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Our Guide to Buying: Electric Bikes

What is an Electric Bike?

In a nutshell

An electric bike or e-bike is not too dissimilar to a normal bike. If you removed the battery and motor, you will find that everything is pretty much in the same place and functions in the same way as bicycles always have. However, with a motor and battery, the bike gives you a helping hand, assisting your pedalling on or off road. This guide will give you everything you need to know about getting an e-bike for yourself.

Types of Electric Bikes

What types of electric bike are available?

Thanks to developments in electric motor technology and the design of electric bikes they are now available in almost as many types and styles as conventional bikes.

Mountain Bikes

These are aimed at making that technical climb more achievable, that long fire road drag a little less of a drag and it won’t have an impact on your Fun. For more information read our electric mountain bike buying guide.

Leisure and Recreational Bikes

Whether you are a cyclist or not, old or young, out to enjoying the views and get some fresh air.

Commuting & Folding Bikes

Helping you get to from A to B less sweaty, quicker and refreshed.

For more information read our electric hybrid bike buying guide.

Controls

How do electric bikes work?

Modern electric bikes all use very similar systems to provide assistance when pedalling. These can be in the form of a hub or bottom bracket mounted motor. This means that sensors register when the pedals are turning and power is provided from brushless motors. This works in a similar way to how a turbo works on a car, the pedalling part being the normal petrol engine moving you along as normal with the turbo providing extra power on top.

How do I control an electric bike?

All electric bikes will have some kind of control unit; this can be found in the form of a handlebar mounted computer, on the battery or in some cases even controlled via a smart phone app. The handlebar mounted computers are very similar to a normal bicycle computer providing information about speed, distance and more electric bike specific things like remaining battery life and give you control over the level of assistance required.

The more advanced smart phone based systems offer a fully customisable system, allowing you to set your assistance based on the GPS data of your route. Luckily most manufacturers systems are a basic plug and play which means you can get the most out of your electric bike without having to touch a button.

 

Power Source

What battery will I need for the electric bike?

The battery is probably the most important part of an electric bike. Batteries come in a variety of wattages from 200w to 550w; the amount of watts a battery has depends on the amount of power provided to the motor. Ultimately defining the amount of assistance provided and range of your electric bike, this is similar to the different octane fuels available for your car. A lower wattage is like a small unleaded car with a diesel car or higher wattage battery giving your more torque and range.

Where can I find the batteries on an electric bike?

Just like cars, the batteries or ‘fuel tank’ can be found in multiple positions on the bike. Most will currently be found on the down tube of the frame or on a rack on the back of the bike. Some manufacturers have starting to find ingenious ways to integrate the batteries into the frames, so ‘watch this space’.

 

Make and Manufacture

Where are electric bikes made?

Electric bikes are produced in the same factories and by the same manufacturers that make conventional bicycles. This means that high safety standards and quality control are upheld. Currently motors are produced by someone else and then bicycle manufacturers spec them to the bikes like any other component.

Who are the main manufacturers of electric bikes?

Currently the big 3 manufacturers are Bosch, Shimano and Trans X, with German brand Brose and Yamaha making their way into the market. All offer very similar systems with most offering a couple of levels of motor performance in their range. The bottom bracket mounted motors are lighter and help to minimise the amount of sprung or dead weight. These are the sports cars of the electric bike world offering better handling, weight distribution and better access to the battery and other bicycle components.

Hub based motors are generally found on the more affordable models on the market and are more like your everyday car, the ones you run the kids to school in, go to the shops or work. They allow manufacturers to make almost any bike electric; they can be front or rear wheel drive, meaning no drastic changes need to be made to the frame to accommodate the motor.

A History Lesson: How was the electric bike conceived?

Believe it or not, the idea of an electric bicycle has been something inventors and visionaries have been trying to make work for almost as long as we have had bicycles and batteries. The first documented electric bike appeared in the U.S Patent office in 1895. Ogden Bolton Jr was granted a patent for a rear hub motor electric powered bicycle, only to be topped two years later by Hosea W.Libbey of Boston. Libbey patented a crank based motor system that at the time didn’t turn any heads and it wasn’t until the 1990’s when Giant Bicycles re-invented it did people see its true potential.

It wasn't until the late 90’s when torque sensors, power controllers and batteries were improved, that  electric bikes started to become more widely available. This was largely thanks to the creator of the Sinclair C5 (yes that futuristic looking electric car from the 80’s) - Clive Sinclair. The Sinclair Zike, although not very successful is widely regarded as the starting point of the modern electric bike.

Are there any rules or regulations surrounding electric bikes?

Firstly you must be 14 years or older. UK law states all pedelecs (pedal assisted electric bikes) motor power must not exceed 250w and a maximum speed of 25kmh or 15.5mph to us imperial users. The bicycle parts still have to comply with all the normal safety standards and testing found on any conventional bike.

You don’t need a license, insurance or documentation for your electric bike however you do have to follow the Highway Code like any other road user in England, Scotland and wales. The rules in Northern Ireland require you to have a moped licence to ride any electric bike, the bike must also be registered, taxed and insured, more information can be found here. Not law but a cycle helmet and bike lights are recommended at all times on electric bikes due to the higher average speed of these bikes over a conventional bike.