E-Bike Guide for Beginners
Table of Contents
Thinking of taking a greener commute to work? Or maybe you’re just looking for a fun way to cruise around town?
Whatever your reasons, there are a lot of benefits to e-bikes. But first, you have to know what to look for. Here’s everything beginners need to know about e-bikes, including what they are, how they work, and how to choose the perfect one for you.
E-Bike - Definition
An electric bike, electric-assist bike, or simply an e-bike, is simply a bike with electrical components integrated into the design, namely a motor, battery, and controller. An e-bike is not to be confused with a motorcycle or electric scooter--it’s a bike equipped with electrical components to assist during your ride.
Types of E-Bikes
There are three classes of e-bike:
Class I and Class II e-bikes can go anywhere you’d take a traditional bike--specifically, a flat surface like a bike path. Class III e-bikes are a popular choice for commuters.
There are also a few common e-bike styles, any of which may be within those three classes. Common styles include:
Cruisers are great for a casual cruise around town. Commuter e-bikes are made with narrow tires and an upright design so you can comfortably get to work fast. Mountain e-bikes are for off-road adventurers. Road bikes are similar to cruisers and intended for pleasure riding on paved surfaces, but they have narrow tires and drop handlebars for fast riding.
Purpose of E-Bike
An e-bike can be used for anything you would use a regular bike for, whether you’re riding to work or having a good time.
Most of the time, we see riders purchase e-bikes for one of three reasons: commuting, exercise, or recreation.
From regular exercise to sensory stimulation to that feel-good factor you get from a great bike ride, there’s a lot to love about commuting to work on your bike.
Studies have shown that cyclists are the happiest commuters. Small wonder, given that riding your bike to work each day lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers while giving you a significant cognitive function boost.
An e-bike adds that little extra oomph, allowing you to manage even the worst hills without batting an eye.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend 150 minutes of aerobic activity for adults each week, which can be 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week. That means anything that gets you breathing harder and your heart rate moving faster.
Biking is one of the CDC’s go-to recommendations for aerobic activity. Riding at a moderate pace on a flat plane (or one with a few hills) counts as moderate activity, while riding fast or riding hills counts as vigorous activity.
You don’t need to ride your bike to work or ride like you’re trying out for the Tour de France to see the benefits of riding a bike.
Cycling gives you the chance to ride with your loved ones, colleagues, or people you’re meeting for the first time. You can enjoy the sunshine and the great weather. You can stretch your legs and get out of your home.
Remember that feel-good feeling you had when you rode a bike as a kid? That joy still kicks in as an adult.
How Do E-Bikes Work?
An e-bike is essentially a bike with a boost. There are three types of motor an e-bike might use:
Hub motors sit in the hub of the front or rear wheel. Front hub motors are the simplest and thus are limited to a throttle system, while a rear hub motor can accommodate both a throttle and pedal assist.
Mid-drive motors sit near the bike’s cranks at the center of the frame.
Friction motors mount directly on the seat post and are more commonly seen in kits to transform a regular bike into an e-bike, since they’re less efficient than hub or mid-drive motors.
Where Is the Battery on an E-Bike?
The battery placement depends on the bike’s frame, which often means the battery placement depends on what the bike was made to do.
A mountain e-bike, for example, often has a down tube-mounted battery. This distributes weight low on the bike for easier handling and wiring.
Urban e-bikes, on the other hand, often have a rack mount battery, which puts weight quite high off the ground. This makes it a more versatile mounting system, though it does make handling a bit harder.
How Long Does the Battery Last on Continued Usage/Battery Recharge Time
How long a battery lasts depends on what type of battery it is. There are seven common types of e-bike batteries:
- Lithium cobalt
- Lithium-ion polymer
- Lithium manganese
- Nickel-metal hybrid
Lithium-ion batteries occupy about 90% of the e-bike battery market. In general, you can expect these batteries to last three to five years.
Range/Distance You Can Travel Before Recharging
How far a bike can travel depends on its wattage. This also depends on what the bike is made to do.
City e-bikes, for example, tend to be at the low end of the spectrum. They tend to have smaller batteries, so they can travel about 30 to 44 miles on a single charge. Your average all-purpose e-bike with a battery in the family of 400 to 500 watts can usually deliver 64 to 75 miles. For context, the average Tour de France racer puts out about 400 watts per hour.
For an e-bike, watts mean something different than a light bulb. Translating watts to time isn’t an exact art because different activities use different amounts of energy.
Pedaling on a flat stretch at about 9 mph--the normal cruising speed for a non-sporting cyclist--consumes about 30 watts. Once you spike up to 20 mph, you’re looking at 220 watts. Riding at a 10% incline just a bit faster than walking speed consumes 150 watts.
Power consumption depends on a combination of factors at work. Basically, bigger batteries go further, but the more work your bike does and the more power assist you use to do it, the faster you eat through the battery.
Some premium e-bikes offer a feature called regenerative pedaling, or regenerative braking. This is meant to extend the battery’s lifespan by converting kinetic energy into power--basically, when you pedal, you generate power.
However, this requires a direct drive motor, which is different from the type of motor you typically see in electric bikes. It’s also heavier and more expensive.
How Long Do E-Bikes Last?
How long your e-bike lasts depends on a variety of factors. There are several key components behind your bike’s overall lifespan, depending on how much wear and tear you put them through.
In general, you can expect an e-bike to last roughly 3 to 5 years. That’s how long the battery lasts before it begins to decline. Tires under normal wear and tear will last between 1,000 to 3,000 miles. Good rim brakes can last up to 3,000 miles, while disc brakes can last up to 6,000 miles, though downhill braking will shorten this lifespan.
Generally, the longest-lived component is the motor. Direct drive motors can last up to 10,000 miles, while a geared motor lasts between 3,000 to 10,000 miles.
How to Choose the Best E-Bike for You
Thinking of making the switch to an e-bike? They’re not one-size-fits-all. Here’s how to choose the perfect bike for your needs.
The Type of Riding You Plan to Do
The biggest deciding factor is the type of riding you plan to do. A small, light city bike is not designed to handle off-road terrain, while a rugged mountain bike isn’t built for the type of riding you would do on your daily commute.
This will also change the class of e-bike you need--a Class III e-bike is faster than Class I or Class II, though it won’t be allowed in the same places.
Commuters typically need speed and comfort, which means a more upright bike compared to a mountain or training bike. After that, it depends on your commute.
If you’re dropping off the kids at school, for example, a touring e-bike can handle a child’s bike seat. A road racer, on the other hand, is good for those who need speed above all else.
Also, think about how smooth your commute is, as this will change what suspension you need. A full-suspension mountain bike is great for hurtling down hills, but for a five-mile ride as smooth as a mirror, it will cost you pedaling efficiency.Sports (e.g. Triathlon - Is It Allowed)
E-bikes may not be allowed in triathlons, but you can use them for sports training, even if you don’t use them in the sport itself.
As with commuting, think about the type of sport in question. A featherlight racing bike is great for smooth roads but hilariously impractical on rocky trails, while a mountain bike costs too much efficiency on bike trails.Exercise
If you’re using your bike for exercise, an e-bike is actually a great investment--and actually encourages you to ride more often. In a survey of 1,800 e-bike owners, 55% said they rode their bike daily or weekly before owning an e-bike, while 91% of respondents said they rode their bike daily or weekly after purchasing an e-bike.
As with commuter bikes, think about the type of exercise you’re interested in. If you want a casual ride around the park, look for an upright bike made for comfort. If you’re interested in speed, go for a lightweight bike that makes it easier to put your weight forward and aid in forward momentum.Touring
A touring bike is a specific type of bike intended for multi-day rides where you carry everything you need with you. They can be used as a commuting bike, but your average all-purpose commuter bike should not be used as a touring bike.
A touring e-bike will be designed to favor stability, with a wide gear range of 1:1 or lower. Touring e-bikes are also distinguished by front or rear racks that make it easy to carry what you need.
Comfort, Mobility, Convenience
You also want to think about comfort, which is dictated by the style of riding you have in mind.
A cruiser, for example, tends to be an upright bike designed with comfort as its foremost priority, with wide tires, suspension to reduce shock in the front fork, and higher handlebars for an upright ride.
A commuter bike is characterized by large, narrow tires for efficiency, paired with an upright design to provide comfort. You’re still relatively upright compared to a racing bike, but the tires allow for greater speed.
A road bike, on the other hand, typically features drop handlebars and narrow tires for the express purpose of encouraging fast riding.
Age and Size of the Biker
Your age and size will also dictate what bike is the right fit for you. For example, a child’s e-bike may need to be especially light and small.
Women’s bikes are also made differently than men’s, with a shorter top tube to accommodate women’s shorter torsos and shorter arms. They also feature smaller grips, narrower handlebars, and wider seats, though performance riders may prefer a narrower seat anyway.
How Far You’ll Be Riding
If you plan to ride farther, you need a battery that can keep up with you. This typically means a larger battery to ensure you’ll have pedal-assist for the duration of your ride.
On the other hand, if you’re just commuting a few miles to work every day, a smaller battery will get the job done nicely.
Your Cycling Experience Level
Most beginner e-bike riders will get everything they need from a Class I e-bike. These are the most affordable and the most universally acceptable in regular bike settings.
If you’re more experienced, you can start to think about e-bikes with added features, which is when you get to Class II or Class III e-bikes for added power and speed.
How Fast You Want to Travel
The speed at which you want to travel will change how the bike is constructed and the class of bike you need.
Class I and Class II bikes stop pedal-assist at 20 mph, while Class III bikes stop pedal-assist at 28 mph. Regardless of class, a bike designed for faster-paced rides will be built for efficiency and will allow you to ride forward. The lower the handlebars and the narrower the wheel, the further forward you can ride and the more efficient your ride will be.
Your available budget will affect what features are available to you. Conversely, you can save money by skipping certain features that aren’t important to you.
When purchasing an e-bike, the following factors will drive the price up or down:
- Suspension (full suspension is smoother but more expensive)
- Material (aluminum is available at every price point, while carbon is premium performance for a steeper sticker price)
- Component quality (the fancier the components, the pricier the e-bike)
If you’re a new rider, keep in mind that you don’t need to shell out for premium features. You won’t know how to use them yet, and you don’t need them. Save yourself the money and opt for a basic e-bike instead.
The cost of e-bike maintenance depends on the bike in question and how much wear and tear it sustains.
Since the mechanical elements of an e-bike are the same as a standard bike, you can expect those to cost the same, which rings in at $50 to $75 a year for regular service. Otherwise, e-bike maintenance is more expensive than a traditional bike, and the more complex the e-bike, the more expensive the maintenance.
So if your maintenance budget is comparatively slim, stick to a simple e-bike.
Every e-bike is designed to handle different terrain. Knowing what you’re riding on will dictate what e-bike is the right fit for you.City
As a rule, city commuters are staring down flat terrain with frequent stops. Your typical commuter or cruiser e-bike will do the job nicely--look for an upright build with higher handlebars, comfortable seats, and good braking.Mountain
Mountain terrain throws you a bit of everything--inclines, downhill speed boosts, rocks, trees, narrow passages, and uneven paths. So if you’re planning on taking your e-bike mountaineering, you need a mountain e-bike for the occasion.
That means an e-bike design made for rough terrain. For example, the head tube angle should be steeper--this gives you quicker steering and more efficient climbing capabilities. Flat handlebars will further assist in steering, and wide tires will help you get traction on rugged ground.Paved
Paved surfaces are flat and forgiving, so you can get away with a variety of e-bikes depending on the type of riding you have in mind.
A road e-bike, for example, is a great choice if you want to ride fast on smooth surfaces. A cruiser, on the other hand, can handle smooth pavement in a casual ride.Gravel
Gravel e-bikes have the same general build as road bikes, but they fall into the adventure bike category. There are three types:
- Light terrain (700c wheels, narrow tires, sporty geometry)
- Rough terrain (650b wheels, wider tires, relaxed geometry)
- Touring (700c wheels, narrow tires, upright build with front and/or rear racks)
Think about the type of gravel you’ll ride on and what type of riding you’re doing. For speed, you want an e-bike with more of a road bike build. For touring, comfort takes priority.Rocky
When dealing with rocky terrain, you’re most likely going to need a mountain bike or something along those lines. Look for a sporty bike with wider wheels that will give you greater stability.
Do you live in tropical sunshine, or is Minnesota winter more your speed? Either way, you need to buy an e-bike with an eye toward your weather conditions and local seasons.
If you have all four seasons and want to invest in just one bike, opt for an e-bike that can handle weather on your worst days. Think about how you ride on those days and plan accordingly. You can also equip your standard e-bike for colder, harsher weather.Is it safe in the winter?
It is safe to ride in winter, but you have to plan ahead.
For example, because you’re worried about traction during the winter, opt for a bike that allows you to keep your seat low. This will keep your weight low on the bike and aid with stability.
You should also swap out your tires for weather-friendly alternatives. Your regular touring bike, for example, can handle snow if you swap out your summertime unstudded tires with wintertime studded tires.
On any e-bike, look for a good set of lights. This is a standard safety feature primarily found on city and commuter bikes.
However, your most important safety feature is your brakes. Always test the brakes carefully when trying out an e-bike, and think about the kind of braking you do. If you’re in the city and hit 17 stoplights on the way to work, frequent braking is a given and you need a bike that won’t send you flying.
Is It Water-Resistant?
Think of your electric bike like your smartphone. It’s not waterproof, but it should be water-resistant--after all, you never know when you might get caught in the rain. Most e-bikes are designed to be water-resistant, but make sure to check, especially if you live in an area known for drizzly weather.
Local Laws and Ordinances
Unfortunately, your choice of e-bike may not be entirely your choice. Because e-bikes allow you to travel at higher speeds than a traditional bike, there are local, state, and federal regulations in place around e-bikes.
When you’re purchasing, the most important laws and ordinances to watch are your local and state ordinances--specifically, what bikes can be ridden where. This will change your bike options depending on where you’ll ride the most. Your best bet is to look up ordinances for your specific area, but this primer on state e-bike laws can help you get started.
Last but not least is the warranty, which is a way to ensure that you get a high-quality, high-performing e-bike--or your money back.
The standard warranty for a good e-bike is one-year minimum all the way up to a five-year maximum on the e-bike’s various components. What you get depends on the company in question, so don’t be surprised to see a lot of variation.
What an E-Bike Rider Needs to Remember
You’ve got your bike and you’re ready to ride, right? Not quite. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you start riding, whether you’re commuting or taking a pleasure cruise on the beach.
Best Clothing for Bike Rides
Whether you’re on an e-bike or a traditional bike, you have the same priority for cycling clothes: items that won’t get in your way while pedaling and items that make you highly visible.
In warm weather (70 degrees and up), your ideal riding uniform will look something like this:
- Bike shorts
- Bike jersey
- Bike socks
- Bike gloves
Bike shorts are unique from other shorts in that they’re fitted but breathable with padding in the groin area for added comfort. And while you might not think of gloves in hot weather, they can help you grip even when your hands are sweaty.
In slightly cooler weather (50 to 65 degrees) swap out your bike jersey for a long-sleeved shirt. Arm and leg warmers are a good choice, since you can take them off if you overheat, but be careful of too much extra material on your legs. Change out your fingerless summer bike gloves for full-fingered ones, and add a thermal headband.What to Wear in Winter
In winter, layers are the name of the game. You’ll have three layers:
As you get into cooler temperatures, you’ll gradually increase the weight of all three layers to account for the weather. In 40 to 50 degrees, for example, your outer layer might be a simple windproof jacket or a rain jacket, but below 25 degrees, you’ll need a heavyweight cycling jacket, heavy tights, heavy full-fingered gloves, and wool socks.
If the weather is wet, look for cycling clothes that will protect you against moisture. These include:
- Waterproof jacket
- Waterproof pants
- Waterproof overshoes
- Waterproof gloves
As for your helmet, there’s a cheap and easy solution to keep the rain out: cover your helmet with a shower cap. It might look a bit funny, but it’s effective.
Your single best item of safety equipment is your helmet. This may be optional or compulsory depending on where you live, so check the local laws before departing on your commute.
Either way, look for a helmet in a high-visibility color or with reflective patches. You should also make sure your helmet fits well--it should feel snug but comfortable on your head.
It’s also a good idea to wear a crash jacket, just in case. This can be a padded cycling jacket, or even a leather jacket. There’s a reason why motorcycle riders wear leather, which is that if you go flying, leather lets you slide across the pavement.
Last but not least, while your motor and battery get the most attention, you should still know your way around your e-bike’s gears. After all, they’re still the basic components that make your e-bike work.
The majority of e-bikes are equipped with derailleur gears, while the remainder use hub gears. Derailleur gears are external gears with a cable connected to the rear derailleur. If you add tension on the cable, it becomes easier to pedal. Take tension off the cable and it becomes easier to travel at higher speeds.
A hub gear system, on the other hand, is fully encased in the rear hub. Most hub gear e-bikes are 8-speed systems. This makes the gears much lower maintenance than derailleurs since they’re not exposed to the elements. On the other hand, if something goes wrong, you’ll need an expert to fix it, whereas derailleurs can be fixed on your own with a bit of know-how.
Ready to hit the road with your e-bike? Now that you know what you’re looking for, you know how to get the best ride. All that’s left now is to get your helmet and get ready for a good time.
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