1) What is an ebike?
An ebike, also known as an electric bike, is a regular bike with the addition of a motor, battery, and display. These additions are designed to assist a rider. It’s a bike with a boost.
2) What type of people should consider an ebike?
An ebike is ideal for anyone who wants a workout (studies show you get 94% of the aerobic benefit compared with riding a non-assisted bike), wants to arrive less sweaty and exhausted, haul a heavy load, have a sense of certainty when you will arrive for an appointment, ride with a faster friend, get outdoor exercise even with physical limitations, reduce auto trips, and extend biking into the colder months.
Can you still get exercise riding an ebike?
You can push as hard as you like on an ebike and get a workout. Studies have shown that ebike riders take more and longer trips, the physical gains from active travel are similar, and that car trips are often substituted with an ebike trip.
4) What are some of the types of ebikes currently available and what is the price range?
All styles of bikes are available with a battery and motor. This includes road, hybrid, mountain, folding, trike, recumbent, fat tire, and cargo. We can roughly categorize ebikes today as being in one of three price categories:
a. Under $1000 – these are the ‘low-end’ models. In order to meet a price point they utilize thin, light components and will function if you’ll only make occasional rides on flat terrain. This category also includes kits where you put a motor, battery, and display on an existing bike.
b. From $1000 to $3000 – these are ‘mid-range’ models. They are a good option if you’ll frequently use them for commuting to school, work, running errands, or recreational or club rides and if you want something that will last a few years.
c. More than $3000 – these are referred to as ‘high-end’ models and if you’re planning on taking longer rides on difficult terrain, these are lighter, have more battery capacity, and have more features.
5) Where can you legally ride an ebike?
In Illinois and in about 2/3 of the states, legislatures have adopted the three class system. This means an ebike is legally considered a bicycle and not subject to registration, insurance or licensing requirements that applies to motor vehicles. Using this model, an ebike is defined as being either:
a. Class 1 – equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and ceases to provide assistance when the bike reaches 20 mph.
b. Class 2 – equipped with a throttle-actuated motor that ceases to propel the bike when it reaches 20 mph. Pedaling is not required when the throttle is engaged.
c. Class 3 – equipped with a motor that provides assistance when the rider is pedaling or a throttle-actuated motor up to 28 mph.
Local municipalities and properties may define their own vehicle code. For the most part, Class 1 and 2 ebikes are allowed in bike paths and trails. Class 3 ebikes are still legal to ride in Illinois, but must ridden on the roads like a car.
6) We know that the motor adds weight to the bike, so what are some of the things people need to be aware of?
Ebikes are heavier than most non-electric bikes. The battery adds about 9 pounds and the motor about 8 and ebikes are designed to be beefier to withstand the additional torque and to hold the battery and motor. That means they often have sturdier wheels and fames, thicker tires, a front shock absorber, and the components (handlebars, chains, brakes) are heavier. The only time this additional weight is an issue is when you are transporting the bike, i.e. lifting it onto a bike rack or into the back of a car, or carrying it up or down stairs for storage. While you are riding, the assist makes up for the additional weight and you will not notice it.
7) How far can you ride on a single charge of the battery?
It depends upon the assist level you use because the more assist you use, the faster the battery will drain. Also affecting the range is the battery capacity, rider weight, wind, how hilly the terrain is, and air temperature. Most mid-range bikes have batteries that will last about 50 miles on a charge.
8) For someone considering an ebike, how should they approach such a purchase?
Just like any bike, you should think about what type of riding you plan to do and look for a bike that is designed for that. There are some nuances for those technically inclined such as the type of motor, (mid-drive or hub drive) the power of the battery,(35V or 48V or more), type of sensor (torque or cadence), number of assist levels, etc. In the Earth Rider Cycling Learning Center we discuss many of these tradeoffs, or you can do internet research. A resource for reviews is Electric Bike Review and for availability the Bike Exchange. While there are many internet-only ebike brands, it is a good idea to visit a bike shop so you can test ride before you buy and get service after the sale.
9) What is the current availability of ebikes given the shortages of bikes over the past year?
There continues to be supply chain issues in the bike industry in 2021 just like there are in many other industries. There are over 200 parts needed to assemble a new bike, and some component manufacturers are not been able to satisfy the current demand, holding up bike assemblies. Ebikes are available, but you may need to look a little harder.
Sharon Kaminecki and others comment on adventures in bicycling and other stories