Electric Bikes - Buying Tips.
In part of one of our Electric Bike Guide we brought you all you need to know electric bikes. In this section we focus on narrowing down your search and buying the right bike for you.
How does an electric bike work?
An Electric Bike can assist you when you’re pedalling. You choose when to have powered assistance and you also choose how much powered assistance you desire. It also means that, if you stop pedalling, you free-wheel just like on a normal bike.
Most Electric Bikes that are sold should have a Speed Sensor and most have a Torque Sensor and Crank Sensor as well. These sensors feed information to the Control Unit, which also considers the Power Level requested and adjusts the Power accordingly.
The amount of assistance is normally measured as a percentage of your own ‘power output’. Depending on the Motor system, up to 300% power can be available. IE: If you’re producing 10 Watts of power, the Motor will add 30 Watts, given a total output of 40 Watts. In reality, this makes cycling quite exciting again.
Whilst it may sound a bit complicated, the reality is that riding a modern Electric Bike is very intuitive and most people are surprised just how easy and natural it is.
What price should I expect to pay?
Generally good quality models start at around £1,400 though you have to be very selective at this price (see below for much more detail). Occasionally bargains of old stock can be seen at around half price so you might be able to get a good quality bike for around £800 if you are lucky and do your research.
Try before you buy!
Retailers with at least one 'bricks and mortar' shop are advised, allowing you crucially to try before you buy, to get the right fit and the right performance for you. Warners Shows are also an excellent opportunity to try electric bikes.
Look for a guarantee of at least two years on the battery and other components. The battery guarantee is the crucial aspect as this is the most expensive 'consumable' on the bike. Also ascertain the cost of replacement batteries so you don't get a nasty shock in a few year's time.
Know The Law
Happily, the UK harmonised it's legislation during 2015 to be consistent with European Legislation. This now provides a clear European wide definition of an Electric Bike, more formally known as a: "Pedelec" and often shortened to eBike.
As the name suggests, the modern Electric Bike combines Pedalling and Electrical Assistance. In addition to the regulations for normal bikes, like having brakes etc, there are some further requirements that must be complied with to meet the "Pedelec" definition. In simple terms these are:
- The Motor must not give more than 250w of help (Powered assistance)
- The Powered assistance must cease at 25 KPH (15.6 MPH)
- You may only receive Powered Assistance when pedalling.
NB: This eliminates the older "Twist & Go" bikes from the Pedelec definition. It also removes the restriction on under 14's, who can now ride a Pedelec!
All Electric Bikes sold should fully meet the European Legislation (EN15194) and are therefore formally Pedelecs.
We strongly advise that you check this is true for any Electric Bike you're considering, as failure to do so, places you firmly on the wrong side of the Law. In the event of any accident, this could prove extremely costly. Sadly, there are various myths aimed at selling you an illegal eBike. If you're in any doubt please ask your local Trading Standards Authority who will assist as appropriate.
On a more positive note, the benefits of having a Pedelec are considerable and are leading to large numbers of people enjoying cycling again. This is great for individuals, their health and happiness, but is also great for Society with the reduction in pollution levels, easing of congestion and parking issues.
Buying second hand
Apart from being aware that there will be no backup from retailer or manufacturer, you should also pay particular attention to the state of the battery on any second hand electric bike you consider, while batteries are ever improving it is still the single most important part to an eBike. How much mileage has it had and how old is it? What range will it do? Perhaps most crucial, are replacement batteries available and if so what is the price?
These warnings taken on board, a second hand purchase could save you a lot of money, especially where there the brand is a quality one and widely established so that replacement parts and repairs are widely available; for example a model with a Bosch or Kalkhoff motor.
Is a Kit For Me?
Kits could be ideal for you as they will electrify a lightweight folder that fits neatly into a car boot or motorhome (as noted the range of available electric folders is somewhat limited). They also have the potential to produce a very lightweight electric bike by adding a kit to a very lightweight non-powered electric bike. If you have a decent quality 'donor' bike ready and waiting to go, a kit could be good value for money too, meaning you get a good quality electric bike for less than the equivalent price of a similar quality off the peg solution.
Against this must be weighed the potential technical pitfalls of integrating the kit with the bike's wheels, gearing and brakes and the technical DIY skills required for fitting. If this is beyond your abilities there are quite a number of specialist shops that will fit kits (see list below). Despite simple sounding sales pitches kit fitting cam be quite involved and you need to check the kit will fit your particular bike correctly.
What about future trends?
The last couple of years have seen the emergence of 'smart' features on electric bikes. These range from gears that shift automatically for you without you having to do a thing, to displays that integrate
with your smartphone (for example the latest EVO system from Kalkhoff)
Even more recent are 'all in one wheels' – where motor, battery and all the electronics required for power assist are integrated into one wheel hub. The latter technology is still in its infancy but promises much for the future of ever lighter and simpler electric bikes.
Recommended electric bike brands at various price points
£1,500-£2,000 E-RangerBH Emotion, Gazelle, Heinzmann, Kalkhoff, KTM, Sparta, Scott, Gaint, Cube, QWIC
£2,000+ Haibike, Riese and Muller, Rotwild, Stromer, Besv, Ridgeback
Recommended motor brands
(sometimes featured on 'own brand' bikes but usually used on other brands' bikes e.g. Shimano's motor system appears on Ridgeback bikes) BionX, Bosch, Ezee, Go SwissDrive, Heinzmann, Kalkhoff, Panasonic, Shimano, Yamaha.
Recommended UK electric bike retailers
E-Ranger LTD, 50 Cycles and Urban E Bikes
Recommended kit brands
BionX, Ezee, Heinzmann, Nano, Sunstar and Suzhou Bafang (also known as Fun8).