Electric BikesGuides

Electric Bikes for Beginners: Everything you Need to Know Before you Buy!

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Electric vehicles have advanced to the point where they inhabit our daily lives. The progress made in the past few years is outstanding.

Due to these advancements, it’s not uncommon to see e-bikes existing with traditional, human-powered bicycles.

Dissecting an electric bicycle doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, they’re very similar to the first bicycle you used when you were a child. With an added motor, battery, throttle, and drivetrain, you can exceed speeds of 28 mph (45 km/h) without breaking a sweat.

This article will act as an introduction to anyone interested in an electric bike. But first, we need to determine what an e-bike is before discussing its components, laws, maintenance, and more.

What is an Electric Bike?

Let’s look at what an electric bike is by comparing it to a traditional human-powered bicycle. To put it simply, an electric bike is a regular bike with an electrical drive system. This consists of a battery, motor, a way to integrate the motor’s power in the drive train, and a way to control it.

The Propella 7-Speed E-Bike has all the components of a traditional e-bike:

electric bike diagram

Photo Courtesy: Propella

  • Purple Circle: The battery that powers the motor sits underneath the passenger bar.
  • Red Circle: The throttle, which controls the power, is similar to a motorcycle handle.
  • Orange Circle: Mid-drive motor helps to propel the e-bike forward.
  • Green Circle: The drivetrain integrates the power located in the rear wheel.

Without these four critical components, the e-bike becomes a human-powered bicycle. Once you remove these components, an e-bike can become a bicycle as long as there are pedals to move the chain and gears to rotate the wheels.

What is the Difference Between an E-Bike and a Motorcycle?

Although a motorcycle and e-bike look similar from a glance, they are entirely different from each other. The most significant difference is what powers a motorcycle. Electric motorcycles exist, but a gas-powered motorbike has unlimited range, is faster, and has room for an extra passenger.

As a disadvantage, motorcycles are very loud, expensive, and take up a lot of space. They’re also more costly to maintain.

An e-bike costs less, even when compared to the initial price of the purchase, battery replacements, and maintenance. They’re quiet, are parkable virtually anywhere, and benefit your physical fitness.

The only thing you miss out on is the motorcycles’ cool’ factor. But, like how cigarettes have come and gone out of style, so will gas-powered motorbikes.

If you prefer a compact, lightweight mode of transportation that doesn’t require insurance or registration, get an e-bike. However, if you want something more road-worthy with a better suspension and visibility, purchase a motorcycle instead.

What is the Difference Between an E-Bike and a Moped?

An electric scooter (or moped) is a purpose-built machine with electric propulsion. Mopeds look similar to gas scooters with a platform for the user’s feet and a step-through-style base. Some of these scooters are classified as “power-assisted bicycles.”

Despite this classification, mopeds are very different from e-bikes. First, mopeds do not have pedals, so you can’t use them as an exercise apparatus. Mopeds also require a driver’s license in the U.S., insurance, and registration, whereas e-bikes do not.

Red vespa

Photo Courtesy: PixaBay/Pexel

Mopeds have a limit to where they can operate. Although they can travel on the street or within bike lanes, they aren’t allowed on sidewalks and can’t park in bicycle areas. An electric bike is still considered a bicycle and can go wherever a human-powered bike can go.

Finally, a moped cannot travel anywhere but within a city. An e-bike can go up a mountain with just the motor alone. If you do want a moped, they can reach higher speeds than a typical e-bike at 30 mph (48 km/h) where an e-bike can only legally cap out at 28 mph (45 km/h).

How do E-Bikes Work?

Mid-Drive

An electric-mid-drive motor is the main component that makes riding an e-bike effortless. This motor type has more torque and higher performance than a traditional hub motor. Since it drives the crank and not the wheel, it takes advantage of the guards to amplify the bike’s power.

Mid-drives are often close to the ground to improve the handling of the e-bike. The lower the mid-drive, the better your center of gravity, as it distributes the weight better throughout the bike.

Battery

You need the battery to operate an e-bike; otherwise, it becomes a regular bike! A typical battery can provide 40 miles (64 km) of riding, but the smaller, more compact designs may only take you 20 miles. You can remove them easily to clean or charge.

Drivetrain

A drivetrain delivers power to the driving wheels and converts torque and speed via the gears. Some drivetrains let you turn the resistance up or down so you can comfortably ride up steep mountains. The dial is typically located around the gears next to the drivetrain.

Throttle

You’ve likely seen a throttle on a motorcycle, and they serve the exact same purpose – it kicks on the motor and lets you control the e-bikes speed. When you turn the throttle forward, the e-bike will drive. The speed of which the e-bike goes is determined by how far forward you twist the throttle. 

Not all e-bikes are made the same, but they all have these four components. Most electric bicycles also come with disc brakes, suspension, and pedals.

How do you Ride an E-bike?

Man on electric bike in city

Photo Courtesy: Snapwire/Pexel

Some e-bikes have pedals that let you ride like a human-powered bicycle but with the added assistance of a motor to propel you forward.

However, some e-bikes don’t come with pedals. Foldable or small electric bikes tend not to have a pedaling option. Instead, a user would have to place their feet on the spokes where the pedals would be and use the throttles to move forward.

Most e-bikes have either option so the rider can ride without any human component. This is great for office workers who want to arrive at the job without sweating. At the same time, that same office worker could get in some great cardio during their time-off by using the pedals only and no throttle for assistance.

Common Features of an E-Bike

Besides the motor, throttle, drivetrain, and battery, many other features come with your typical e-bike.

Folding

An excellent folding electric bike can store securely within your home, in a car, or on public transport. If your commute requires a quick detour on the subway, or you live in a small apartment or a home without a garage – pick a folding bike.

Folding e-bikes tend to be lighter than traditional, non-folding types. Keep in mind that a great bicycle with a decent motor and battery will still weigh 40 or 50 pounds. Lugging it around will make you stronger!

Braking System

An electric braking system is universal for e-bikes, but when given a choice, always choose disc brakes over conventional types. Disc brakes offer greater stopping power, which is helpful for long descents or during wet weather. They’re also more precise because wheel lockup is less likely.

Electronic Panel

An electronic panel display isn’t necessary, but it can enhance your riding experience. Find one that displays power status, distance, headlights, PAS grades, speed, and error messages. An estimated battery level display can ensure you don’t run out of charge far away from home.

Range

The range of the battery depends on the type of riding you’re doing, so it’s challenging to list a range spec on an e-bike as a sale point. The manufacturer assumes you’ll use an e-bike on a flat sidewalk because you’ll have the most extended range on terrain with minimum effort.

To calculate the watt hours (range) of a battery pack, multiply the voltage by amp hours. A 36-volt 10-Ah battery pack has 360-watt hours (36 X 10 = 360). Each mile costs 20-watt hours on average. Therefore, a 360-watt hour pack will get you 18 miles on one charge.

Tires/Suspension

Suspension isn’t always a given on e-bikes, similar to how cost-effective bicycles don’t have adequate shocks. Instead, e-bike manufacturers will install thicker, more inflated tires to improve stability on bumpy roads or sidewalks.

Common Accessories for an E-Bike

Photo Courtesy: Kate Trifo/Pexel

Are you thinking of adding a few accessories to your e-bike, so it stands out from the crowd?

Consider these items to improve your safety and the look and feel of your bike.

  • Helmet: Safety is essential. Since e-bikes exceed 20 mph (32.19 km/h), a crash could be fatal. Use a DOT helmet made for motorcycle users to protect your noggin from falls.
  • Side Mirrors: Most e-bikes don’t come with mirrors, but they’re vital to your safety. Equip them to the end of your handlebars on each side for maximum visibility.
  • Lights: If you ride at night, you need headlights for safety. Pick up taillights too so vehicles can see you in the dark on country roads or alleyways.
  • Basket: You could use a backpack, but if you don’t want to get your back sweaty put a front basket that’s deep enough to store three bags of groceries.
  • Suspension Seatpost: Great suspension is only found on expensive e-bikes. For anything other than high end, get a suspension seat for a smoother ride.

We also recommend grips for your handlebars, fenders to protect your chains, and pop-off pedals so your e-bike can fit easier in cars or public transit. Always buy bike tools for standard maintenance and repair jobs.

Growing Popularity of E-Bikes

Every year the popularity of e-bikes is increasing by more than 60% on average worldwide. In 2019, e-bike sales rose 73% at specialty shops. The more popular models are pedal-assisted, move at 20 mph (32.19 km/h), and fold.

E-bikes are the fastest-growing segment in the cycling market, with over $100 million in sales in the United States as of 2019. 

“E-bikes are making recreation and transportation easier in cities and urban locations across the United States,” said Taldi Harrison, the government and community affairs manager for REI. “E-bikes are a dependable option for people of all backgrounds and help make getting outside-accessible for all.”

About half of all e-bikes sold are bought by people who never considered themselves cyclists, or who haven’t ridden a bike in years. E-bikes broaden the audience for who can use motorized transportation without the setback of a clunky or expensive car.

However, there is a downside to this rapid popularity spike. There are virtually no laws in place to regulate the use of motorized bicycles.

Laws and Regulations

The US Laws and the Lack of Regulation

At the federal level, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates e-bikes for product safety for manufacturing at the first sale. Without clear guidelines, many states adopted outdated rules governing e-bikes that treat them as an extension to human-powered bikes or motorcycles.

Some have no regulation what-so-ever, so individual states tend to suggest a 20 mph (32 km/h) max speed. This loose approach has led to multiple injuries that were easily avoidable. From 2000 to 2017, 245 million injuries occurred from electric scooters or bicycles.

The Rapid Need for Legalization of the 3-Class System

Since 2014, the national bicycle advocacy group PeopleForBikes helped over 30 states pass standardized regulation for e-bikes using the 3-Class System. This model legislation defines three standard classes of e-bikes based on wattage, speed, and operation.

Class 1 and Class 2 are usually allowed where pedal bikes are allowed, but Class 3 bikes are typically reserved for road use only. In Europe, a cyclist must place a highly visible sticker on the frame to indicate an e-bike’s Class.

In 2015, California was the first state to adopt the 3-Class System, but since then, 26 states now define e-bikes in a Three Class structure. The graphic below outlines where states have proper legislation, which are acceptable and problematic and need work.

e-bike regulations eRide Guides

Photo Courtesy: Katrina Dent

Legislated states use the 3-Class System. Acceptable states have no age limit, no licensing registration, and e-bikes are treated as bicycles. Finally, problematic states treat e-bikes as motor vehicles and have confusing laws and practices that aren’t found in state law.

Different Types and Categories

Most countries follow the 3-Class system to dictate the difference between the different types and categories of e-bikes. These classes are further broken down into terrain subclasses determined by the motor and battery application and use.

The 3-Class/Type System

Here is a breakdown on which e-bikes classify Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 under the legislation.

  • Class 1: Assists pedaling but not your throttle, these e-bikes are passive and are allowed to function on bike paths. Pedal-assist only (absolutely no throttle), and have a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph (32.19 km/h).
  • Class 2: Known as low-speed throttle-assisted e-bikes. These e-bikes have motors that proper the cyclist without pedaling. The rider cannot exceed more than 20 mph (32.19 km/h) like Class 1, except Class 2 e-bikes must be throttle-assisted.
  • Class 3: Known as speed pedal-assisted electric bikes and assist the rider if they’re pedaling. Cannot have a throttle. Class 3 e-bikes can have a maximum assisted speed of 28 mph (45 km/h). However, the U.S. only allows bikes on the road that have a maximum of 20 mph (32.19 km/h).

All e-bikes, no matter the Class, limit the motor’s power to 1 horsepower (750W).

Terrain Classes

E-bikes are separated between two types of terrain: rough trails and leisure. Most e-bikes are geared towards leisure activity because consumers use these to go to and from work. Mountain bikes are useful for rural communities where cars are expensive or inaccessible.

Rough Trails:

Similar to a traditional bike, e-bikes are capable of cycling up steep hills for an extended period with the proper battery and motor (750w minimum preferred). These bikes are available at hardtails or full suspension. The full suspension is better for rougher ground.

Leisure and City:

All e-bikes can function spectacularly on flat land or in a cityscape because they were initially designed for this purpose. To get the most out of the battery and motor, calculate your weight against the wattage of the battery. For example, a 110-pound woman can use a 250w battery to its fullest extent, while a 150-pound woman should use a 500w or more for better results.

Some companies have a hybrid category of leisure and rough, but it’s better to buy a bike specifically for its purpose because it will perform better. If you find that you share your time between mountain biking and leisure, then purchase a hybrid. Otherwise, pick one or the other.

Speed and Pedaling

The speed of an e-bike depends on the Class number, battery, and motor. Most e-bikes range from 20 mph (32.19 km/h) to 28 mph (45 km/h). Anything faster than that is illegal in multiple U.S. states. Use the below chart to determine max speed vs. batter and motor.

Battery + Motor (Flat Terrain 165 lbs Male) Max Speed Average E-Bike Cost Average Charge Time
250w 20 mph (32.19 km/h) $500 – $1000 20 minutes
500w 25 mph (40.23 km/h) $750 – $1250 40 minutes
750w 28 mph (45 km/h) $750 – $1500 60 minutes
1000w 35 mph (56.32 km/h) $1000 – $1500 80 minutes
1500w 40 mph (64 km/h) $1500 – $2000+ 120 minutes

* Green is within legal limits, red is considered illegal by many U.S. states

If the e-bike has a pedal assist, it’s possible to exceed your bike’s maximum speed as long as you remain pedaling. However, pedaling excessively could damage the motor if you’re consistently going above the max speed and using the throttle in tandem.

Safety Tips

Although e-bikes are a great way to get around, they still require attention to ensure your fun ride doesn’t become dangerous. Many electric bicycle safety tips apply to standard cycling, while others are specific to motorized vehicles.

  • Wear A Helmet
  • Use Headlights and Taillights
  • Use a Horn or Bell to Warn Other Pedestrians
  • >Don’t Ride Against Traffic
  • Use Bike Lanes Where Possible
  • Keep Tires Properly Inflated
  • Practice Defensive Driving
  • Use Your Mirrors

Above all, never ride drunk. Although bikes do not require a license to operate, you can still get seriously injured if you’re not 100% aware of your actions. It isn’t worth it. Fold your bike into a cab, if possible, or walk your bike home on the sidewalk.

Insurance

Insurance for e-bikes does exist, but it isn’t necessary to purchase in the United States. The policy cost depends on your coverage, but we recommend liability coverage to cover third party damages like property or medical expenses.

However, there are many things insurance won’t cover, like a stolen battery, manufacturer malfunctions, or theft of the entire bike.

Homeowners and renters insurance will not cover electric bicycles. Auto Insurance also won’t cover an e-bike (only other motorized vehicles like mopeds or motorcycles) because you don’t require a license to operate it. You will need to seek out third-party insurance coverage.

Average Lifespan

electric bikes in the woods

Photo Courtesy: Julian Hochgesang/Unsplash

A quality e-bike made of lithium-ion or lithium-polymer technology is usually capable of 1K full-charge-discharge cycles. However, most users don’t use their e-bike until it’s dead. Therefore, an average user will get three to five years out of one electric bike battery.

The average lifespan of your e-bike could diminish if you take poor care of the motor, battery, and drivetrain. Use these tips to extend the life of the electronic components on your e-bike.

Maintenance

Schedule A Weekly Cleaning: Regular cleaning to keep off the dirt, dust, and debris from getting into the engine should be your priority as an e-bike owner. It helps keep the mechanical parts functioning. However, never use a pressurized hose or stream of water because it could expose jetting liquid into the electrical system – causing it to malfunction.

Lubrication: Similar to a steel bicycle chain, the e-bike chains and gears need proper lubrication, or else it will rush, seize, or break. You should use a special cleaning solution specific for cleaning bike chains. For example, if you use WD-40, the oil will fly up onto your pants as you ride. Do this once a week if you bike often.

Tire Pressure: The tires’ sidewalls should inform you of the ideal pressure for that tire type. Check the pressure by using a pressure gauge – don’t just eyeball it because you risk too little traction or bloated tires. Inflate them properly for a smoother ride.

Check the Bolts: While you’re cleaning, check for any loose nuts, bolts, or screws. Use your fingers to check the tightness. If you can screw the bolts off with your fingers, they’re way too loose. Don’t tighten the bolts too much, or you won’t be able to get them off!

Battery: The most critical electrical piece on your e-bike is the battery, so treat it as such. Read the manufacturer’s instructions before changing it, or you could damage the battery or the bike. Know that battery replacement can be expensive, so take care of it by protecting it against rain, dirt, and debris.

Brakes: Check these every few weeks by pumping them at slow speeds. It’s essential to have effective brakes on any motorized vehicle. Otherwise, you could be in a severe accident. Brake pads are easy and cheap to replace if necessary.

Storage Tips: Always keep your e-bike in a cool, dry place away from any potential rain or harsh weather conditions. It’s better to keep it indoors, either in a garage or in your home. Keep the bike off the ground during the winter, so it’s less likely to get knocked or ruined.

Is an E-Bike a Good Investment?

Electric bikes make riding convenient and effortless. You may wonder if the point of getting a bike is for the exercise, but the real reason to use an e-bike is to get from point A to point B comfortably and inexpensively.

Although e-bikes will never wholly replace a regular bike or a car, it can eliminate the barriers that stop people riding, such as hills, distance, or health. You won’t have to worry if you’re strong enough, have enough endurance, or enough confidence to get back on the road.

If riding represents stress-reduction, freedom, better health, enjoyment, and free time, an e-bike will be a good investment for you, especially if you want to add a bit more exercise to your life and reduced car traffic.

Are you an e-bike enthusiast?

Are you interested in more in-depth articles on e-bikes? Stay on our website for more content.

Before you go, leave a comment about your thoughts on owning an e-bike, or read one of our other articles about the average electric bicycles top-speed.

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