Bicycles have come along way since single speed, steel horses and in recent years electric bikes have been taking off nationwide. With a extensive range of bikes on the market at various price points there is a lot to think about when making your purchase. Here’s our guide on what to consider when buying an electric bike.
- What is your purpose?
Consider how you will mainly use for the bike. Bikes are not all purpose utilities and although most of us use them in that way, that can sometimes make for less than ideal experiences. When you have decided the main use for your bike (e.g. everyday commuting, off road, touring) it will help you make informed decisions about battery size, performance, components and frame.
- Consider quality over price.
Electric bikes are not expensive toys. If you rely on an electric bike as a main transport method you need it to be reliable. The quality of the bicycle itself irrespective of the drive system is highly important. You pay for what you get and even though initially cheap you may end up spending more on maintenance in the long run.
- Availability of spare parts and after sales service
When buying an electric bike be sure to ask about follow up servicing and spare part availability. Just like any electrical devices there is always a chance your electric bike might break down. Every bike is built differently making spare parts difficult to source and small importers often have no knowledge of how to repair their own bikes.
- Try all the different bike types and go with your instinct.
No matter what you have been told about one type of drive system being better than the other, each have their own benefits as well as limitations. At the end of the day it comes down to what you feel most comfortable riding!
How far do they go?
The mileage on a single charge depends on many factors, starting with the capacity of the battery measured in Watt hours, or Ampere hours. The speed and the load of the trip is also a significant factor on the mileage of a charge. The weight of rider + vehicle can vary by up to 100% between users. There is no standardised route for such a test. The speed you choose to go compared to another rider can easily affect the energy requirement by 300% thanks to aerodynamics. Finally, there’s two energy sources, the battery and the human with human power generally under measured, so what you end up with are wild guesses. Generally most e-bikes claim to have a charge of minimum 30 kms on 10ah battery up to 100 kms with larger 28ah battery.
The best advice we can give is always look at the battery capacity on a given model and get the the bigger battery available for the bike you want – nobody complains about having a battery with too much range. Battery capacity will decrease over the years so you need to start day 1 with spare reserves. Figure out how far you want to go on a charge and if the retailer cannot recommend a battery that they can guarantee will go the distance, then request a long test ride so that you can find out for yourself. Also check what your options are if you find out that you need a bigger battery within a day, a week or a month of purchasing your electric bicycle. If there’s no bigger battery available for the model you want and you cannot test whether it will make the distance you need, then it’s not a smart buy.
How long do they take to charge?
A lithium ion ebike battery that is fully depleted will take 3.5 to 6 hours to recharge. Based on ebike math charging a 10-Ah battery will take 10 hours with a 1-amp charger…or 2 hours with a 5-amp charger. Most chargers will be between 2 and 5-amps.
Center or rear mounted battery?
Weight balance is important for rider comfort and usability and must be kept low and centered on the e-bike. A lot of thought is needed to make an e-bike feel like a bike should – to ride. A lot of cheaper model bikes have rear mounted batteries. If combined with a rear wheel drive and/or your weighted panniers the bike will become unbalanced and difficult to ride.
There is a lot of talk about the different drive systems available and which is better. Again, it comes back to your purpose, does it suit the needs of your bike trip, the availability of spare parts and after sales service and most importantly what you feel comfortable riding. If you don’t feel 100% about at least one of the above then keep looking and trying different bikes.
Front wheel drive
- This is very low maintenance as it shares the strain on the bike between the front wheel (motor power) and rear wheel (human power and rider weight).
- It also physically separates the motor system from the rest of the bicycle parts, making your bike easier to service and spare parts more aligned with conventional bike parts.
- Allows any type of gearing in the rear wheel, such as internal hub gears for little or no maintenance. No matter where the battery goes, you’ll end up with a well balanced and very stable bike.
- Best suited for commuters, touring (depending on your terrain) and rail trails.
- Not so ideal for mountain biking or heavy, loose gravel off road trails
Rear wheel drive:
- Both front hub or rear hub motor have similar performance, the motor has similar design constraints and both are very efficient in propelling the bicycle without a drive chain (direct to the spokes).
- Aesthetic advantage of being able to conceal the motor among the gears, panniers bags etc.
- Rear hubs mean a light and maneuverably front end, allowing any type of front fork. All your weight is on the motor, giving it maximum traction even in adverse conditions.
- Because your rear wheel and spokes are under enormous stress – your weight, your pedaling power, the motor’s power, the motor’s weight and even the dimension of the motor make for a more difficult wheel build than a conventional bicycle hub. It is not unusual for an electric bicycle with rear hub motors to break spokes regularly. So make sure you are buying a bike with a high quality wheel build.
- Best suits off road riders who ride on steep / loose tracks and bikes with a high standard of manufacture and high end components.
- Not ideal for every day commuters who want a low maintenance bicycle with the real consideration for the buyer being a trade-off in maintenance vs the feel of the ride.
- Allows both wheels to be ‘normal’ bicycle wheels, giving all the available options of quick release, internal hub gears etc. Front forks can be interchanged at any time and both front and rear end of bike is kept light. Centre of gravity is low and the whole e-bike is usually a little lighter too. The drive is via the rear wheel, so traction is not an issue. Rear wheel spokes are not stressed as much as on a rear hub motor setup. Motor is geared, so going slow and steady up very steep hills is achievable but it also means it forces you to do more work.
- More complicated system, so motors are usually more expensive and the proliferation of sensors in the bike adds to possible failure modes. The drive-chain is under increased stress (human power + motor power through the one chain), so the chain, gears and rear hub will need to be maintained and replaced more frequently.
- Best suits mountain bike riders or people who want a bike that feels more like a normal bike.
- Not ideal for hill climbers or riders who can’t rely on their body to do most of the work. Riders where budget for maintaining and replacing chains, cassettes, rear hubs etc is limited.
For a person from 70 – 90 kgs, it only takes about 150 – 180 watts to move at a speed of 24 km/h on level roads. Therefore a motor of 180 to 250 watts should be more than sufficient and when you combine your own muscle power to that of the motor. With a 300 watt motor you will have no worries at all tackling hills; a simple pedal assist should get you up most grades, making your job even easier than most conventional 21 gears bicycles.
A good electric bicycle depends on both the motor and the controller working in harmony. Acceleration, torque, maximum output and assistance factor are the real the judges of what a good electric bicycle should be.
Electric bicycle owners (in general) use their bicycles more. Therefore, the goal of the brakes is to be able to ride regularly in a range of road and weather conditions, often on heavier and faster bikes, often carrying more than just the rider. Good quality brakes minimise the frequency of having to maintain your brakes and still always having safe, functional braking system.
Hydraulic disc brakes are better in almost every way for electric bicycles.
There are many manufacturers and importers of electric bikes. As intricate and often complex transportation machines subject to many adverse conditions, its always best to choose not only from a reliable manufacturer but also from a reliable importer with a local bicycle shop that is knowledgeable and can provide after sales service.
Most electric bikes will have a 1-2 year warranty on components and battery and a extended warranty on the frame. Every bike is built differently making spare parts difficult to source with small importers often having no knowledge of how to repair their own bikes. When buying an electric bike be clear on your warranty terms and where the seller recommends getting your bike serviced should anything go wrong.
Most electric bikes are manufactured to European or American regulations, putting them at 25km/h to 32 km/h respectively. New Zealand regulations caps the motor power to 300W, exceeding this rating puts the vehicle into a scooter / moped / motorbike category, requiring type approval and a driver’s license.
At Action Bicycle Club we work hard to get you on an electric bike suited to your needs. We operate as a fully equipped electric bicycle store with mechanical workshop, bicycle parts and accessories, bikes for test riding and purchase, and all service and warranty repairs.
We have spent over a decade working with electric bike manufacturing and have ridden eZee electric bikes, one of the world’s finest electric bicycles over many continents. We work with a small team of distributors across New Zealand to bring you the best and latest in electric bikes.