle when they hear the term "electric bicycle," but they are not the same thing. Consider a standard bicycle, then add a motor, a battery, and a controller that are all seamlessly integrated into the design. These components are the foundation of the market's electric bikes. While e-bikes are ideal for short trips around town, electric motorcycles may be better for those venturing further afield. Electric bikes, like electric cars, are intended for longer trips.
Three Classes of E-Bikes
Following the decision of which style of bike is best for you, the following primary consideration is which class of e-bike is best for your needs. There are three classes in the United States based on the type of assist and the speed at which the motor propels you. The majority of electric bikes are classified as class 1 or class 3. Class 1 bikes have a motor that helps you pedal up to 20 mph. Class 3, also known as "speed pedelecs," can have up to a 750w motor and can assist you at speeds of up to 28 mph. Both are legal in most states and cities and do not require a license.
Class 2 models, which were uncommon just a year ago, are becoming more popular, particularly at lower prices. These models include a throttle that can propel a bike to and maintain 20 mph without continuous pedaling.
Some motorcycles blur the lines. For example, Aventon's popular Pace 500 is technically a Class 3 e-bike because it can reach speeds of up to 28 mph, but it also has a throttle that can reach speeds of up to 20 mph (the maximum legal speed for a throttle).
What To Know About E-Bikes
Torque: Torque is a rotational measurement of force measured in newton meters (or Nm) and is the number to consider when determining an e-bike motor's output. More torque means more acceleration and pep in your step. The more torque the bike requires, the heavier it is. Torque on lighter road bikes is typically 30 to 40Nm while trailing and cargo bikes have at least 80Nm, and most commuter bikes fall somewhere in the middle.
Locking Battery: As the number of electric bike options grows, brands integrate batteries more seamlessly, making the bike look sleeker. Most batteries lock to the bike and come with a key that allows you to unlock and remove them, which serves several functions: A locked battery deters a thief from stealing it, and an e-bike with the battery removed is safer for hauling on a bike rack and lighter for carrying up steps.
Watt-Hours: The battery size of an e-bike is measured in watt-hours (or Wh), which represents the amount of energy stored in the battery and the number of watts it can deliver per hour. The greater the number, the greater the range; however, the greater the speed, the less range you have. So, if a 504Wh battery and a 500-watt motor provide one hour of ride time at maximum assist, riding at half that power will double your range.
Wider Tires: Because e-bikes can maintain higher speeds for extended periods than traditional bikes, you need more control. Wider tires provide better traction and allow you to leave the pavement without penalty, and a suspension fork will help you navigate some of the rougher roads you may encounter. Good disc brakes are also required for slowing down a heavy bike at high speeds.
Integrated Lights: Some e-bikes include an integrated lighting system that activates when the bike is powered on. While this is an excellent feature to have, it is not a deal-breaker if your bike lacks it. With so many great bike lights available, attaching your own is simple.
Electric bicycles are designed to be simple to use. As a rider, you have three modes of operation at your disposal:
- Only Pedal: You can ride an electric bicycle at any time, just like a regular one. Because the motor creates no additional resistance, it will feel exactly like a traditional bicycle. Depending on your model, your bike will have three or eight gears or an exceptional NuVinci® N360TM internal drivetrain with infinite gears.
- Pedal-Assist: You can use a combination of human and electric power in this mode. When you activate this mode by pressing the on/off button on the handlebars, the motor will provide gentle electric power as you pedal. You can still change gears as the terrain changes to benefit from more torque or faster speed. Using pedal-assist mode is a fantastic feeling because it makes cycling easy, flattens the hills, and frees you to enjoy yourself and the scenery.
- Electric-Only: This mode of operation allows you to sit back and relax while the motor does the work. To activate "electric-only" mode, twist the throttle on the left handlebar, and you'll feel the motor kick in and propel you forward. Keep the throttle turned if you want to keep going, or let it go if you're going to start pedaling or come to a stop. Please keep in mind that the top speed in electric-only mode is limited to 20 miles per hour due to Federal regulations.
Make sure you can use your electric bike before purchasing it! There are laws in many cities and states that govern when and where you can ride an ebike. At least 22 states now use this three-tiered system, and they may limit when and where different classes of e-bikes can be used, depending on whether they have a throttle or can assist above 20 mph.