Buying an electric bike or an electrically assisted bicycle is a significant purchase that usually raises many questions. For example, how long does the battery last? Is a 250-watt-hour charger enough? How much money should I invest in getting a reliable model? Follow our guide on how to choose an electric bike.
We gathered all the information you need before buying your new electric bike.
Know your needs and desires before choosing an electric bike
First and foremost, you need to know what you want and need to make the best choice. It’s easier to select from a few bikes that already meet your criteria than from a shop’s entire inventory.
The first thing to know is the type of bike you want. There are the same categories for “classic” bikes: mountain bikes, hybrid bikes, road bikes, and bikes with oversized tires (fat bikes).
This choice alone will determine the type of tires, suspension, motor transmission, and battery power. For example, electric road bikes usually have stronger batteries to ensure a more extended range. Urban e-bikes, on the other hand, prioritize rider comfort and offer a wider seat for a more relaxed posture.
Electric mountain bikes generally have a motor that generates a higher level of assistance. In contrast, urban bikes are chosen for short distances and summer rides when performance is not a priority.
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.
You should also consider whether you want a fully electric or electrically assisted bike (e-bike). An e-bike has an intelligent motor that is only activated when the rider pedals, increasing the force applied to the pedals tenfold depending on the level of assistance chosen.
With a fully electric bike, you can afford to stop pedaling from time to time.
Determining engine power and transmission type
The type of transmission differs according to the model. There are hub transmissions (at the rear or front wheel) and derailleur transmissions (at the bottom bracket).
The derailleur transmission is slightly more common on electric bikes and offers greater responsiveness. It is the preferred type of drivetrain for sports activities, as the weight is better balanced on the bike.
Since the drive is in the center, it promotes a smoother ride suitable for people who like to pedal without exerting themselves too much and who want to cover longer distances without increasing the effort.
It offers progressive assistance proportional to the strength of the pedal stroke. Still, it causes faster wear on the transmission by approximately 30%, according to research.
The motors located in the rear axle provide less direct assistance, and you will sometimes have the impression that the bike is jerking or that you are pedaling in a vacuum. In addition, this type of transmission can lead to more punctures because of the extra weight of the wheel.
Determine battery capacity and recharge time
While the engine offers performance and power, the battery provides a range. So how you use the engine will strongly influence the battery life, especially on hilly roads. But, of course, battery life is also influenced by the geometry of the bike, the motor, and the mechanics of the bike.
However, the power of the battery (generally between 250 Watt-hours (Wh) and 500Wh) is the most critical factor in determining the range. So the higher the watt-hour rating of a battery, the longer it will last (and the heavier it will be!). In general, e-bikes are sold with a 500Wh battery.
Note that a bike with a pedal motor will generally have better autonomy because the cyclist makes a particular effort in addition to that delivered by the battery.
Beware: manufacturers often display the autonomy of their bikes, but as it is not always calculated in the same way, it is challenging to rely on this data to compare models.
Recharging times vary according to the charger’s battery capacity and speed. The higher the battery capacity, the longer the recharge time. For example, for a 500Wh battery, the recharge time is about 4.5 hours with a 4 ampere-hour (Ah) charger. Note that with a 2Ah charger, it will take double the time.
Note the battery life
Most e-bike companies note that their batteries are designed to last for 1,000 charges. However, the batteries in Bosh and Shimano models – among the best models – are designed to last 30,000 to 32,000km.
As with car batteries, we’re talking more about kilometers traveled than a predetermined duration. That’s why these batteries can last, on average, from 2 to 8 years.
Currently, a new 400Wh battery costs about $800, a 500Wh battery costs $1100, and a 900Wh battery costs $1600. The replacement of the battery is, therefore, a budget item!
Plan your budget
The price of an electric bike is generally between $2000 and $7000 (for a fully equipped mountain bike, for example).
Opt for an electric bike that costs more than $3000 because, below that price, you’re on the cheap end of the market, and these bikes don’t have the same quality. Below $3000, you’re at the lower end of the market, and these bikes sometimes don’t have the same certifications and guarantees.
Determine the level of assistance
Most e-bikes have a display on the handlebars that shows various information, such as speed, distance traveled, assistance level used, and battery level.
Pedal-powered bikes usually have between three and five adjustable assistance levels. In the case of wheel-motor bikes, however, the more levels you have, the easier it is to adjust your speed to pedal at your own pace.
Depending on country regulations (for example, the USA and Canada), all e-bikes could be limited to 32km/h or 20 mph (by law) to allow them to travel freely on bike paths. The motor will stop assisting if you exceed 32km/h or 20 mph.
However, the recommendation is not to exceed 25 km/h (15 mph) – as in Europe – especially if you encounter many cyclists and cross several intersections.
Be aware of the weight of the bike
Electric bikes are pretty heavy. Models typically weigh between 19kg and 28kg (40 – 60 pounds), including the battery. That means your conventional bike accessories, such as storage racks, may not be strong enough.
You’ll particularly notice the weight of your bike if, once the battery has run out, you have to pedal without assistance. Of course, the bikes still move well without assistance, but you have to hope that you don’t come across any slopes on your way.
In addition, almost all e-bikes have a removable battery; removing it will ease your burden a bit if you have to climb stairs with your electric bike.
Be aware of the minimum age
To ride an e-bike, 14 to 17-year-olds need may need a special permit, while 18-year-olds and over do not need a license. In many countries, young people under 14 are not allowed to ride an electric bicycle.
Contrary to popular belief, this is more of a leisure activity than a means of transportation since electric bicycles are very popular with customers over 50.
Nevertheless, this type of bicycle is also of interest to young people, who avoid buying a car and the cost of its license plates and insurance.
Do you plan to ride your e-bike in winter?
There are no restrictions to riding an electric bike in winter, except that the battery autonomy will drop more because of the cold. At a temperature of -20°C (-4°F), the battery will lose about a quarter of its autonomy.
As the battery is sensitive to cold, it is recommended to keep it in a temperate place in winter, as well as the control screen (if it is removable). On the other hand, in summer, charge the battery at temperatures between 0 and 20°C (32-68°F) and park the electric bike in the shade.
It is preferable, as in the case of a vehicle, to keep the battery functional; an underused state will reduce its lifespan. Otherwise, the only thing to watch out for in winter is calcium. In terms of electrical performance, there’s nothing to worry about.
Determining the type of braking you want
There are three types of brakes: shoe brakes, mechanical disc brakes, and hydraulic disc brakes.
Since e-bikes are heavier and move faster, it is recommended to choose hydraulic brakes, which offer a much stronger performance. Hydraulic disc brakes also require fewer adjustments and wear out less quickly, although they require a little more maintenance.
Determining theft protection
Combining two locks of different types is recommended. This will create a more significant deterrent to thieves. For example, you can use a long, flexible cable that you insert through the wheels and a U-shaped lock on the bike’s structure. But, of course, it depends on how long the bike is left unattended.
If your bike is stolen, it may be covered by your home insurance. However, a maximum amount – often between $1,000 and $3,000 – may be covered. Check with your insurer to see if it is possible to increase your coverage since electric bikes are much more expensive.
Find out about included warranties and the repair service
The warranty period for the battery and motor is generally longer for electric bikes from specialist shops than those sold in big-box stores. Also, programming problems covered by specialist shops are very rarely covered by big box stores.
Bicycle warranties also vary significantly from one manufacturer to another. When you buy your bike, find out what warranties (and repairs) are available. Remember that warranties generally apply to the first owner and only for defects in manufacturing and labor.
The products sold in large chain shops are generally of inferior quality. The clerks offer a different service or expertise than in specialized shops where you can try them out and get personalized advice.
In addition, bikes sold in supermarkets are rarely ready to use: some require minimal assembly.
Be aware of the need for an annual tune-up
An annual tune-up of an electric bike costs about $70, to which you have to add $25 for the maintenance of the electrical system.
In terms of the chain, an electric bike puts out a lot of power and stretches the chains more quickly than a conventional bike.
To prevent chains from stretching, you must be careful when changing gears so that the force created on the chain is not too great and doesn’t stretch. Incorrectly adjusted gears also damage the cassette sprocket on which the chain rests and the motor, as they are forced too hard for travel speed.
Riding, testing, and writing about e-bikes since 2017.