Buyer's Guide to Electric Bikes
One of the main worries about the legalities of owning and riding an electric bike is the confusion about whether it is defined as a bicycle or a motor vehicle.
There is an EU directive which defines the difference between the two; for a ‘pedalec’ (i.e an electric bicycle) to legally be classified as a bicycle it must be power assisted to a maximum of 15½ mph (25 km/h) and use a motor of no more than 250 watts rated output. A pedalec which falls into these parameters can legally be ridden without DVLA registration, road tax, a driving licence or the use of crash helmet. Of course, all laws related to the riding of a normal bicycle must be adhered to.
To allay any fears, we only stock bikes from the extremely reputable FreeGo Whisper Group who stringently ensure that their bikes are fully legal to be ridden in the UK. You can contact us for a full details in regards to any of these issues however, so please do get in touch with us before purchase, either online or even in your nearest branch if available!
Time to get the calculator out! You want your electric bike to be able to power you around your longest expected round trip, so it is very important to carefully select the bike with the right capacity for your needs.
To work out battery life, it is quite simple; you must multiply the voltage by the Amp hours as stated in the specifications of each bike. The result of this will give you the number of Watt hours available – the higher the Watt hours, the more capacity your battery will have - the more capacity your battery is capable of holding will take longer for the battery to discharge, thus giving you a longer range.
The FreeGo group have given estimated ranges for each bike sold, and they came to this figure based on a real rider weighing 11stone 8lb in temperatures of 10 degrees centigrade with some braking on a flat road with the correct tyre pressures and the power set to medium. This is why estimated ranges must be taken with a pinch of salt as so many factors can and will influence the life of your battery (see the range section below).
The first and foremost impact the battery will have on range is the terrain on which you use it - If you are going to be tackling hills, this is when the battery will be required the most so going up inclines will affect battery life and range. A larger capacity (Ah) bike will have a greater capacity and will operate at the most efficient voltage for longer giving optimal results in undulating terrain. Similarly, using the throttle only instead of pedalling as well will also drain the battery far faster than estimated range.
The second major factor on battery life is the care with which it is given. Many factors influence the charging of the battery, and the primary focus is on safety. You must charge the battery using only the charger supplied with the unit, and it must be charged above temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius (and below 60 degrees Celsius). You must also not leave the charger on overnight unless you have an intelligent charger which can automatically switch off when the battery has achieved a full charge.
Note that some still think that in order for a battery to have a long life, it must go through fully discharged and charged cycles. However, with lithium batteries such as these it is no longer necessary to do this and it is actually recommended that you should recharge the battery to full even after a short journey; this keeps the battery ready to go and is actually healthy for the battery.
It is also very important to never leave ythe battery completely drained – the best recommended practice as advised by the manufacturer is that during long periods of storage and non-use, the battery should be kept roughly 2/3rds full, topped up for a couple of hours every 8 weeks. This is to stop the battery voltage from falling below safe levels as this can cause irreparable damage to the cells of the battery. It should also be kept in a warm and dry room in a temperature over 15 degrees Celsius.
Whilst bigger batteries have the benefit of added range, the trade-off is that smaller batteries have the advantage of being more lightweight to use and are cheaper.
Depending on the size of the Amperage of the charger and the batteries capacity, a full charge can take anywhere between 2-6 hours.
A good quality battery which has been treated well and kept to the manufacturers recommendations should have a lifespan of good service of roughly 3 years.
The battery itself is not the single defining factor when it comes to range however. Ridden in perfectly optimal conditions with an extremely light user, an electric bike could theoretically offer a range of 100 miles, whilst the same bike weighed down with a heavy rider, soft deflated tyres, two bags of shopping on the side in the wet and cold and on off road conditions could yield as little a range as 15 miles!
Here are the biggest culprits when it comes to sub-optimal performance:
This is almost as important as the size of your battery when it comes to the distance you will be able to travel. It is said that an electric bike with a tyre pressure 1 bar or 14.5 psi below the recommended levels can reduce range by as much as 50%! Soft tyres can also lead to other problems as well including causing spokes to come loose and break, so it is very important to keep them pumped up to the stated pressures.
Simply overusing the throttle rather than peddling as well will drastically reduce range.
Selecting the right gear is similar to any other vehicle which requires gear changes – the wrong gear for the wrong situation can put strain on the motor and reduce performance.
High levels of assistance
Selecting a high assistance level on your electric back can majorly impact range…even up to 70% in extreme cases.
Not only applying to the riders weight, electric bikes are often used to transport goods such as shopping which can be heavy and will obviously add to the overall weight on the whole unit.
Just like a big old flat faced van would, the less streamlined you are the more you will struggle with reduced performance.
The temperature of the air has a direct effect on resistance: The hotter it is, the more optimal the performance of the bike, whilst colder temperatures can affect output by up to 30%
For best results, flat, dry nice smooth road would be the ideal place to get the most out of your bike, whist riding on wet roads, grass and gravel will reduce range
Batteries unfortunately are not an infinite source of energy, and eventually all will start to lose their maximum capacity at some point. It’s estimated that a two year old battery used every day will have lost 20-30% of its capacity.
As you can see there are a huge number of factors which will determine the final range, and this guide is just an overview of those things. The important thing is to get an overall picture of what does affect the bike and how you will use, care for and store the bike will make a huge difference on performance. Hopefully you will have a better understanding of your needs and what you would like to get out of your bike before purchase, but you can always talk to us to discuss any questions which you may have about electric bike performance and range.
What about the fun stuff - why should you choose an electric bike? What is in it for you? What benefits does an electric bike have over other means of transport?
How about these:
1. Burning calories
What? Isn’t an electric bicycle for lazy people?
That’s a very cheeky view, and one we don’t agree with. You see, having a power assisted bike doesn’t take over the act of pedalling, it only aids a rider increase their enjoyment of riding when cycling unaided has become uncomfortable or too hard. What is better? Not cycling at all or cycling with a slight boost? Owning a pedalec can increase the amount of time you will spend on the saddle by years! It’s a great alternative to a mobility scooter because it gets that blood pumping and increases fitness!
2. Low costs
Obviously this might be subject to change these days, but a full recharge is estimated to cost around 25p which makes it a unbeatable cost per mile against other forms of transport, save for a normal bicycle itself!
3.It’s safer than a normal bike
Owing to the extra power immediately available at your fingertips on the throttle assist bikes, setting off at road junctions and on hills ensure that you can reach a good speed and get out of danger faster than you normally could. Going up hills is also safer as you have to weave less than a conventional rider owing to the boost you get which means that you can keep a straighter line.
4. Buy and go
Unless you’re under 14, you are legally allowed to purchase an electric bike and get out on the roads with no bureaucracy or annoying red tape like organising tax & MOT. However, by a similar token, whilst there is no compulsory insurance when owning an electric bike, we cannot stress the importance of covering yourself - it is in your best interests to do so, and it’s better to be prepared.
5. It’s fast
Because of its features, the bikes can maintain a much more even and level average speed than other forms of transport, especially in busy towns and cities. Being able to use cycle lanes and bus lanes will kill your commute time, whilst hills won’t sap your time anymore – just open the throttle and keep an even speed up hills. It’s not about being reckless, it’s about cycling within your limits, within your control and always aware of others around you.
6. You can take it as hard or as easy as you want
If you are going to be meeting someone and you don’t want to arrive purple faced and sweaty, let the bike do most of the work for you by turning the assistance up. If you want to get a bit more exercise on the way back home just turn the dial down and enjoy some more robust exercise.
7. It’s green
As an electric bike typically uses about 150W of power, this equates to about 1000 miles per gallon compared to a typical car. If you were to plug in the battery and charge it off a renewable energy source such as a photovoltaic cell or a wind turbine there would be virtually no carbon released at all.
As well as simply being good for the environment when in use, the batteries themselves at the end of their life can be up to 90% recyclable whilst the bikes themselves are close to a 100% recyclable. Apart from using your own steam, an electric bike is the most environmentally guilt free way of getting around town.
8. It’s Fun!
We hope that this guide goes some way to answering any questions you may have about electric bikes. However, you may still have other issues surrounding the purchase of an electric bike so please do get in touch and we will do our best to help you.