Ever done a double-take watching someone in casual clothes (no lycra!) cycle effortlessly up a steep road or bike path without breaking a sweat? There’s a good chance what you saw was a rider zipping past on an electric bike. Electric bikes, or e-bikes, look just like standard bikes, but they have a small motor fitted on the frame. The motor is there to make cycling easier, particularly when you’re riding uphill or into headwinds, or carrying a load such as groceries or the kids.
Types of e-bikes
There are two types of e-bikes – pedal assistance or throttle.
The most common is the pedal assist or “pedelec”. The motor on these bikes works as you pedal, giving you that extra push. The rider can select the speed they want the motor to cut out; for example, once they reach 20 kilometres an hour they can choose to cut the motor and pedal on their own.
E-bikes with a throttle, on the other hand, are designed for riders who want to travel without pedalling. The throttle is found on the handlebars and has a maximum power of 200 watts.
Road regulations differ between states in Australia, but generally follow European laws where bikes sold for on-road use are limited to 250 watts and capped at 25km/hour. Electric bike users must follow the same rules as cyclists riding traditional bikes.
Top reasons to get an e-bike? Melbourne Electric Bicycles co-owner Nathan Reizer says: wanting to go green; wanting to go carless; you lost your licence; and you don’t want to sweat profusely. What’s your top reason?
Why ride an e-bike?
Cycling purists may sneer at e-bikes, but they are useful for many reasons. Older riders can rely on the motor’s power to help them up hills and through headwinds, and if you’ve got a child on the back, they make the ride far less stressful. People trying to get fit are also looking to e-bikes to ease them into a regular exercise regime.
“We get all sorts of reasons for buying an e-bike. People wanting to go green and reduce their carbon footprint by going carless, and we get some people who have lost their driver’s license and don’t want to be a burden on friends, so they come and look at electric bikes for that period,” says Nathan Reizer, co-owner of Melbourne Electric Bicycles.
“We get commuters as well – those who are going on a decent run and either don’t want to get to work sweating like a dog or don’t have the facilities to change.”
How they work
Most batteries are long-life lithium and need four to six hours to recharge. Some manufacturers claim a single charge will power a bike for up to 140kms. However, it’s more like 60-80kms when you take hills, wind, rider weight, and speed into account. These things are worth thinking about if you’re making a comparison between e-bikes and a fossil-fuelled vehicle.
Most motors weigh about 4 kilograms, while the battery pack and the display are likely to add 4.5kg. This means some bikes can weigh a total of 27kg, something that’s important to note for times you run out of charge and need to pedal or push the bike.
What’s the cost?
European-made e-bikes start at $3000, while Chinese models are priced from $1000. Prices for the top brands can soar up to $16,000, so it pays to crunch the numbers.
E-bikes are slowly becoming more popular in Australia, following trends in places such as China and Germany. Do your research and there’s every chance you’ll find one that not only enhances your cycling experience, but also keeps you fitter and healthier than you’ve ever been.