How to Choose an Electric Bicycle

Batavus Zonar E-GoShopping for an electric bike is a major purchase. Do it right and you will be a happy electric bicycle owner for years to come.

Before you check out electric bike reviews and descriptions it’s helpful to educate yourself on different features to look at and to consider what you’ll be using the electric bike for. That’s the reason we wrote this buyer guide for you.

Of course, you need to read a bunch of reviews (Getgamesgo is a good source) before making a purchase.

If you’re already here, we are assuming you have already decided to buy an electric bike. (If you are still wondering, we are putting together another great article about how electric bikes can benefit your life: “Everyone Could Use An Electric Bike” – be on the lookout for it).

The first thing to look at is what you plan to use this bike for.

For example:

  • How long a range do I plan to go for each ride? Both mileage or duration?
  • Will I be traveling in hilly areas? Across flatlands?
  • Am I riding on bumpy surfaces? Smooth?
  • Will I be hauling heavy loads?
  • Any time constraints on making the trip?

With an electric bike, it is similar to shopping for two separate products:

  • a rechargeable vehicle with its electronics
  • and the comfort and mechanics of a bicycle

You can combine the criteria for each under one umbrella when doing your research on the best electric bike for your circumstances.

Electronic Components of Ebikes

All the above questions relate to the electric part of the bike: how long you can ride your ebike on a single battery charge. This in turn depends on how long the battery stays charged as well as how well the pedal assist works. Not only that, it’s a combination of battery chemistry, control electronics, motor core composition, and more. Just as cars as vehicles can give different driving experiences, so can electric bicycles.

For trip duration, you want to make sure your electric bike can go fast enough to get you there on time. Most electric bikes will list a top speed, usually assisted and across flat lands. If you have a time constraint for a trip this will be one of your criteria. Many top speeds will be between 12mph and 20mph.

You will also want to consult laws in your area for top speeds allowed for an electric bicycle.

For trip length, you want to look at the miles per charge (sometimes given as a range that the battery should last). which is usually an assisted pedal across flat lands also. Hills, surfaces with more friction, and passenger load will affect these numbers.

R-Martin MiPower Electric Bike

The R-Martin MiPower Electric Bike reports a 60 mile range (pedal assist/even ground).

You also have to think about the overall weight of the bike which will factor into how much you can pedal assist. Most bikes will have roughly a 40 mile range.

For dealing with longer commutes where you need to lengthen the miles per charge, you can also see if the electric bike has a swappable battery. For long rides this may be your only option – carrying your spare charged battery with you and swapping it out during your ride. This also means you would need to be able to charge both batteries at your destination. Some bikes do not have the swappable battery, which also means you need to bring the entire bike to the charging station and you cannot just take the battery out and charge it.

For extending the battery charge during a ride, another option of lengthening the ride time per charge is the electric bikes which feature a “loop charge” technology which means you can charge the battery while you ride your bike. One great example is the Sanyo Eneloop Electric Bike (pictured below) which charges the battery each time you use the breaks.

Sanyo Eneloop Electric Bike

For comfortable rides, the electronic component (pedal assist) is important. How well does it know when to kick in to help you out and when to hold back? If you are riding in hilly areas or with a lot of stops, this can offer smoother rides but also help the battery last longer as your pedal strength varies. Also the electronics matter with your riding style too and safety as well.

Some electric bikes take a turn or two of the pedals before the power engages – this means at a dead stop you have the hardest work to get everything started almost as if you are starting from a high gear. Some electric bikes are the opposite and may be very aggressive at the start which can sometimes lead to hard to control starts, especially in tight spaces.

Electric Bikes Motors

electric bike motorThese are the two most common motors on electric bikes.

Brushed Motor

Larger, heavier, and louder. They also need regular service every so often. However after each service it is almost like having a brand new motor. These are powerful and robust and great for a variety of surfaces and uses.

Brushless Motor

In comparision, these are smaller, lighter, and quieter. Not as robust in use as the brushed motor but definitely can hold its own for regular use. And are maintenance free.

Motor Location

A rear hub motor is great for general use and offer better balance then front mounted motors. Front wheel hub motors are helpful for rougher surfaces (think four-wheel drive). This would be a big plus for electric mountain bikes.

Batteries

Batteries and motors are the big two components of electric bicycles. There are two batteries you will see on most electric bikes

SLA (Sealed Lead Acid)

Think car batteries when you think of lead acid batteries. Lead oxide oxidizes a lead plate to create an electrical current.

They are the cheapest type of rechargeable battery. The lead is sealed in a gel to prevent any spilling out of the lead. They also need to be recycled properly at end of life. Just like a car battery, it will take a few cycles for the battery to reach a peak performance.

When it comes to charging, you do not want to deep discharge it.

An SLA battery should be charged often and topped up as often as possible.

Advantages: Great for when you need a power surge. Cheaper.
Disadvantages: Longer recharging time. Not as effective for applications that require steady and low to middling supplies of electricity over longer periods of time.

Li-ion (Lithium-ion)

Think laptop and cel phone when you think of lithium-ion batteries.

Nickel Cadium (NiCD) were the popular rechargable battery of choice but since the advent of Lithium batteries, it has been found that Lithium batteries has more durable operation including a wider range of temperatures, and are also smaller and lighter.

Advantages: Lighter, smaller, while providing a lot of power. Some batteries have surge capabilities
Disadvantages: Expensive, and ability to hold a charge will decay when the battery is not in use unlike lead acid batteries.

In general, the Lithium-Ion batteries are a better choice.

Here is a great link (wikipedia) if you want to read up more on Lithium batteries

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_battery

Electric Bike Controller and Assistance

Electric Bikes will have pedal assist (PAS or PAC), throttle assist (TAG), or both.

Pedal assist will measure the pedal speed (known as a speed or cadence sensor) or the pedal pressure (known as a torque sensor) to determine how much additional assistance is required. As an example, some ebikes will determine that the harder you are pedaling (e.g. going uphill) the more assistance it should now deliver to you (so you will pedal less). However, the pedal assist does mean you need to keep pedaling at some rate.

Throttle assist can be a twist grip (like a motorcycle) or a thumb throttle (like a gear shift on a bicycle). This gives you power on demand and you decide how much power assistance you like.

Bicycle Sizing And Measurements

Besides the electronic components of the bike, you have to look at the bicycle components. After all this is a bike, and that is really one question:

Can you ride this bicycle comfortably?

In other words, will this bike fit your measurements? From seat to handlebars to pedal reach. Will you be able to pedal this bike comfortably? An e-bike is still a bike. The better the fit, the more you pedal, the longer your range, and the happier you are.

Bicycle Frame

Frames are either a step-through frame (like most women’s bicycles) and a crossover frame (like most men’s bicycles). A step-through frame makes it easier to mount the bike.

You may find the step-through frame easier to use regardless of your gender as some purchasers of electric bikes are those that cannot ride a normal bike easily due to weight, fitness level, or injury.

Bikes need to be easy to get on and off of which is even though the women’s style bike has the step-through frame vs the men’s bike that has the crossover frame, some men may find it easier to get on and off the bike with a step-through frame and opt for getting the woman’s style electric bike.

As far as frame materials, there is also durability to consider and this will also depend on your most common use. The frames will either by some sort of lightweight aluminum alloy which is good for city use (most common is a 6061 Alloy Aluminium frame) or a steel frame which is generally more durable and good for heavy use.

Ease Of Maintenance

One feature/benefit you will want to consider is how easy is the bike to fix and maintain. Many replacement parts may only be available directly from the manufacturer. Good customer service is helpful here as is a good and understandable warranty.

Electric Bike Legality In Your Area

As the electric bike is a road vehicle, you will also want to check your local laws and regulations operating a vehicle and make sure the electronic bike is legal for where you plan to operate it. Things such as maximum speed of vehicle, minimum or maximum age of operator, minimum or maximum weight of operator, maximum power output of motor, etc.

Most states hold up the national policy that electric bikes must operate less than 20 mph and have a limit of 750 watts. However, the companies who produce these bicycles are not regulated. This means they could produce a bicycle or motor kit that could be illegal. You will also want to check to see if your state requires you to have insurance for operating an electric bicycle.

Price

You will notice we haven’t mentioned price yet. You can think of these like vehicles. Find the one that fits your needs and then compare prices. Many dealers will think you should never buy solely based on price unless you are an expert on e-bikes. It’s good to overpay for quality than be saddled with a lemon on a daily basis.

Hope this has been helpful!

That concludes our ebike buying guide. We hope it has been helpful and educational. After going through this guide we recommend the next step is to check out the most popular and bestselling electric bikes: there has got to be a reason these are the most popular, and should be a good starting point for your research.

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