Introducing electric bikes – fun and useful but still quite expensive. Or are they?
Electric bikes are fun and a great way to get around without tiring yourself out. Why are they so expensive? We’ve found the answers to that question.
The first answer is that they aren’t necessarily much more expensive. It all depends on what you are comparing them with. They are way cheaper than a motorbike or a car, for example, or even a high-end conventional bike.
Why are electric bikes so expensive? Electric bikes have more associated costs than traditional bikes. These additional costs include making a battery, battery charger, motor controller, motor itself and other components. As they are electric, e-bikes also have the need for good waterproofing.
Some consumers also still feel they are not very practical in some ways, compared to buying a normal traditional bike or alternatively a moped or motorcycle.
That means worldwide, sales of electric bikes in some countries are still lower than those of normal bikes. This makes it harder for electric bike manufacturers to keep prices down.
However, that is changing. In a few countries where cycling is very popular, like Holland, sales of electric bikes are now higher than conventional bikes. This will help bring their prices down.
What’s more, in a world that is starting to move away from fossil fuels, they are a transport technology whose costs are likely to fall as their use increases and their technology develops.
We recommend you think carefully about what’s important to you before choosing an electric bike. Or if you are deciding to go for a normal bike or small motorcycle as an alternative.
So, why are e-bikes so expensive?
Let’s find out more! If you are thinking about an electric bike, let’s look at some facts that may make e-bikes look more expensive. Here are the key facts you need about practicality and cost.
Cost of e-bike battery
Very likely that the reason you want to buy a bike is to get around.
A normal bike has an unlimited range – until your legs get tired. A small motorcycle has a much longer range than an electric bike and refueling takes a few minutes, not several hours spent recharging.
So, the electric bike battery is a key cost. It has to hold enough charge to deliver a useful range and be rechargeable in a practical time.
If you need to fully pedal, the benefit of being electric goes away. You just have a heavier conventional bike to move along.
Main types of e-bike batteries
There are two main kinds of electric bike batteries. Lead Acid and Lithium.
Traditional lead-acid batteries, similar to the ones used in cars, are still also used on electric bikes. This is still the case in certain countries like China, despite the weight and limited performance of such batteries.
Lithium-Ion batteries (Li-Ion), similar to those found in mobile phones are very widely used in Europe. Along with a much smaller number of Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries, which are a development of Lithium-Ion.
Samsung, LG, Panasonic, and Sanyo are some of the main Lithium suppliers. There can be cheaper manufacturers but generally, you should expect to get what you pay for.
Easy tip: Think about what is important to you, especially the choice of battery and engine type, before you buy.
The battery is often the heaviest and most expensive part of an e-bike and a component. And it will eventually need replacing. A decent Lithium battery’s price will depend on the country, up to a point. Such battery will be generally around $250 or more.
Remember that rechargeable batteries deteriorate over time. Just as you need to change batteries on your car. The same applies to eventually replacing the battery on an electric bike.
A well looked after Lithium battery, where you have followed the manufacturers charging advice might be good for 1000 charge cycles. So, that’s going to keep your costs down.
A lead-acid battery, or a poorly maintained Lithium battery, will last much less than that and will push up your total cost of ownership.
So, buying a bike with too cheap a battery, or failing to invest in the care of a good battery, can cost you more in the long run and make an electric bike expensive. It is becoming possible to recycle e-bike batteries.
Read also: Where to recycle e-bikes batteries in France? – in this article.
Add the cost of an e-bike motor
A good e-bike motor will cost you more than a basic motor. Motors are another key factor in electric bike costs.
Many electric bikes are based on a 36v battery. You may do better with more powerful motors, which can use a 48v, 52v, 72v or higher battery systems.
That fact that some countries speed limit electric bikes doesn’t mean a low power battery/engine combination is all that is needed.
If you are in a hurry or have some big hills to go up, or you yourself are heavier, you will need a decent motor that delivers enough power. That need for power, of course, will drain the battery much faster and mean you need a correspondingly decent battery.
Also, the weight of any luggage can make a big difference in how much work the motor needs to do. Extra weight also affects the battery range, and, in turn, influences costs.
Battery packs use a battery management system that prevents overcharging or discharging too quickly. A battery management system also regulates the total amp output to the motor. The more amps the battery can supply, the more power the motor can produce.
Not all e-bike motors are the same
There are several e-bike motor types: Mid Drive, Hub Direct and Hub Geared.
Mid-drive motors are positioned at the center of the bike frame. In a mid-drive motor, an electric motor creates a torque that rotates a shaft that in turn is connected to a chainring.
A mid-drive motor supplements your own pedaling power within the chain drive, instead of creating an additional power source. They are rather more complicated than other motor types, as there are many components. They also require good quality chains, as the chains will be under considerable strain.
Mid-drive motors are well suited to mountain bikes. Mountain e-bikes are able to climb steep and long hills, using the bike’s existing gear system and use gear reduction for low-speed climbs.
Hub direct-drive motors
Hub direct-drive motors are much more straightforward but also limited. These types of motors work in the front or rear hub and have almost no moving parts as the motor just spins around the axle. These kinds of direct drive electric motors can also generate electrical energy while braking. However, the amount of useful energy achieved on a real journey might be quite small.
Hub geared motors
Hub geared motors use gears to lower RPM and increase torque output. These motors are able to freewheel. They do not have the problem other kinds of electric bikes can have of drag when they’re not running on battery and being pedaled normally, so a geared hub bike performs more like a conventional bike.
Using the bike’s gears is more complex and potentially initially more expensive but can pay off. Using gears generally means greater efficiency. Just as using gears on a conventional cycle does, using gears on an e-bike means less battery energy is used.
On the other hand, any of the lower cost gearless hub motor arrangement may be simpler and therefore cheaper to buy. But it will prove to be much less efficient. They tend to restrict range and performance, plus contribute to the wear and tear on the battery recharge lifespan.
Easy tip: As a decent battery will increase the price of an electric bike, so will a decent engine.
Other e-bike costs to consider
Other costs elements in electric bikes are waterproofing, wiring, and the controller.
Any device involving electricity must be 100% waterproof or it will short out. Or, in the worst case, it will be permanently damaged. So an electric bike needs to resist water. It also needs to be resistant to dust ingress, heat, cold, etc. to an extent a conventional bike does not.
An electric bike may be traveling in rain or even snow may splash through puddles, etc. It may be left outside for long periods and ice up or be baked in strong sunlight.
So an important part of costs in an electric bike is the need for the materials used to be very good quality and the manufacturing to be to a high standard.
All the power in an electric bike also needs to be carefully managed by the rider.
So, some use sensors to determine how much electric assistance to deliver based on what the rider is doing. Others may use a handlebar-mounted throttle controller.
These both mean more cost to manufacture.
Will e-bike costs go down?
Now, we have mentioned all these costs which in theory make electric bikes more expensive than conventional bikes.
It is worth mentioning that e-bikes are a relatively new technology. They still sell in smaller volumes (in some countries at least) than traditional bikes do. No question that e-bike costs will fall as the technology matures and volumes increase.
Electric bikes could become a higher volume product partly through environmental considerations.
Some people may feel an electric bike is more environmentally friendly. Both to manufacture and to run compared to, for example, a small motorcycle.
Although you need to remember electric bikes do require batteries to be manufactured. Electricity to charge those batteries might come from fossil fuel power stations burning coal, gas or oil. Still, e-bike’s ‘green credentials’ are much better than those of a fossil fuel-based motorbike.
Conclusion: are electric bikes more expensive?
In this article, we have seen that electric bikes come in a range of types. E-bikes can fit well into certain transport niches where a conventional bike is not such a good fit.
First and foremost, electric bikes are fun. If it is fun you are after, it maybe doesn’t really matter to you if they do cost more to buy and run than a conventional bike.
The main reasons today why electric bikes are more expensive than conventional bikes are that they have more expensive components when they are built. E-bikes also have higher running costs because of servicing, battery replacement, tire wear, and charging.
If it’s not just fun and you want a practical way to travel, electric bikes have advantages and disadvantages compared to small motorcycles.
So, why are electric bikes so expensive? Well – they aren’t necessarily more expensive, it’s all a question of why you would like to buy one.
Here is a quick video showing several more budget-friendly e-bike models: