Why choose an electric bicycle
Electric bicycles eliminate most of the hurdles that conventional bike owners face, from that sinking feeling you get at the sight of a steep hill to concerns about getting hot and bothered on your way into work. They're also surprisingly cheap to run, very quiet, and can even help keep you fit. Basically, they make bicycling fun again!
At the same time, they're more expensive than the average normal bicycle would be, and there's a bit of extra effort involved in that you have to keep plugging them in to charge the battery up.
Let's take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks associated with electric bicycles. Overall, the pros would seem to outweigh the cons, but feel free to make up your own mind...
The pros and cons of electric bike ownership
- A chance to get fitter: electric bikes make journeys, especially those involving hills, less daunting than they would be on a conventional bike. So you're likely to use your electric bicycle more often than you would use a normal bike. And even power-assisted cycling is much better for you than no exercise at all!
- Cheap to run, and may even save you money: in day to day use, it only costs a few pence to fully charge the battery on an electric bike. Sure, there's the possible cost of repairs to the motor, and the battery eventually wears out. However, every journey you take by bicycle, leaving the car at home, is a huge amount of petrol saved, essentially putting money back in your pocket - and that's before you've even begun to look for a car park or a metered parking space.
- No hassle ownership: under current UK law, electric bikes don't qualify as "motor vehicles" so there's no need for a license, MOT or specific insurance.
- Easy to "refuel": find a mains socket, plug in, wait a bit - you're done!
- Dodge traffic to get there faster: for shorter journeys, you may find it's quicker to get around by electric bicycle than by car or even by motorcycle. After all, you don't have to get stuck in traffic, you can usually use cycle lanes and other facilities for cyclists, and you don't have to waste time driving around and around trying to find a parking space when you get there.
- A safer, more controlled riding experience: because electric bicycles will go faster uphill than you can pedal a normal bicycle, cars will pass you at a lower speed difference. You can also accelerate faster to get out of any tricky road situation you happen to find yourself in, or to pull away at junctions and traffic lights. And you can remain more alert since you never have to pedal all-out with your head down, or standing on the pedals.
- Extended range: the assistance provided by an electric bicycle will extend the range that you're able to cycle before you get tired, making it an option for journeys that you might formerly only have considered doing by car. After all, some electric bikes have a range of up to 20 miles, and if you have access to a mains outlet at your destination to charge the battery for the return journey, you can go further still...
- Enjoy the cyclist's shortcuts: since electric bikes can be ridden on cycle tracks and other designated cycle-specific routes, you can full take advantage of the same shortcuts and lack of congestion that a regular cyclist can.
- Ability to dress more appropriately: because you're going to be exerting yourself less than on a regular bike, you can choose to wear stronger, thicker clothing that protects you from abrasions if you fall off, or keeps you warmer/drier in bad weather - without worrying about getting too hot.
- Less exertion, and less sweat: you'll have to put in less effort riding an electric bicycle versus a conventional bike, especially up hills or into headwind, so you're less likely to end up at work all sweaty. That's important, especially if your workplace doesn't give you access to showers or changing facilities.
- A quiet ride: unlike mopeds and scooters with their noisy engines, the motor on an electric bicycle is almost silent, meaning that you can enjoy the sounds of your surroundings - and you're more likely to hear danger before it gets too close.
- More expensive than many normal bikes: electric bicycles generally cost from £500 and up, which is significantly more than a typical normal bike will set you back. Of course, if you were to buy a custom bike, or a racer made out of lightweight composite materials, you could easily end up spending thousands of pounds, so at some point the pendulum swings back the other way.
- Heavy to push or pedal when the battery runs out: the engine, battery pack, and associated controls all add significantly to the weight of an electric bike. That's not a problem so long as the battery is charged up and ready to help you pedal, but if all you're dealing with is the "dead weight" of a bike with its battery drained, it makes a real difference.
- Less choice at purchase time: dozens of companies compete to sell thousands of models of regular bike. There are far fewer companies turning out electric bicycles, and correspondingly fewer bike styles and types to choose from.
- An extended charging time: it can take several hours for the battery pack of an electric bicycle to recharge fully from flat, so it's not like a car where you just pump in some more petrol and go. This isn't a problem for regular journeys that you're used to making, but you need to think through the charging issue carefully if you're planning an extended trip to somewhere you've not been before.
- A more tempting target for thieves: because electric bicycles generally cost more than regular bicycles, and also hold their used value much better, they make tempting targets for bicycle thieves. The usual common-sense rules of bike ownership apply: always secure the bike with a sturdy lock or ideally two locks of different types to a fixed, immovable object (and consider supplementing these locks with fork locks on the bike itself), and don't park it somewhere where a thief could work on it for any length of time without being observed.
- Younger children are excluded: the law in the UK dictates a minimum rider age of 14 for anyone using an electric bicycle.