Choosing the right electric bicycle
If you're looking for an electric bike, then what do you need to know before you can decide which model is the best choice for your needs?
New electric bikes start as low as £150 and can cost as much as £2000. Expect to pay £600 - £1000 for a really solid, reliable, quality electric bike. Note that prices can vary with exchange rate fluctuations, as many are imported.
2. Preferred type of bike
Electric bikes may draw on an additional power source, but otherwise they're still a bicycle. So consider all the criteria you'd use to choose a normal bicycle.
The most important is to decide on the basic type of bike you're looking for. For example...
- cruiser: for quick trips over short distances. These are very cheap, but don't have the staying power or flexibility for longer distances or steep inclines.
- mountain bike: for off-road fun
- road bike: for speed (but not necessarily comfort)
- hybrid: if the electric bike is an alternative to the car for getting in and around town or to work, then consider a hybrid bike (a halfway model between mountain and road bikes). This combines speed, efficiency and comfort and probably makes the best option for most buyers. In fact, this is the market most electric bicycles are intended for.
Electric bikes also come in two distinct versions (or hybrids of both).
You can think of E-bikes as working a little like a "moped with pedals". You control when the motor kicks in through a throttle switch or grip.
Pedelecs do the thinking for you. The motor decides for itself when you could do with some help and adjusts its output appropriately.
3. Weight and structure
The motor and battery adds weight to a bike, so look for products with modern alloys and light, but strong, frames that keep total bike weight down.
The very latest batteries and motors keep weight down without sacrificing power, but cost more. If you find a cheap bike with a light motor and battery, then check that's not at the expense of power and performance.
Most modern electric bikes use a hub motor, i.e. a motor built into the wheel's hub. Motor design is a complicated affair and you should let yourself be advised by a specialist, but two of the main differences between motor types are:
- integrated gearing versus gear-free models: the former offers more turning force (torque) and are more efficient.
- brushless versus brushed motors: the former are more efficient and have fewer moving parts, which means a longer working life.
Be sure also to read the page on UK laws, since you can certainly find electric bikes for sale whose motors are not legal for use on British roads.
5. Power needed
Your choice of bike and (particularly) battery type largely depends on just how far you want to go between charges and what kind of work the motor will have to do en route.
If you're only going a few hundred metres each day around a flat, well-kept road system, then even the smallest bike batteries will probably suffice. If you intend doing 25 miles a day, with some steep inclines thrown in, then you'll need premium battery power.
Check out the page on batteries, which takes a closer look at that core element of the electric bike.
External Resources for Further Reading
Advice on choosing a bike, with considerable detail on battery and motor types.
Guide and tips
Useful guide if purchasing an electric bike via online auction.