What is an electric bike?
Why buy an electric bike?
There are a whole host of reasons why you might want some pedalling assistance in your life. Perhaps you have to travel with lots of cargo, and the added power can mean the difference between using a car or still spinning your two legs. Or maybe you want to start commuting to work, and an electric hybrid could be a great option for helping you cover the miles, without turning up at work in a sweaty state. You might be recovering from injury or illness and the added boost of a motor might help you get back out there again. Or it might simply be the case that you’re not as young as you once were.
Hilly cities and rough terrain, extended commutes, knee or joint pain: these can all be deterrents to enjoying cycling. But because they’re as low endurance as you need them to be, ebikes are a great transportation option for everyone, including seniors and those with physical restrictions who might find regular cycling excursions difficult. City commuters will enjoy the option of employing supplemental power when tired or sore or on the way back from the grocery store loaded down with bags of fresh veggies, as well as the luxury of avoiding heavy city traffic and costly parking fees. Out-of-town travelers can downsize certain foldable models for placement in the trunk of a car or RV storage compartment, and pull them out again easily to explore the ins and outs of destinations. No matter what your abilities or everydays entail, ebiking offers a fun way to get in exercise, get around, or simply enjoy the sights and sounds of your favourite city.
The real advantages of e-bikes are climbing efficiency, wind resistance, and better range. If you experience knee pain or exercise induced asthma for example, electric bikes can breathe new life into the sport of cycling. They might convince your partner, kids or parents to join you for a ride, or they might enable you to arrive at work feeling fresh. Electric bicycles offer the same great benefits as traditional bicycles, including cost efficiency, health benefits and connection to a community.
Now that we know why we should get one, it’s time to choose the right one!
Do I need a licence?
Short answer, no. (Although you are subject to the same rights and duties as the driver of a motor vehicle at the same time that you are required to follow bicycle safety rules. Some provinces also have minimum age requirements for ebike operation.) In order for an electric bicycle to be considered a Motor-Assisted Cycle rather than an LSM (Limited Speed Motorcycle) that does require proper licensing, it must meet certain criteria. According to Transport Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations (MVSR), an electric bike:
- has one or more electric motors that will not employ assistance at speeds over 32km/h
- has steering handlebars and is equipped with pedals
- is designed to travel on not more than three wheels touching with the ground
- is capable of being propelled by muscular power
- must bear a label affixed by the manufacturer indicating that it is a MAC (Motor-Assisted Cycle)
Where do you want to go?
Electric bikes are designed for different people and different purposes. It’s up to you to decide what is most important to you, what is not important at all, and then communicate that to the retailer. There are so many models, so first you should figure out where you’re going to be riding your e-bike most frequently. E-bikes are geared toward different kinds of activities, such as cargo hauling, relaxed cruising, trail riding, mountain biking, downhill, child transportation, road biking, sand and snow (fat tire) riding, traveling and urban commuting. The question you need to ask yourself before entering a store is what your preferred playground is going to be.
Throttle vs. Pedal-Assist
What does torque mean?
What is the max speed per Transport Canada?
According to Transport Canada regulations, electric bikes must not employ motor assistance at speeds over 32 km/h on level ground. If an ebike reaches speeds higher than this it will be classified otherwise, such as under the title of a restricted-use motorcycle or limited-speed motorcycle. Please always consult your regional road authorities for information and regulations prior to operating a new type of vehicle.
Does the bike recharge the motor while you pedal?
What kind of drive?
There are two mains types of electric bike. The most common is what has come to be called a “pedelec”. This type of system monitors the rider’s pedaling and automatically adds a certain amount of motor assistance – usually depending upon rate, force and speed. In most countries, the output of the motor is regulated and limited to 250 W, and the maximum speed up to 30 km/h. When you reach this speed, the motor automatically switches off. The regulations differ in every country, so it’s important to ask in your local shop for details. Then there’s the other type called a ‘twist-n-go’. This is where a switch is used by the rider to trigger the assistance from the motor.
When it comes to motors, there are two main types. Either it’s mounted in one of the wheels (hub motor assist) or it’s mounted at the crank and pedal area (crank motor assist), at the bottom of the frame. That means the electronic controls can include a sensor that detects how hard you’re pedaling and can measure out the assistance accordingly. Typically, crank assisted bikes have a reputation for doing well on steep hills, but can be a little on the noisy side depending upon the brand and type. Hub motors tend to be very quiet, but often don’t handle hills as well as crank assist systems. Generally, you should look for a brand with a good reputation, such as Bosch, Yamaha, Shimano or 8fun.
Lithium-ion batteries are everywhere, so it’s no surprise to find them powering e-bikes. More expensive e-bikes have higher-tech batteries that are lighter, charge quickly, and last longer. Batteries degrade over time, holding less charge as they age. The quality of the battery makes a difference, so look for a reputably named battery and make sure the warranty covers the battery for at least two years. Lithium-ion batteries are typically said to last 800 full charge cycles. That’s about three years of weekday commuting. They survive longer with careful use, so you should get at least 2,000 half-charge cycles. Those are pessimistic estimates though, in practice, a battery life of several years is quite easily achievable. A full charge typically takes between two and a half to six hours, depending on the manufacturer, battery capacity, and battery chemistry.
What is the range on a single charge
The distance an e-bike will go on one charge of the battery is called range. It’s probably the most important specification. If your commute involves a big hill, for example, you don’t want to run out of juice halfway up. Without power, an e-bike is just a heavy bike. The range depends of the battery capacity, the speed, your weight, profile of the commuting tour, the assistance level you choose and percentage of given pedaling power. If you’re only going to do ten kilometers of daily commuting, you don’t need a 70 km range. Nevertheless, you should buy a bike with a higher range than you necessarily need because the range will drop as the battery ages and loses capacity.
How long does it take to charge batteries?
Battery charge times vary between manufacturers, models and battery types, but a typical charge can be counted on as taking between 4-8 hours to complete. Higher quality batteries like Li-Ion and NiMH will be faster to charge, while sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries will take 6-8 hours. Initial charges of any type may take up to 12 full hours. Battery types will also determine the general lifespan of your power source.
|Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) batteries||approximately 700-1000+ charges|
|Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries||about 500-700 charges|
|Sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries||between 300-500 charges|
Good e-bikes are not cheap, even compared to good unassisted bikes. You can pick up a very basic model, but how long are you going to be happy with it? An average bike with a quality frame, functional brakes, suspension and other components is expensive. When buying an e-bike you have to spend considerably more money for the motor. So don’t be surprised by the higher price, a better bike lasts much longer.
Do electric bikes have an impact on the environment?
Can I ride my bicycle in the rain?
Although they’re not made to be outright submerged, most ebikes are water and weatherproof. If you plan to ride relatively frequently in heavy downpours, you can take extra precautions to make your ebike watertight, such as sealing connectors and exposed openings with clear silicone.
Perhaps the most important (and fun) part of buying an electric bike is test riding. Trying an electric bike allows you to put aside skeptics, reviews, and research and just answer the most basic question: Do I love this bike? If so, then start asking a few other questions: Does it climb hills in the way I need it to?, Does the bike fit me in the way I would like it to?, Does it have the quality and functionality I would like?