‘They’re not fun’, ‘they need to be insured’, ‘they’re just for people who can’t ride a normal bike’. These are just a few of the many common e-bike misconceptions. We explain why they’re often wide of the mark.
Electric bikes aren’t ‘proper’ bikes
OK, the old misconception. So what constitutes a ‘proper’ bike? It’s a machine that you have to pedal which features a frame, a saddle, brakes, a handlebar, two wheels, gears and a chain. An e-bike has all those factors, it just has a few more bits as well, such as a motor, battery and control unit. The important thing to realise is that electric bikes as we now know them aren’t electric mopeds where you twist the throttle and speed away, they are more correctly known as ‘pedal assist’ bikes. This means you still have to power them and spin your legs, it’s just that the electric motor will give you some help to stay at speed, or get away from traffic lights, or cycle up hills.
I had a go on an e-bike years ago and it didn’t feel very natural to ride
The ride quality of electric bikes is something that has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. For a long time most e-bikes had their motors placed in one of the wheel hubs — and more affordable e-bikes still use this system — so when the motors kick into action it does have a slightly strange feel. However, modern systems such as those from market leaders Bosch or Shimano have the motor placed at the bottom bracket. Very clever sensors and computers feel how much effort you’re putting into the pedals and then, after taking into account the level of assistance you’ve selected, add some more power. But rather than feeling like you’re hanging on to a self-propelled machine, it simply seems like you have developed Superman’s legs.
OK then, it sounds like electric bikes are just for people who find it difficult to ride a proper bike.
It’s certainly true that e-bikes are a great help for people trying to rediscover their fitness or who think the challenges of riding an unassisted bike are too great. However, e-bikes are available in such a wide variety of forms — commuting e-bikes, leisure e-bikes, trekking e-bikes, even off-road mountain bike e-bikes — that it would be very close-minded to think they are just for people who would otherwise be non-cyclists. Leisure e-bikes let any rider enjoy the experience of cycling without compromises. Commuting e-bikes let any cyclists get to work quickly, efficiently and perhaps a little less sweaty than otherwise. And eMTBs make technical climbs more achievable and fire roads less of a drag, so you’ll have more energy to enjoy the real fun.
I’ve heard that some e-bikes are so powerful you need to get them taxed and insured and riders need to wear a motorbike helmet.
There is a new generation of ‘S-Pedelecs’ in Europe that would require all those things, but those bikes aren’t yet legal in the UK. Over here UK electric bike laws are very simple: you must be 14 years or older to ride one; all pedal assisted e-bikes must not exceed a power rating of 250w; and e-bikes must have a maximum speed of 15.5mph (25kph). Otherwise, e-bikes have to comply with all the normal safety standards and testing found on any other bike. So you don’t need a license, insurance or documentation for your e-bike — but you do have to follow the Highway Code.
E-bikes are still a niche product with no support from the bike industry.
Well, you’re reading an article about electric bikes on the blog of one of the UK’s biggest dedicated bicycle retailers, so that probably puts the lie to that idea ;). It is true to say that here in Britain the e-bike market is still in its infancy. However, global bike brands such as Specialized, Scott, Cannondale, Cube and Trek are all putting money into e-bikes and there are already five main manufactures of e-bike motors and batteries. So be assured, electric bikes are here to stay and multiply.
If I’m using powered transport, I might as well drive a car instead of riding an electric bike.
Why drive a car to be stuck in traffic, contributing to pollution levels, and watching your wealth evaporate which each puff puff of exhaust fumes? The average cost of running an e-bike is less than half a penny per mile compared to a car that costs a whopping 12 pence per mile. Meanwhile, the average traffic speed across London at peak times last year was 8mph; an e-bike will assist you to 15.5mph and, thanks to the new Cycle Super Highways, there will be fewer hold-ups.
But in a car, I can find a petrol station easily — I don’t want to be left high a dry with no battery power.
Remember what we said at the start: e-bikes are ‘proper’ bikes, so you’ll never be left completely high and dry, you can still pedal it even without any battery assistance. In any case, modern e-bikes have very accurate and clear handlebar-mounted displays showing how much battery power is left, so you can adjust the level of electric assistance you use to ensure you never completely run out of power. And don’t forget that electric bikes have quite impressive ranges these days, which are improving all the time as battery technology develops.
Well, e-bikes are just not as much fun as riding a ‘normal’ bike.
Really? Then you obviously haven’t tried riding a modern e-bike. The ‘fun factor’ of e-bike riding is off the charts. Let’s suppose you’re not a sado-masochistic road rider who searches out every climb within 20 miles of home and rides them consecutively everyday before breakfast. What is it that you like about cycling? The freedom? The fresh air? The glorious sights? The efficiency and time-saving commute? Now imagine all that where you didn’t have to fear any big hills, or where you could adjust your effort to suit how you’re feeling. Or where you could actually ride for longer because you don’t get as fatigued as quickly. You’re still having some exercise and you’re still reaping all the same enjoyment of cycling, but doesn’t that actually sound like more fun?