An electric bike, also known as an e-bike, is a bicycle with an electric motor for additional propulsion momentum, thereby making it possible to cycle longer distances at greater ease. These bikes have increased in popularity due to the rapid advancements made in technology and due to its suitability as being an environmentally-friendly replacement of the diesel car. There are a lot of different types of electric bike, just like there are different types of normal bicycles. Some of the benefits of an electric bike are its increased speed, climbing efficiency, wind-resistance, and it’s environmentally friendly. All of that while still getting a good work out!
Types of Electric Bike
There are of course a lot of different types of electric bikes starting with splitting out e bikes between pedelecs and the rest. Most types of electric bikes are pedelecs, which stands for pedal electric cycle, meaning that the pedalling is assisted by an electric motor.
Within the pedelecs range there are a lot of different types of e bike as well, just like with normal bicycles. For example, you can choose bikes that can handle different terrains such as an electric mountain bike versus an e bike that’s mainly designed for use in the city such as an electric road bike.
You can also choose e-bikes with different propulsion where the main distinction is between hub-propulsion and mid-drive electric bikes. The main difference here is the placement of the motor. With a hub-propulsion e-bike the motor is placed in the rear wheel hub and with a mid-drive electric bike the motor is placed at the pedals.
There are also functional versions of the e bike where there are two main versions that come to mind:
- An electric cargo bike which allows the rider to carry cargo in a dedicated cargo area. These e bikes can carry a surprising amount of additional weight. That makes these bikes especially popular in large, dense cities where the use of a car is more expensive and difficult. The benefits of an electric bike really shine here as being a suitable replacement of an automobile.
- A folding electric bike is especially convenient if you need to take a train or bus to work because, as the name suggests it allows you to fold up the bike and bring it with you into the train or bus. With the innovations in weight reductions, it’s also become increasingly easier to carry a folding e bike.
Which electric bike should I buy?
When choosing an electric bike there are a few things to consider, starting with for what purpose will you mainly be using the bike:
- Work: If you’re planning to use your e bike mainly to get to and from work then an electric road bike is your best option, unless you often take also the bus and/or train, in which case a folding electric bike would be better suited since you can fold it up and bring it with you on the bus and/or train.
- Recreational: Then it depends on what terrain you will use it on. For flat, paved road you will be needing a racing bike, for hilly and mountainous terrain you will need an e mountain bike, for terrain covered in mud or snow then an e fat bike is best suited
- Functional: If you’re trying to get the most functionality out of your e-bike then an electric cargo bike is the best option as it allows you to carry heavy loads without a problem. Bringing your kids to school in the morning? Doing a lot of grocery shopping? Then an electric cargo bike will make your life a lot easier.
Now that you know the type of bike you would need, let’s look into what size bike you would need. With bike size the important elements to be aware of are the frame size, your own heigh and your inside leg size. If you know your heigh and/or inside leg size you will be able to find the matching frame. Be careful though, there’s a difference between a mountain bike and road bike frame size corresponding with the same height. A good rule of thumb is to take a 10cm / 4inch smaller frame for a mountain bike. For example, if you’re 180cm / 5'.11" then for a road bike you would need a 57cm / 23" frame but for a mountain bike you would need a 48cm / 19" frame. For a quick overview take a look at our size guide.
You know the type of bike you want, and what size you would want it in, the final step in selecting your e bike is considering the technical differences that exist:
- Motor capacity: The source of an e bike power boost. The higher the motor capacity, the easier an e bike will be able to drive the bike forward with lots of weight. This is very important if you’re considering an electric cargo bike, which would require a higher motor capacity so pay close attention to that. So why not just get the maximum motor capacity to be on the safe side? Well besides that can be expensive in more than one way as not only will it cost more but also the battery capacity will be drained faster with a higher motor capacity. Therefore, if you’re looking for a long-distance e bike be careful with maxing out the motor capacity. However, if you’re looking for an e cargo bike for relatively short trips to the supermarket or school to drop of the kids then it’s more beneficial to have a higher motor capacity so it’s easier to bike with heavier weights versus loosing a bit of endurance.
- Motor placement: For motor placement you basically have to consider two variations, either hub (front or rear) driven where the motor is placed in the wheel hub or mid-drive whether the motor is placed in the middle of the e bike. Below you can read about the benefits of each of these options.
- Frame: Most e bikes are regular step in with a diamond-shaped frame, however, if you’re looking for an easier step in e bike then consider a low step-in frame that allows for easier access, which is especially convenient for people with reduced mobility.
How does an electric bike work?
So you know the basics of what an e-bike is and what it does but you’re still not really sure how it works in detail. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Despite its growing popularity a lot of people are not very familiar with the underlying technologies, and how they all work together to make an e bike function. That’s why below we’ll outline everything you need to know to get a good understanding of how e bikes work.
To start, let’s break it down to its 5 main components:
- The display controller:Most commonly you will find this on the handlebars for easiest access. The display will provide important information such as how much battery capacity is left, the speed and range. There’s also the option to increase or decrease the power boost the motor is giving by using the plus and minus signs on the controller.
- Frame and wheels: Due to the added components the frame of an e bike is usually a bit bulkier when compared with a normal bike. Al though technological advancements reduce the weight and size of these components, it’s still something that needs to be incorporated into the frame. Also, the wheel spokes of an e bike are stronger than a normal bike since the added force of an electric motor turning the wheels with a significant amount of torque require that these spokes can handle the additional pressure.
- Motor: There’s the choice between a hub drive (located in either the front or rear wheel hub) and a mid-drive (located in the middle of the bike) motor. Most common is the mid-drive motor due to the performance increase this configuration has. That’s mainly due to the mid-drive motor configuration using the existing gears. That allows for increased performance with less battery energy and better handling since the heavier motor is closer to the ground, resulting in a lower centre of gravity.
- Sensors: You might ask yourself how does the e bike know I need pedal assistance? That’s where the sensos come in. They make sure you receive just the right amount of boost so you don’t suddenly start flying. There are two sensors that accomplish this, the speed sensor and the torque sensor. The speed sensor is used when you start pedalling to give the initial assistance and the torque sensor subtly adds assistance when you’re already moving at speed, and makes sure the power boost matches your current speed.
- Battery: as with all electric vehicles and a lot of consumer electronics one of the main issues is
storing enough energy in a compact battery in a cost-effective way. Recent years have seen massive
improvements in battery technology that e bikes have also benefitted from. Whereas previously the batteries
where bulky and had to be mounted on frame itself like the downtube, newer batteries are becoming smaller
and smaller. This changed the landscape as e bikes are no longer bulky looking bikes but sometimes almost
indistinguishable from normal bikes because of the drastic reduction in battery size.
Since the battery affects the weight, style, and range of the bike, its choice is crucial. The most common batteries are the ones with 400Wh or 500Wh. On average each 100Wh of energy gives you around 40km of output. The precise output will of course depend on what degree of pedal assist you use and the terrain you’re biking on. Nonetheless batteries obviously play a huge part in how electric bikes work and perform. The majority of the batteries you’ll find offered on the market fall into one of the following two categories:
- Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) batteries: Historically these were the main type of batteries used in scooters and e bikes. However, with the rapid increase in battery technology, e bikes have recently incorporated the new technological improvements in battery technology which is lithium-based.
- Lithium-based batteries: Lithium batteries are based on state-of-the-art battery technology and therefore they have a much longer lifespan (roughly 3 times more). They are also much lighter and require a lot less maintenance than their predecessors. The down-side is that they are more expensive at the moment than the traditional SLA batteries. However, this cost discrepancy is expected to reduce further as lithium battery technology and production processes improve further.
So now that we’re more familiar with the technological components, let’s see how they all work together to accomplish their goal.
A good analogy is to consider dynamo-powered bicycle lights. As you pedal and the wheels spin, it rotates a little dynamo that is placed against the wheel, this generates energy that in turns powers the lights. If you know imagine that we inverse this process and a battery provides energy to a motor that makes the wheel spin. In simple terms that’s how an e bike works.
How does the e bike know how much pedal assistance I need? This is done by sensors that measure your pedal input so your speed and cadence can be determined to prevent the motor from suddenly boosting you forward and interrupting your pedalling. These sensors relay this information to the motor which draws power from the battery pack to boost your pedalling in a comfortable manner. Therefore, the software is equally important as the hardware since that is what’s guiding the output.
Most e bikes are a mid-drive type, which means that the motor sits centrally in the crank set (as opposed to in the rear wheel hub). With this type of design, the battery is usually placed in the downtube, although some newer models have been able to completely integrate it into the design and make it invisible.
How do I use an electric bike?
To use an electric bike it’s much simpler and straightforward than you perhaps initially thought. It’s much like riding a stationary workout bike in the gum where you’ll simple start pedalling which will activate the display on your e bike. On the display you choose your desired assistance level to turn on the pedal assist. The plus and minus buttons allow you to increase and decrease the level of assistance.
Benefits of an electric bike
- E-bikes make pedalling easier: The first one is straightforward and what you would expect from an e bike. However, until you actually try it yourself it’s easy to underestimate how much fun it actually is!
- They allow you to go faster: It’s not only easier to pedal with an e bike but it also allows you to go faster with the same input. That means you arrive at your work faster or you can cover longer distances in the same amount of time. The additional speed of course depends on the power of the motor.
- You’ll want to ride a lot more: As mentioned, it makes cycling a lot more fun when you have this powerful feeling of covering so much distance with just pedalling a few times. This results in more workouts and a healthier lifestyle.
- Rapid advancements in technology: The performance of e bikes increases significantly over time as they get lighter, faster and better-looking. Gone are the days of bulky e bikes. These rapid advancements in technology has allowed for the rise of e bikes as an alternative for pretty much every conventional bike.
- They are environmentally-friendly: Also due to the rapid advancements in technology e-bikes can now serve as great substitutes for your car. With electric cargo bikes for example that can carry a lot of weight and which are easier to use in crowded city centres than cars.
- You’ll still get a good workout: Contrary to what you might think, with a bike you still get a good workout in as it still requires you to pedal yourself. It’s just that you can cover more distance with the same amount of pedalling. This can actually lead to you biking for a longer time than you would normally as you always have this little extra push to keep you going.
- They are just more fun: This bears repeating, e bikes are just more fun than a normal bike. Who doesn’t like going fast? With an e bike you can not only go fast but you can climb hill after hill while being able to enjoy the scenery. Whereas with a conventional bike you’ll hit the limit much sooner and won’t be able to enjoy the scenery as much when you’re struggling to climb up that steep hill. Ever wanted to do a long bike vacation but are a bit intimidated? With an e bike this will be a guaranteed success.