With eBikes currently the fastest growing area of bike sales we’ve decided to put together an electric bike buying guide. I met with Electric Bikes Sussex to find out about the different types of eBike, how the motors and batteries vary and how much an electric bike will set you back.
What is an electric bike?
Before we get into this electric bike buying guide lets define what an eBike is. Essentially it’s a bicycle with an electric motor that gives riders the option of using pedal power or letting the motor assist them.
Bikes have certains advantages, such as not needing a licence or insurance and being allowed in cycle lanes. So to continue be considered as bikes, eBikes have a couple of restrictions.
Firstly, the motor will only assist you when you’re pedaling and has a maximum power output of 250 watts. Secondly, although they amplify your efforts by up to 300%, the top speed of assistance is 25kph, of course you can go faster than this with the help of gravity or traditional leg work.
Why buy an eBike?
To be honest I was reluctant to even try an electric bike, to me it seemed like cheating and something only a non-cyclist would consider. However a few hours of electric mountain biking in Austria completely changed my opinion. So I met Electric Bikes Sussex to find out more and help me put together this electric bike buying guide.
The advantages of eBiking range from being better for you and safer, to more fun and making the tough parts easier. This article is about types of eBike, if you want to find out about the reasons to buy an electric bike read our article about the advantages of eBiking.
Electric bike buying guide
Deciding which electric bike to buy boils down to three factors: usage pattern, budget, and personal preference. Think about how you will use your bike and how much you are willing to pay for the benefits.
As with any purchase, you’re looking for the best value rather than the cheapest price. An eBike is a serious piece of kit, so go too cheap and you’re probably not getting great quality.
There are numerous brands and types of eBike available, in a range of sizes and styles. So think about which one suits you best and try before you buy. At Electric Bikes Sussex they will talk you through the options and are happy to answer your questions.
Types of eBike: Motor
With different types of motors and drive systems not all eBikes operate in the same way.
The term ‘pedelec’ refers to bikes that monitor your pedalling power output and add a certain percentage of motorised assistance. For example, on the Haibike mountain bike I tried you could select either 50%, 120%, 210% or 300% assistance. This means the motor will add up to three times the effort you put into pedalling.
Twist & Go
Until regulations changed in April 2015 and January 2016, Twist & Go eBikes were very popular. They use a throttle or on/off switch that applies power getting you up to 15 mph with no need to pedal.
Although popular they are more like a motorised bike you can assist with pedalling, rather than a pedal bike that has a motor to assist you. The maximum non-pedalling speed is now 6 mph, which has seen a decline in popularity of Twist & Go eBikes.
Hub vs crank
Motors are either mounted on wheel hubs (front or back) or on the crank/pedal at the bottom of the frame. In general, crank assist bikes provide more power so are better at dealing with hills, but are slightly noisier and more difficult to fit.
Hub motors are less powerful but cheaper and easier to maintain. However, as technology improves, the difference between the two types of ebike motor is becoming narrower.
Types of eBike: Style
There are as many different types of eBike as there are traditional bike styles – OK perhaps not quite as many as there is no ePenny-Farthing yet.
Urban & commuter eBikes
Designed for getting around the town, making cycling on flat surfaces such as roads and cycle paths as easy and safe as possible. Sometimes city eBikes have smaller wheels, which makes it easier for the motor to get them turning and is more efficient for ‘stop, start’ riding in the city.
Urban eBikes normally have a comfortable upright riding stance. And usually come with useful accessories such as mudguards, stand, lights and a rack.
Offroad ‘MTB’ eBikes
The range of eMountain bikes pretty much mirrors that of traditional MTBs. So you can pick up bikes with geometries and components suitable for cross country, enduro, downhill and freeride.
Wheel size options include 26ers, 27.5ers and 29ers. You can also choose between no suspension, hardtails (front suspension only) or full suspension. The components are the same as those used on traditional mountain bikes, so you can save money and get cheaper brakes, suspension and gears etc, or splash out for top of the range.
What surprised me when trying an eMTB was that it made the up-hills fun. Trails you would normally slog up or avoid, suddenly became fun technical ascents that improve my riding.
eMTBs are a heavier, but like the heavy downhill bikes this helps by providing more traction when cornering. They are also fine to ride on the road, although they are less efficient on tarmac.
This is halfway between a mountain and urban eBike style. Often it is a mountain bike frame with multipurpose tyres and front suspension.
A great choice for commuters and students, these are incredibly convenient. Better technology means they’re now light enough to be genuinely portable. Ideal if you lack storage space or cycle either side of a train journey.
Types of eBike: Batteries
Being electric, your eBike needs a battery to run. This is one of the most important considerations and an essential part of our electric bike buying guide.
The two main battery types are nickel based or lithium based. Nickel batteries have less storage but have more reliable life spans. Lithium batteries are lightweight, offer more storage but have a shorter lifespan.
The size (or capacity) of the battery is also important. This affects the charge time, the batteries weight and the range of the bike. Some eBikes do allow you to ‘stack’ batteries to enable longer journeys.
What will an eBike cost?
Now onto the business end of this electric bike buying guide…. The price of an eBike from a good brand like Raleigh – who have a 25% share of the UK market – starts at about £1,000. For around £2000-£3000 you can get a very good quality urban/commuter eBike.
The price of off-road bikes is higher, with a bottom of the range bike costing a little shy of £2,000. If you want full suspension then the entry price is around £2500.
From here the cost increases as the components improve, roughly inline with normal MTB prices – plus the extra for the eBike element. The top of the range Haibike will set you back £13,000, for a full carbon frame that has been described at the best eBike ever made.
I hope you found this electric bike buying guide useful, and that armed with the knowledge of the different types of eBike you can choose the right one for you.
For impartial advice and a consultation on eBiking visit Electric Bike Sussex at Brighton Marina or check out their website: www.electricbikessussex.co.uk. They are happy to share their knowledge, and provide more of a consultative service than your typical bike shop which is a refreshing experience.