Has a bike just whizzed past you while you consider yourself the king of pedaling? Then, at the next traffic light, the mystery is lifted: it’s an electrically assisted bicycle (e-bike) that has left you behind! With these increasingly popular machines, no more dusty climbs, no more sweating when biking to work, no more extra efforts against the wind.
There are now many models, including mountain and racing e-bikes, at prices ranging from 800 to several thousand dollars or euros. The battery life is more than sufficient for urban travel. Here are some guidelines to help you choose the right electric bike for you.
- An electric bike is logically more expensive than a conventional bike, the average price being between 1,500 and 3,000 $ or €.
- Local financial aid can help reduce this price.
- An electric bike allows you to travel long distances without getting tired; it also will enable you to maintain physical activity.
- It is good practice to try an electric bike before buying it.
- Autonomy is one of the essential criteria to take into account.
- E-bikes are very popular with thieves; it makes sense to remove the battery when parked outside.
Why would you buy an electric bike?
An electrically-assisted bicycle – or “electric bike” – is still a bicycle: you have to pedal to benefit from the motor’s assistance, powered by the battery. The assistance stops when you stop pedaling, as well as at 25 km/h (15.5 mph), as per European regulations. But the possibilities are superior to those of a classic bike. Here is a list – not exhaustive – of the advantages of the electric bike.
You can ride longer distances without getting tired. The trips are less strenuous, and it is possible to arrive at work without having sweated. Hills are effortless; the wind is no longer a problem. Carrying a child on the back of the bike or even several children in a cargo bike becomes possible.
Read also: How to select the best – mountain, touring, commuter, cruiser, junior, city here or here, trike, folding, hybrid, cargo, road, gravel, kids’s here or here e-bike – in our comprehensive e-bike selection guides.
In sports (mountain biking and road biking), the climbs are easy to overcome: it is ideal for cycling enthusiasts who are getting older or who suffer from joint problems but still want to keep up with the younger ones during their outings.
Lastly, the electric bike is ideal for people with health problems who want to resume or continue their physical activity. Whether you have diabetes, a heart condition, cancer, or a joint disease, the e-bike allows you to exercise gently on the cardio-respiratory and muscular levels without joint constraints. When we know the therapeutic importance of the activity, it is a definite advantage.
Are there negative points?
Once the battery is discharged, the e-bike, for most models, becomes very difficult to ride.
An electric bike also attracts attention. The best way to avoid theft is to park your e-bike away from the public. If this is not possible and the e-bike has to be left outside. In that case, it is better to remove the battery: buying a new battery costs several hundred dollars or euros, and dealers often ask for the original invoice, which is a deterrent for thieves. An anti-theft device is essential.
An electric bike weighs a lot, at least 20-25 kg (45-55 lbs). So climbing a few steps with the e-bike in your hand can be difficult.
How much does an electric bike cost?
The average price is between 1 500 and 2 000 $ or €.
From 500 $/€ onwards
Low prices in retail locations start at around 500 $ or €. For this price, the equipment is basic.
Between 800 and 1,500
The choice is much broader. You can find good urban or all-terrain e-bikes adapted to the city and for riding on paved roads. However, it is better not to look at the quality of the finish. These models generally use an older assistance technology called “all or nothing.” With the same load, it provides less autonomy but still has quite a few riders that prefer it.
Between 1,500 and 3,000
Urban e-bikes of this price category are generally well equipped (disc brakes, quality motor, sophisticated console, efficient and controlled handlebar lighting, luggage rack, pace tracking, etc.). Manufacturers also offer high-performance electric mountain bikes at these prices.
That’s the top of the range. Speed electric bikes are in this price category. Capable of traveling at 45 km/h (32 mph), they are no longer bicycles in the sense of the regulations: helmet, registration, and insurance are mandatory.
Read also: How much does it cost to own an e-bike? And, What is the difference between cheap and expensive e-bikes?
The purchase of an electric vehicle, whether a car, scooter, or e-bike, is encouraged by financial aid, both federal and local. Local grants are generally higher. So the first thing to do is to get information from your city or other local authorities (community of agglomerations, regional council, etc.) to find out about existing financial aid schemes.
What about used electric bikes?
If buying a second-hand electric bike may seem like a good idea because the prices in stores are so high, it is better to be very careful. The main reason for this resistance is the condition of the battery. If the electric bike has already been used a lot, the battery’s performance will inevitably decrease. And the cost of a new battery is several hundred euros.
The different types of electric bikes
As for the so-called “muscle” bikes, there are different categories of electric bikes:
- city e-bikes;
- cross-country e-bikes;
- mountain e-bikes;
- racing e-bikes;
- compact e-bikes;
- folding bikes (like the famous Brompton e-bike sold for 3 000 €); etc.
These bikes can be equipped according to the rider’s needs: pannier, water bottle, basket, child seat, etc. E-bikes without a central bar are called “women’s bikes” because they are easier to ride. Still, they are recommended, whether you are a man or a woman, if you often stop (especially in town, at traffic lights, or to go shopping), or if you carry a child on your back.
Read also: How to choose an electric bike? 10 criteria to consider before buying. And, What is the ideal e-bike? Must have features on any electric bike.
Main e-bike brands
There are one or more categories of electric bikes from the following manufacturers: Winora, Kalkhoff, Gazelle, Lapierre, Orbea, Scott, Trek, Moustache, Gitane, Cannondale, Matra, B’Twin (Decathlon), Nakamura (Intersport), Scrapper (Go Sport), Eveo, O2Feel, Giant, Peugeot, Cyclo2, etc. And there are many more e-bike brands, depending on the country where you live.
Where to buy an electric bike?
Once again, buying on the Internet is not recommended, as trying the bike before making a choice is essential. It is best to go to a large sports store, a chain specializing in bicycle sales, or an independent store. Ideally, the store should be close to your home, or at least to the place where you will be using your bike the most, to facilitate service visits and repairs if necessary.
Sometimes the big retailers also offer electrically assisted bicycles at unbeatable prices. Be careful, as these are promotions with no follow-up. In addition, maintenance and repair may not be up to par.
Trying out an electric bike
Good bike shops allow a free trial of an electric bike in the store’s surroundings, provided you leave a deposit or an ID at the reception desk. You should not neglect this step, which allows you to get an idea of your position on the bike (leaning or upright) and the sensations provided by the motor.
Do not hesitate to test all the assistance levels, ride without assistance, shift gears, and listen to the engine’s noise to handle the bike to check that it is not too cumbersome compared to your size. Start in tight turns or make U-turns: the assistance triggering should not destabilize you.
To judge the bike’s efficiency, it is best to find a hill, if possible, quite steep. While climbing it, you will see if the assistance holds the road and if the brakes are sufficient while descending it. When you stop, take the battery out of its place and put it back in to ensure it is easy to handle.
Criteria for choosing your electric bike
Lead and nickel metal hydride (NiMH) have given way to lithium-ion. Its recycling is not without severe environmental problems, but this material has become a standard in the world of rechargeable batteries, including electric bikes.
Electric bicycle batteries are characterized by their capacity, expressed in watt-hours (Wh). The values are generally between 300 and 600 Wh. The greater the power, the greater the range, although this rule is not infallible.
Read also: What is the difference between e-bike batteries? And, How far can e-bikes go? What is the e-bike range?
In addition to this overall figure, you may also find a value in ampere-hours (Ah) accompanied by another in volts (V). Multiplying these gives the capacity in watt-hours. The ampere-hour value gives an idea of the autonomy: a battery of 8 Ah will last less than another that has 11 or 14 Ah. The second figure in volts corresponds to the “tone” of the assistance, but most batteries today are 36 V.
Be careful; however, concerning autonomy, the number of watt-hours or amp-hours is not to be taken literally: our test shows that an e-bike can claim a battery of 576 Wh (and 16 Ah) and not go beyond 45 km (30 miles) of autonomy.
Choose the capacity of your battery carefully, because if you change your mind a few months after purchase, buying a new one with higher power will cost you a lot of money, at least 400 $/€.
Furthermore, the question of replacing the original battery will arise after a few years of use (and hundreds of charge and discharge cycles), depending on the intensity of use, because aging inevitably leads to a loss of autonomy. Reconditioning the battery costs less than buying new equipment, but it is still a significant investment.
Good to know. The battery can be located at the front or rear of the seat tube, under the luggage rack, or in the frame. Make sure that removing and replacing it is quick and easy because you will repeat it often! Also, for some of their e-bike categories, some brands have chosen non-removable batteries (like the VanMoof models, for example): if you choose this system, make sure you can recharge your e-bike without taking the battery out.
Most e-bikes are equipped with motors of 250 W. The engine is located either in the crankset or in the rear wheel. Unfortunately, the models with a motor in the front wheel have almost disappeared from the stores.
The models with a motor in the crankset are the most common today. This system provides, with some exceptions, a so-called “proportional” assistance (see below) thanks to a torque sensor: the electric assistance adapts to the effort provided. The more you press the pedals, the more you are helped by the assistance.
The motor in the crankset also has the advantage of balancing the bike by lowering the center of gravity. E-bike maneuvering becomes easier.
Read also: What is the difference between e-bike motors? What are the differences between rotation and torque sensors?
Finally, the autonomy of the e-bike is greater. Since we have been testing e-bikes, we have noticed that for batteries of the same capacity, bikes with a motor in the crankset and a torque sensor systematically have greater autonomy than e-bikes with a motor in the rear wheel.
That is logical: the latter provides assistance that does not depend on the rider’s efforts but is given at its maximum right away, which puts a lot of strain on the battery.
However, the motor in the crankset would be more prone to breakdowns, as cyclists do not use the gears of their electric bikes in their daily trips. However, restarting at traffic lights at high speed requires considerable effort from the motor, chain, and sprockets and can lead to premature wear.
Models with a motor in the rear wheel usually provide “all-or-nothing” assistance (see below), i.e., they give maximum assistance immediately. The sensation is enjoyable, but the autonomy is not as good.
Another drawback is that the electric assistance starts with a slight delay and can be surprising if you turn after stopping at a traffic light or if you start again in a bend. This type of engine can also hinder tire repair in case of a puncture.
Which assistance mode?
There are two concepts.
The “all-or-nothing” assistance, generally coupled to a motor in the wheel, works thanks to pedals with a simple pedaling sensor. It gives a real boost from the start, which many people appreciate. However, if not appropriately designed, it can feel like it’s not adapted to the terrain, and the ride can be jerky.
The progressive assistance provided by the motor in the pedals requires a torque sensor. It is provided according to the effort made. The assistance is dosed, which makes riding easy and comfortable. This type of assistance gives a feeling of riding closer to the practice of the traditional bicycle than the “all-or-nothing” assistance.
Read also: Can e-bikes help go up steep hills? And, How to switch electric assistance levels on an e-bike?
The manufacturers put forward extensive ranges. And for a good reason: many parameters come into play:
- the weight of the cyclist ;
- the relief ;
- the wind ;
- the inflation of the tires;
- the transport of a child, etc.
If it is possible to rent the model before buying it, it is a good idea because it can help to get an idea of the accurate mileage. However, according to our test results, all-or-nothing bikes have a shorter range than those with progressive electric assistance.
Over time, the battery life will inevitably be reduced, but you can count on several hundred charge/discharge cycles with a brand-name battery (Bosch, Yamaha, etc.). In addition, the cost of charging on the mains is a few cents per full charge.
Since electric bikes can travel at speeds of up to 25 km/h (15 mph) and rarely weigh less than 25 kg (55 lbs), an excellent braking system is essential. Four types of brakes are used on e-bikes today:
- mechanical with pads (V-Brake) ;
- mechanical with discs ;
- hydraulic with pads ;
- hydraulic disc brakes.
Our tests carried out over the years of many e-bike models show that no one system significantly stands out from the others.
Read also: How to use gears on an electric bike (mechanic and electric)? And, How to switch electric assistance levels on an e-bike?
The models equipped with V-Brakes are sometimes more efficient in braking than those equipped with hydraulic disk brakes. The latter, which are much more expensive, nevertheless provide a level of comfort that should be considered. A simple pressure of the fingers is enough to activate the braking, whereas, for the same result, a significant force must be applied with a mechanical cable system.
However, hydraulic brakes require more delicate maintenance: the circuit must be bled yearly to remove air bubbles. If you choose hydraulic disc brakes, expect to replace the linings once or twice a year, especially if you ride in urban areas where the brakes are under heavy stress. Hydraulic brakes with pads will last longer.
Compared to cartridge derailleurs, hub gear systems (typically, Shimano Nexus) have the advantage of requiring little maintenance, not dirtying your pants, and, most important, the chain never jumps!
They also allow you to change gears while stopped. Ideal for urban use, a derailleur in the hub is thus very frequently used on e-bikes. Be careful, though; each gear change suspends the assistance very briefly.
As a result, riding uphill can be surprising and give the impression that the momentum is cut. But this is more a habit of getting used to than a genuine inconvenience. Some manufacturers have solved the problem by equipping their bikes with a gear shifter (for example, the Nuvinci N-360), allowing continuous shifting.
Read also: Here is why e-bikes are really cool. And, How to select the best city e-bike (with examples)?
Frame and position on the e-bike
Since an electrically assisted bicycle is, first and foremost, a bicycle, the usual selection criteria apply. In addition, the frame must be adapted to the cyclist’s size.
If the e-bike is used in the city, an upright position on the model of Dutch bikes is preferable. An open frame will facilitate stops and the transport of a child on the back. A few gears will be enough to manage frequent stops at traffic lights.
Tires that are not too wide are recommended so as not to “stick” to the road, and if they are puncture-proof, even better!
Finally, a luggage rack will always be helpful for hanging a pannier or fixing a child’s seat.
To ride outside the city, a cross-country e-bike is the best choice. Its profile will be different from a city e-bike. It will need a middle or transverse bar for better stability, the position will be leaning, and the tires will be notched. A more comprehensive range of gears will be helpful to pass quickly over hills.
It is not as important as one might think since the assistance makes you forget it when riding. However, if you need to park your bike by hand, it may be also useful to consider the weight criteria. Furthermore, as all classic e-bikes weigh around 20-25 kg (45-55 pounds), choosing a compact or folding electric bike may be appropriate.
Read also: How heavy are e-bikes? And, Can an e-bike pool a trailer?
The display (or console)
Usually clipped to the handlebars, it displays various information such as the level of assistance, the battery charge level, and the speed, even the number of kilometers or miles covered.
In addition, it often includes controls for the level of assistance and sometimes even the lights. Unfortunately, most manufacturers have chosen non-removable displays, which expose them to damage if the e-bike is parked on the street.
With a child
If the e-bike is equipped with a child seat in the back, you should choose an open frame or gooseneck to facilitate the passage of the leg. Bicycles with a bar in the middle are too risky for the child to fall or get hurt. Don’t forget that for children under 12 years old, helmets are mandatory.
An approved electric bicycle (whose assistance stops at 25 km/h or 15 mph) remains a bicycle. According to the highway code, users can use the bike paths and are not obliged to wear a helmet, even if it is safer.
No need for specific insurance or registration. Speed bikes, which travel at more than 25 km/h, must follow the rules for motorized two-wheelers, such as electric scooters, which are nothing more than scooters that are a little slow.
Read also: What are traditional e-bike and speed e-bike rules and regulations in the US, UK, Canada, Australia?
Riding, testing, and writing about e-bikes since 2017.