Electric Bike Guide
We’ve aimed to quash some of the common misconceptions and answer the often asked questions about electric bikes below. Get stuck in!
Electric bikes, or ebikes, have massively risen in popularity in the past few years. Improvements in battery technology as well as compact motors have seen a rapid increase in interest and demand for electric bikes.
In Europe the ebike movement has already taken hold. Almost 30% of all new bike sales in the Netherlands were electric in 2017, while in Germany, 2017 saw 720,000 new electric bikes sold. And there’s no sign of this trend stopping. HMRC recently added a new classification to gain finer detail on the number of ebikes being imported.
Sadly the UK is relatively lagging, with just 12% of new bike sales being electric. However, it’s becoming a far more popular method as people gain better understanding of the benefits and how easy they are to ride and live with.
- Types of Electric Bike
- Are electric bikes cheating?
- Do you need a License?
- Who are electric bikes for?
- What are the benefits to an electric bike?
- What are the negatives to an electric bike?
- Do electric bikes charge as you pedal?
- How far can electric bikes go?
- Can an electric bike replace the car?
- Can you use an electric bike in the rain?
- What is the lightest electric bike?
- What is the cheapest electric bike?
- How do ebikes work?
There are 4 main types of electric bike.
Commuter / Hybrid
Probably the most popular, these are usually used in cities for commuting. In some European cities, they are also used for bike sharing initiatives where you can hire a bike on demand to explore the city either as a tourist or a local.
Electric mountain sports bikes were some of the first eBikes developed. Designed to give you that added power when your legs just won’t give any more, they give you added endurance, make exploring dirt tracks more fun for longer.
Recommended Brands: BESV
Cargo ebikes are still relatively new, however are being used a lot in cities where businesses want to have a cheaper and often quicker method of delivering goods over vans. The electric motor gives the additional power to move heavy loads not practical under traditional bikes.
They are also popular with families, allowing them to carry everything they might need on a day trip or for doing the weekly shop.
Within the cargo bike, there’s three styles. Box bikes or Long Johns - those where the box sits between rider and an extended front wheel, Longtail where the rear wheel has been extended backwards, and tricycles that have two wheels either side of a box at the front.
This is the biggest question we notice being asked on forums, deal sites and the like from people who haven’t used an ebike before and are somewhat suspicious of them. It’s rather unusual, as the same claim isn’t aimed at cars or buses - both definitely “cheating”. The question usually arises from the perception of cycling as a sport, rather than a method of transport.
Can you really “cheat” at travelling to work?
The way that electric bikes work is that they assist your pedalling. You need to pedal to get the bike going, and have to be active throughout the process. However, the process is easier because the motor is giving you a bit of help. You can usually choose the level of help on the bike’s control display, and in some cases turn it off completely. This means you’re still doing work to make the bike move. Additionally, they can only assist up to 15.5mph for legal reasons, and after this the motor will cut out and if you want more speed you have to give it some human welly.
Legally, they are classified as Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles, and anything that does not have pedals or require human effort to move the bike is not road legal. In the USA some ebikes may have twist and go throttles, allowing the bike to be moved without pedalling however these are not road legal in the UK.
So are they cheating? Well, they do help you cycle further, faster, and more comfortably than a traditional bike would be. But we don’t expect you’ll meet many people who would see this as a list of negatives. The point is though, every day cycling is not a sport and therefore there is no “cheating” - just a more pleasurable journey.
Thankfully, this is a simple answer: no! Electric bikes or EAPCs require no additional licensing thanks to their legal status. No doubt the lack of legal barrier has helped their popularity.
The only type of electric bike you will need a license for is the speed pedelec version, a powerful and much more high end bike classification that are capable of 28mph.
We have full details of electric bike laws in the UK here.
A lot of people may see cycling as a sporting activity rather than a method of transport. However, electric bikes are popular with commuters, families and holiday makers.
Family Days Out
When taking the family out for a relaxing canal bike ride or cycle around the city sights, there are usually several generations involved. Electric bikes have become popular with the older generations who are not as fit as the younger members of the family, but who still want to be involved.
By using a ebike, all members can go for a bike ride at the same pace without having to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Those with injuries or other ailments can still keep on riding as the joint strain is far reduced.
The electric motor levels the playing field - meaning all family members are on the same fitness level!
The average speed for car traffic in UK cities is usually under 10mph, with central London being the slowest at just 5mph.
This puts the ebike’s 15.5mph limit as a rather appealing speed! Reducing pollution and congestion, arriving to work faster and sweat free are all benefits of the ebike. Some commuters have replaced their car entirely with the ebike, partly due to the reduced costs. An estimated yearly maintenance cost of £50 and around 10p to recharge the battery makes even electric cars look costly to run.
Folding ebikes bring the best of both worlds together, giving the convenience of a compact bike for the tube, car or bus but still giving that extra range for the commute. The assistance means you can often ride much further than you could on a normal bike, letting you get off a few tube stops early to get home quicker.
Nervous, New and those with Health Issues
Those who are looking to get into cycling but perhaps are put off by high speed traffic or questioning their own fitness levels are often reassured by the help of the motor, which lets them get away from traffic lights quicker as well as build up fitness over time.
The fact that you still have to pedal means the ebike still gets you fit. You can choose the level of assistance you receive, meaning you could start with more assistance to get used to the bike, and then reducing it down to give you more of a work out when you feel like it.
However having that extra power there means if you need to, you can always get out of a situation where your legs have no more to give - whether it be the bottom of a particularly nasty hill, a fast moving road full of traffic, or simply you explored a little further than expected.
Holiday Makers - Caravans, Canals and Compact Bikes
The folding electric bike has also found popularity with those in boating and caravan communities, who may be wanting to explore the local area by bike but are not always in the health position to battle up and down hills.
The compact ebikes can be folded up to fit in the boot of a car or onto a canal boat, letting you explore inland quicker and with an ease not offered by traditional bikes.
The average speed of traffic in central London was just 5mph in 2017. This places cycling as a much faster effective method to bypass traffic. Electric bikes give the speed benefits of cycling to work, but without the downside of arriving sweaty!
Most batteries can be quickly and easily removed from the bike for remote charging. Charge in the office, overnight, or even in a country pub on a Sunday afternoon. While batteries can take hours to charge from flat, most riders top-up the battery giving you plenty of range.
You still have to pedal to keep the bike moving, and over time you will see health benefits. If you really want a work out, turn the motor to the lowest setting (or off!) and get those legs moving.
The more that cars are replaced by bikes to ride to work the less pollution there will be clogging up footpaths and high streets.
Safer, More Confident
We’ve found nervous riders feel more comfortable on an electric bike as there’s less effort required to get to a safe speed - especially if going up a hill with car traffic. Getting away from traffic lights is easier, making you feel more confident you can keep up with other road users even if you’ve not ridden in years.
If you live in a hilly area then the relief of having someone else (the motor) to the work to get you up the hill is enormous. Dynamic motor management software will match the motor output to your pedal speed, usually resulting in you not even noticing the hill is there.
Older members can keep up with the kids, and the motor assistance often means those with injuries or health issues can still keep riding where they may not be able to on an traditional bike. Often this means the whole family can be involved in a day out.
Keeping a good quality ebike on the road can cost as little as £50 a year. A lot of the modern bikes are designed to require as little fiddling as possible. Charging the battery will cost pennies, making it an extremely cheap method of transport.
Replace the Car
This won’t be the case for everyone, but those living in cities have found it easy to replace their car commute with an ebike instead. Once you start comparing an electric bike to the car, rather than a traditional bike, the benefits begin to stack up very quickly indeed! Cheaper, faster, healthier.
Electric bikes are not cheap, but that does not mean they are bad value. Due to the additional components, mainly the battery, electric bikes are more expensive than a traditional bicycle. However, there are several incentives to make them more affordable.
The Cycle to Work scheme and Green Initiative gives access to discounts (up to 40%) and funding to reduce the upfront cost of bicycles, often funded through your employer. While Cycle to Work is limited to £1000, the Green Commute Initiative gives access to funds over £1,000, with no upper limit.
For more information on what please see our CycleToWork page.
It’s also worth mentioning that electric bikes often require less maintenance than a traditional
bike, with components designed to be maintenance free. Plus, keep in mind that increasingly families and commuters are replacing their second car with an electric bike, which suddenly places the higher cost in a more favourable perspective. They are more expensive than non-assist bikes but far cheaper than car!
The battery accounts for most of the additional weight, and additional features like motor, display screens, integrated lights and other added features all add up to make even the lightest electric bikes start at around 20KG.
You won’t notice this when riding thanks to the motor, but if the battery ever runs out you’ll be left with a fairly hefty bike to get to your destination. Where possible we recommend buying larger batteries for peace of mind in the extra range available.
Higher end bikes have better balance and distributed weight, so that if the battery ever does run out it is still pleasant to ride.
The smallest, cheapest batteries have around a 20 mile range, and go up to 150 mile ranges.
Like anything, batteries will degrade over their lifetime. It’s unavoidable. This will lead to decreased range and you may even need to buy a replacement battery in the future.
However, this is why it’s worth investing a little more up front to buy a brand that is well known, established and has positive reviews. These brands use batteries that are not only higher quality, but may also have dynamic power / charge management and other life extending properties.
No matter how tempting it is, buying cheaper electric bikes will usually result in needing to replace the batteries very soon indeed, sometimes within 6 months. These cannot be repaired or easily replaced, and often result in their owners simply buying a better ebike instead. A higher quality battery may be rated for 10,000 or more charges and discharges, where as a cheaper battery may be 1% of that.
Not all bikes do, but some do have the ability for the motor to be put into a reverse mode and becoming a generator so that when you pedal energy is stored in the battery.
However, this is not a common feature, mostly due to the fact that most modern electric bikes have 30+ mile range, even on entry level models. This is usually plenty for a few days usage and charging is easy enough that the charge as you go functionality is not necessary.
The best way to extend your range is to instead choose a lower assistance power level, meaning you are doing more of the work. Some high end bikes have regenerative brakes, capturing energy when you are braking down a hill.
Entry level electric bikes can go about 30 miles, while some of our premium bikes from the Dutch brand QWIC can achieve over 150 miles on a single charge. This varies based on the size of battery and the efficiency of the motor.
However, this is a difficult metric to accurately predict as it varies so much based the terrain and power level used.
Someone using a low assistance level in Amsterdam will see a far greater range from the same bike as someone riding up a hill in North Wales with full assistance on!
It very much depends on your lifestyle and commuting habits, but absolutely. Many of our readers and customers who live centrally in cities have quite easily given up the car in replacement for an electric bike. It’s far cheaper, healthier for you, healthier for the environment and in many cases can be quicker than the car as you can avoid stationary traffic.
There’s an excellent article in the Guardian, or the Telegraph, we would recommend reading on the practical benefits and challenges of giving up the car.
“I’m on track for my e-bike to have paid for itself within four months, and after that I’m saving money compared with commuting in the car,”
"I'm no athlete, as anyone who has met me will attest, but an electric bicycle allows me to cycle ten or more miles without requiring a hosing-down on arrival. That makes it very car-like in how it fits into my life"
Absolutely! Most electric bikes have been designed from the ground up to be used everyday, in all weather. Electric Mountain Bikes especially see some pretty harsh environments, and come out of the other side looking less pretty but still working effectively.
As with anything electrical however, it’s best not to test this to the limit and submerge the motor or battery in water. A bit of rain won’t do any harm, but a swimming pool will!
The lightest electric bikes that are available are around 15KG, and usually use extremely expensive frame materials to achieve it, or have limitations on other features such as less gears and small batteries. You may also start to lose features and comforts like integrated lights, suspension and anything else that adds weight.
The lightest electric bike we carry is the BESV PS1 which is constructed from a Carbon Fibre frame, making it weight just 17KG.
The battery and motors are pretty fixed in their weight profiles, and there’s only so much saving that can be done here. A motor weights around 6KG, and a battery between 2 and 4KG. Smaller batteries are lighter, so the lightest bikes will have shorter ranges of 50 miles or less. For comparison, the larger batteries in our range can achieve up to 150 miles.
Usually we see folding electric bicycles as being the lightest, thanks to the reduced amount of frame. These can start at around 20KG and are the most popular for those looking for something lightweight yet still having a full feature set.
Cheap electric bikes are often a bad investment and will cost you more in the long run due to cheaper batteries.
While battery technology is improving each year, cheap batteries will lack the safety and life-extending features incorporated into the more expensive bikes. With the battery being the one of the main components of an ebike, it's important that the quality is there.
Due to the cost of battery and motor, electric bikes under £1,000 offer poor value. Frames and other components will be very cheaply made and not last or provide a comfortable ride. The motor may not be very powerful or have much range, offering diminishing returns and becoming just a very heavy bike to ride.
The CycleToWork scheme and other financing options can help spread the cost of a good electric bike over several months or years,
Electric bikes help assist your pedalling through use of a motor. Usually these motors are rated to 250W and 15.5 mph. After this speed, the motor will stop assisting.
Motors are located either on the front or rear hub of the wheel, or directly on the crank by the pedals.
Hub Mounted - Front or Rear
By being on the hub of the wheel, power is delivered directly into the wheel and is far more efficient than a mid-mounted motor. It also helps balance weight of the bike between motor, battery and rider, giving a sportier and more controlled ride experience. The chain is driving the rear wheel, which is how conventional bicycles work and thus can be a more natural ride style.
A front mounted motor pulls you along, leaving you to pedal and power the rear wheel. They are generally considered a budget option, thanks to their simplicity. This has the added benefit of being easier to change and access.
Having the motor in the centre and lower down on the bike helps with lowering the center of gravity and gives good balance.
Mid mounted motors often have higher torque ratings thanks to being located directly on the crank where you are pedalling. This also results in higher energy being required to achieve the same as a hub motor due to the indirect power delivery.
Often a sealed unit integrated with the pedals, they are harder to access and more complex than a hub motor, but this also means they are designed to be low maintenance.
Battery Sizes and Location
The battery on an electric bike is usually located either on the front down tube, or over the rear wheel as a pannier luggage rack.
The location of the motor and battery should be paid attention to as this will affect weight distribution of the bike.
Battery sizes vary a lot. Entry level batteries will be around 300Wh, providing around 30 miles of range. The largest electric bike battery currently produced is by Stromer and is a huge 983Wh
A 300Wh battery can delivery 1 Watt of power for 300 hours, or 100 Watts of power for 3 Hours, or 50 Watts of power for 6 hours. The level of Watts (Power) the motor is using will vary depending on your ride style, power mode selected and terrain. A higher assistance level will use more power, draining the battery quicker.
This is why range is difficult to give an accurate figure on - the real world distance achieved will vary hugely on ride style, power level chosen and terrain. Always use battery ranges as a guide, not a given!
|1 Watt per Hour||50 Watts per Hour||100 Watts per Hour|
|300Wh||300 Hours||6 Hours||3 Hours|
|600Wh||600 Hours||12 Hours||6 Hours|
There are two main frame styles with electric bike, Step Through and Step Over. These are also known as Gents, Ladies, Low Step and Cross Bar, etc.
Historically low-step frames were called ladies bikes, however with more people commuting by bikes demand has been high thanks to their ease of getting on and off. The high bar / tube bike style will require you to lean the bike to get on it.
At Urban Ebikes we have tried to clarify the situation by calling them either Sport or Comfort across our entire product range.
Comfort - Step Through
Sport - Step Over / Crossbar