E-bikes or electric bicycles are now gaining popularity the world over, with the main market being in China. However, these electric variants of the common bicycle are equally welcome in the United States with 53,000 units reportedly sold in 2012; the uptake is constantly on the rise. These bicycles are driven by power from electric batteries, making the normal bicycle-ride less strenuous, quicker and more enjoyable, especially across long distances. While there are several models of electric bikes available that suit the needs and budgets of enthusiasts, it takes some research to choose the right e-bike.
Types of Electric Bikes
E-bikes are available in two basic types, those with Pedal Assist, and others with Power-On-Demand.
These bikes, though rely on the pedaling action, are assisted by power from an electric motor to gain reasonable speeds before the motor is deactivated. Bikes with speeds of up to 25 km/ hour are known as Pedelecs, and fall within the legal category of normal bicycles for practical purposes; while those capable of higher speeds of about 45 km/h backed by more powerful motors aka S Pedelecs are classed as mopeds or motorcycles.
Power on Demand
E-bikes in this category sport a throttle, usually on the handlebar, which is used to activate the motor when in need. Riders may opt to pedal the bike manually, use the throttle, or even intermittently mix both manual and electronic modes to reach their destination.
These bikes come with both a throttle as well as pedal-assist sensors, allowing riders to switch easily between the features based on their needs. In fact, any e-bike model that runs on both manual as well as battery power can be deemed a hybrid e-bike. The difference is that a true hybrid model cannot be run purely on electric power.
Benefits of E-Bikes
Electric bicycles offer several explicit as well as hidden benefits for the rider. Let’s look at a few key benefits:
Compared to other modes of transportation, these bikes are cost-effective to own as well as maintain. Driven by rechargeable batteries, they help save on gasoline expenses, while also bringing down costs related to repair and maintenance of personal cars.
Riders can catch up on their fitness needs by regularly opting to pedal the bikes, while switching to assistance from the electric motors when the ride gets a little tiring.
Pedelecs are somewhat similar to the common bicycle, with motors stopping assistance beyond limited speeds making them quite safe to use. As for e-bikes with higher speeds, helmets and stealth frames, circuit breakers and fuses make the units safer for both the rider as well as pedestrians on the road.
Comfortable Long Commutes and Saving Money on Gay
With electric motors to the aid, riders can now travel long distances, without the extra strain and sweat of pedaling the entire route. It is, in fact, quicker to go from point A to B, easier to negotiate traffic and take short cuts that are otherwise not accessible, and easier to find a parking space for the bike.
With no harmful emissions from an e-bike ride, the unit is as eco-friendly as the common bicycle.
No Age Restrictions
Powered by batteries, these bikes are ideal for both the young and the old. While children definitely enjoy a ride on these bikes, the elderly will find it easy to use them for daily commutes
While the bikes have benefits galore, their limited speeds and exposure of the rider to natural elements just may not find favor with everyone.
E-bikes vs. Scooters
While electric bikes and scooters are equally popular and comfortable, it may get slightly tricky to decide which is better of the two. The choice, however, is based on several factors such as nature of use, the distance of travel, location, terrain and local road conditions, how much weight the unit is expected to carry, etc.
While scooters are definitely faster and more comfortable than e-bikes, and can carry passengers (weight differs based on the model), they are relatively pricier and require a driving license.
It is also important to evaluate the battery charging costs and the distance the vehicle can cover on a full-charge.
The year of manufacture of the unit, the model and the battery type determine the mileage. While earlier electric bikes were based on sealed lead-acid (SLA) systems, batteries have now evolved to use lithium-ion polymer (Li-ion), lithium-iron phosphate (LiFePO4) as well as nickel-cadmium (NiCad), nickel-metal hydride (NiMH).
Pedelecs, as we’ve seen earlier, conform to speed limits of 25 Km/hour (in some countries or areas), falling within the category of low-speed electric bicycles that are not considered motor vehicles. Riders do not require any licenses to ride these bikes and are cleared for use across the country, unless restricted by state or local regulations. Helmet requirements, age limits, as well as licensing requirements vary from state to state.
It is worth noting that the use of electric bikes has been declared illegal in the state of New York, since 2004. Reports reveal that the fine for riding an e-bike in the state has recently been hiked from $500 to $1,000 in a bid to discourage use, mainly due to several accidents caused by speeding e-bikes and scooters.*
Riders should, however, adhere to road safety rules and travel along paths earmarked for specific vehicle types, while also keeping a strict tab on the speeds to avoid any accidents. Judiciously switching from electric to manual modes may help keep stay away from legal hassles.
Given the exploding popularity of e-bikes among all age and income groups, they are bound to become a viable, cost-effective and comfortable transport alternative for urban commutes. Negotiating crowded city environments, exploring new scenic locales that were previously inaccessible without a strenuous hike, or playing around with cost-effective improvisations to the unit’s mechanics, e-bikes make life easier, enjoyable and challenging as well.
Those raring to transform their favorite bicycles can simply check out the markets for e-bike conversion kits to attempt to tune their standard bikes up to go electric.
*NOTE: This is not legal advise, consult your local authorities.